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Exorcising the Conservative Media

A long time ago (two years, actually), there was a sort of person we referred to as a “full-spectrum conservative.” Full-spectrum conservatives supported traditional morals, free enterprise, and a strong public investment in national security. For this group, 2016 was not a good year.

Trumpian populists effectively set fire to the proverbial three-legged stool. The full-spectrum conservatives of yesteryear were faced with a choice: move quickly or else find yourself on the ground. Many moved. Some took the fall. And few took the latter course quite so spectacularly as Charles Sykes, the radio host whose March 2016 interview with Donald Trump helped send the real estate tycoon spiraling into a dramatic primary loss in his home state of Wisconsin. Sykes won that battle, but he and his associates went on to lose the war. Now he’s compiled his thoughts on conservatism’s decline into a new book, How the Right Lost Its Mind.

If nothing else, the book is a triumph for this reason alone: though he clearly views Donald Trump’s election as a catastrophe (both for conservatism and for America), Sykes manages to discourse on the problem for 274 pages without allowing the Mogul to hog the spotlight. It’s refreshing to find a discussion of right-wing politics that doesn’t veer into yet another attempt to chart the murky waters of Trump’s fevered brain. Instead, Sykes wants to understand how the party of Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley could have degenerated to the point where a frivolous attention-seeker ducked out of a Democratic Party fundraiser just in time to take the GOP on a cosmic joyride.

Here’s the core of Sykes’ answer: Right-wing media created a fever swamp of misinformation, fanaticism, and resentment, which ultimately derailed the party and American politics.

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That’s not the whole story, of course. Sykes spreads responsibility for the disaster across multiple parties. He explains how cranks and crazies spent decades clamoring for satisfaction, until the din finally drowned out serious discussion. He chastises the illiberal left, whose relentless, hysterical bullying put millions of Americans on the defensive. He throws a spotlight on exploitative PACs (especially in the late Tea Party era) that repeatedly amped up the rage, mainly for the sake of lining their own pockets. Polarizing figures like Jim DeMint come under fire for removing some of the “safety features” that might have averted the catastrophe and for politicizing organizations that had long been respected for their serious and measured perspectives. Finally, Sykes criticizes the Republican Party for failing to adapt to the changing needs of the electorate. An approving glance is thrown to Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, and their fellow reformocons [1], who spent years begging the GOP to rein in cronyism and attend to the concerns of the middle class.

In this litany of blame, Sykes also examines himself. Personal regret is not the book’s most prominent theme, but it’s there and seems sincere. Sykes explains how an increasingly polarized political landscape desensitized sincere conservatives (himself included) to rhetoric that should have raised red flags. When the left sees racists and fascists behind every tree, conservatives become practiced at countering such allegations, dismissing them as paranoid or just politically opportunistic. Looking back at the lunatic accusations that were slung at John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan, it’s easy enough to understand how conservatives got to that point. Unfortunately, wolf-crying children don’t keep the monsters at bay.

Now the monsters are out in full force (as evidenced by the massive popularity of sites like Breitbart.com and Infowars). That brings us back to the issue of media. With so much blame to go around, it’s interesting that Sykes’ scathing indictment devotes so much space to the right-wing media figures who, in his assessment, sacrificed principle in pursuit of their private venal interests. Trump was the least conservative Republican candidate in living memory, but the right’s media outlets still unrolled the red carpet for him, mostly in a bid for relevance. Fox News (though initially a bit resistant to Trump) was desperate to be kingmaker. Rush Limbaugh was anxious to recover some of the status he lost in his unseemly flame war with Sandra Fluke. Matt Drudge and Steve Bannon wanted to be titans of internet traffic, and to that end were happy to give a platform to fanatics, crazies, and fire-breathing demagogues. Stoking and stroking is a lucrative business.

Is it unfair to pile so much blame on media personalities? Media is Sykes’ own business, so it’s natural for him to focus on the thing he knows best. Even if you think that Sykes is excessively influenced by personal bitterness, there’s still a point worth pondering here, especially for readers (and writers) of the right-wing media: Isn’t it basically true that this is one of the newer elements in the American landscape? If we think our republic is in sorry shape nowadays, how should we think about developments in media that seem overall to be correlated with a nationwide increase in anxiety, polarization, and despair?

Of course it’s never enjoyable to turn a critical eye back on ourselves. The left has plenty of failings worth discussion, as Sykes knows well, having personally written whole books about the defects of the Academy and the entitlement state. Conservatives are likely to agree that the left’s cultural bastions are well stocked with hypocrites, bullies, and rent-seekers, and they surely have much to answer for today.

This, however, is nothing new: The universities, mainstream media, and Hollywood have leaned left for decades already. That didn’t stop conservatives from winning some major political victories in the 80’s and 90’s, before Fox News, and in the earliest days of right-leaning talk radio. Today the political right has constructed its own complete alternative media, but Americans seem anything but hopeful. Are there connections worth probing here?

The bracing experiences of 2016 obviously led Sykes to re-evaluate his own place in the media landscape. Honest conservatives of all stripes could benefit from considering that tumultuous year through his eyes. Even if you like Trump and are happy with some of the things he’s done, you should still be willing to ask: Why was it possible for so many people to shift positions so dramatically, in such a short space of time? What does that tell us about our commentariat?

Jonah Goldberg captured this problem rather well in his famous “body-snatcher” column [2]. Here’s my own analogy for how anti-Trump conservatives experienced 2016. You show up for a sporting match, decked out in your team’s colors, riding a wave of fan enthusiasm. As the game goes on though, people around you start casually flipping their shirts inside-out to reveal the colors of a completely different team. Quite soon, you find that you’ve become one of the outliers in a “hostile” section, though you’re pretty sure you haven’t moved at all. Who knew you were one of very few fans who came unprepared with a non-reversible jersey? Bewildered, you turn to a friend who just switched her shirt.

“Can you explain why you just did that?” you ask.

“Did what?” she says.

This large-scale transformation was naturally most disillusioning for “true fans” like Sykes, who was quite happy to regard free enterprise and ordered liberty as foundational principles for American conservatism. One needn’t share all of his political views, however, to agree with his concerns about a media that seems to be bobbing recklessly on a surging torrent of populist emotion. Do our opinion-makers actually believe things, or do they just say whatever is necessary to keep traffic high?

Populist sympathizers tend to address these questions by returning to their rhetorical safe spaces: Trump’s virtues, the GOP’s vices, and the egregious failings of the left. That’s kind of missing the point, though. The reversible-jersey episode couldn’t be adequately explained through statistical analyses of the relative strengths of the competing teams. A fan who changes his jersey mid-game is really missing the point of fandom, which should be a kind of participation in the struggle for victory. In a similar way, a commentator who tethers his views to popular opinion is missing the whole point of commentary. It’s not supposed to be mere entertainment; it’s supposed to be part of a communal struggle towards a greater understanding of the truth. If principles are just rhetorical furniture in an ongoing conversation game, what is to keep us from spiraling off into ever-further levels of illiberalism, repression, and lunacy?

Individual cases can be hard to judge, but the broader trends Sykes describes are depressingly easy to understand. You don’t keep your site traffic high by telling readers things they don’t want to hear. From the perspective of an individual writer, saying “the said thing” is a whole lot easier than struggling to discern the truth (and then persuade a possibly unsympathetic audience). Populism is bad for the nation, but it’s very good for business (if your business is to capture clicks and eyeballs). And once the ship starts to move, most media figures would rather move with it than be left treading water with George Will and Charlie Sykes.

Sykes argues that as of today, the political left needs an autopsy, while the right needs an exorcism. Some commentators have remarked, dubiously, that there doesn’t seem to be anyone available to perform such a ritual. Who today has the media control of a Buckley, or the electrifying personality of a Reagan?

One never knows when a great thinker or statesman might appear on the horizon. In the meanwhile, we need to draw strength from the realization that ideas have power. True ideas have particular power. The inane yammering of shills and demagogues can only hold sway for so long. We must continue to pursue greater understanding, so that when the fey mood passes, someone will have a message worth hearing.

Rachel Lu is a senior contributor at The Federalist and a Robert Novak Fellow.

40 Comments (Open | Close)

40 Comments To "Exorcising the Conservative Media"

#1 Comment By Badger On October 18, 2017 @ 12:55 am

There is always the possibility that muscular foreign policy and libertarian economics are not that popular. Sykes subscribes to both while maintaining disdain for the religious. The same analysis failed to account for Clinton’s loss. She was of course a corporatist and supported a muscular foreign policy.

#2 Comment By John Blade Wiederspan On October 18, 2017 @ 1:50 am

Trump is a publicity stunt that went too far. Transgender bathrooms, gay marriage, immigration (too many brown people) legal or illegal, Ferguson/Black Lives Matter, and yes, automation destroying jobs helped put a man not qualified to walk dogs into office. And. Hillary never once said she understood why people were drawn to Trump. Bill would have and spoken about it. And. The sneering absurd braying of ranting right media stars whose scowls were always present gave validation to the government haters. And. There was a “colored” family in the White House. College educated no less. Anybody on the right with an ounce of integrity would have said Trump is not only a pathetic human but totally unqualified to be President. I always to back to the quote from the Wall Street Journal, Hillary is undesirable, but Trump is unthinkable. Imagine Trump was a Democrat, what kind of shrill shrieks would be coming from the right? Deafening. He has revealed what a lot of people thought about the true nature of America. That’s why a lot of people on the left are so bitter. They thought the American people were better than this. They were wrong. Disillusionment is never pleasant. And. Some on the Right are in the same boat.

#3 Comment By Whine Merchant On October 18, 2017 @ 2:32 am

Thank you for this enlightening review of what seems to be a worthwhile recent release.

Of course, it would never by reviewed so even-handedly in NR. They only survive by throwing more and more red meat to their unmoderated commenters.

Thank you –

#4 Comment By RVA On October 18, 2017 @ 2:53 am

Ms Lu: Well done, a great review and exploration of the issues Sykes raises. At the end, you raise your own voice plaintively with questions to which you really know the answers. The answers just depress you.

“A fan who changes his jersey mid-game is really missing the point of fandom, which should be a kind of participation in the struggle for victory. In a similar way, a commentator who tethers his views to popular opinion is missing the whole point of commentary. It’s not supposed to be mere entertainment; it’s supposed to be part of a communal struggle towards a greater understanding of the truth.”

That’s why YOU engage with commentary. That’s why you’ll never be a media star. Sorry about that.

“If principles are just rhetorical furniture in an ongoing conversation game, what is to keep us from spiraling off into ever-further levels of illiberalism, repression, and lunacy?”

Within popular culture, nothing.

“the broader trends Sykes describes are depressingly easy to understand. You don’t keep your site traffic high by telling readers things they don’t want to hear.”

ask Socrates about that

“From the perspective of an individual writer, saying “the said thing” is a whole lot easier than struggling to discern the truth (and then persuade a possibly unsympathetic audience). Populism is bad for the nation, but it’s very good for business (if your business is to capture clicks and eyeballs). And once the ship starts to move, most media figures would rather move with it than be left treading water with George Will and Charlie Sykes.”

Jon Stewart said it on Crossfire to Tucker Carlson and Paul Beglia years ago: Crossfire, and really most political commentary, is pro wrestling. Storyline measured by crowd applause. Enrage to bring in donations. Clicks and eyeballs.

Behind the scenes producers laugh all the way to the bank. The smart ones make their kids read great literature.

#5 Comment By polistra On October 18, 2017 @ 3:40 am

I’ve come to the conclusion that Lu’s fantastic unbroken record of getting everything wrong is a special form of clickbait. As with the Cubs, people read her to see if she will ever miss an opportunity to lose. So far she hasn’t.

#6 Comment By The Big Problem On October 18, 2017 @ 8:50 am

One of the things that’s ruining Trump’s presidency is all the time and focus he wastes on the Middle East and Israel.

I voted for Trump because he said he was “America First”. The wall. Stopping immigration. Fixing bad trade deals. Getting foreign parasites off our back.

Instead he’s spending most of his time and focus on the Middle East, he’s letting in even more foreign workers than Obama did, he’s giving foreign countries just as much of our hard-earned money as Obama did.

And he hasn’t stopped even one of Obama’s Middle East wars.

All that time and focus, totally wasted on foreigners and their problems.

This is one of the most important “problems on the right”, and it gets almost no coverage on so-called “conservative” media (except here on TAC sometimes).

I hope Sykes has the sense and guts to deal with it.

#7 Comment By KD On October 18, 2017 @ 9:11 am

Demographic changes + Financial Crisis = End of Conservative, Inc.

#8 Comment By Fran Macadam On October 18, 2017 @ 9:21 am

Misses the point. Media didn’t cause popular disaffection from current status quo policies and resentment. The realities on the ground did. But media bobble heads in their bubbles can’t see anything besides their own talking heads.

#9 Comment By Steven A. Reyes On October 18, 2017 @ 10:19 am

One never knows when a great thinker or statesman might appear on the horizon.
They are here, there, everywhere? Who’s there to listen listen ? How do rise above the muck and mire ? Climb the Tower Of Bable ? That’s no good. We are going to have a mountain to scale. And we’ve yet to hit bottom. Goddamnit, put the breaks on ! Where is a Willam F. Buckley when you need him. Sounds funny coming from a lib like me. I like Sykes and Will.
See them on MSNBC all the time. I can take Sean Hannity for about 30 seconds if I try hard. Any way, liked your artical. Although, against my religion to agree 100% ; )

#10 Comment By Jack On October 18, 2017 @ 11:56 am

“I can take Sean Hannity for about 30 seconds if I try hard.”

Amen, brother!

#11 Comment By Kent On October 18, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

Ms. Lu,

Sigmund Freud was one of the earliest thinkers to understand the fundamental ignorant, animal nature of humans. Living in the late 19th century Austria, he saw a world of increasing labor strife, militant socialism and a place where theft and murder were commonplace occurrences.

Based on his work, western nations worked hard over decades to moderate human behavior. A key aspect of that was bringing the media into control of responsible individuals.

There was always the understanding that any one media organization with enough followers could break ranks, and lead everyone back to the lowest common-denominator of muckraking, distortion and division. Fox News was that organization. It will take decades to get America back again. If it is ever possible.

#12 Comment By Jakeithus On October 18, 2017 @ 12:31 pm

To use your sports fan analogy, the people who changed their jerseys don’t see that as what they are doing. They watch the team they root for consistently getting beaten, and start to think to themselves that maybe the game has changed, and that maybe it’s time to fire their coach and get some new players who can adapt to the success their opponents are showing. Meanwhile a vocal segment of fans are upset at the result, claiming they don’t recognize the team they root for anymore and complaining about playing the game the “wrong way”.

It’s an imperfect analogy of course, politics isn’t sports and rooting for a team should involve more than just whatever colour the team is wearing.

If political support is supposed to be about policies and ideology, not just blindly supporting your team, the blame should rightly fall at the feet of the establishment and politicians who have compromised ideology in exchange for personal expedience on far too many occasions. The “true fans” of your analogy aren’t upset that their fellow fans changed their jerseys, they’re upset that their fellow fans changed the management and direction of the team rather than change jerseys entirely.

#13 Comment By One Guy On October 18, 2017 @ 12:50 pm

Great article. I’ll have to read Sykes’ book.

#14 Comment By Andrew On October 18, 2017 @ 1:10 pm

In Ivana’s new book she says that she and Donald would go to sporting events but only cheer on whichever side was winning at that moment. So, I fully support the “sports jersey” analogy.

#15 Comment By Scott in MD On October 18, 2017 @ 1:46 pm

I think the sports analogy is spot-on.

If you look around at right-slanted media, the story isn’t how Trump policy helps or hurts America and Americans, it’s about how Trump policy angers the liberals. So the gauge of success isn’t winning the championship or a positive win-loss record, the sole focus is your record vs. the hated cross-town rival.

#16 Comment By RVA On October 18, 2017 @ 2:09 pm

Thank you Rachel – Richard

#17 Comment By first (and last) On October 18, 2017 @ 2:14 pm

“ruining Trump’s presidency is all the time and focus he wastes on the Middle East and Israel. “

Right on. Butt out of that Middle East crap. AMERICA first!

#18 Comment By courtroom of the absurd On October 18, 2017 @ 2:20 pm

Sanctuary cities: it’s not our job to control the borders, it’s the president’s.

Judges : it’s illegal for the president to control the borders. Anybody who wants to can come here.

#19 Comment By slimming down On October 18, 2017 @ 2:32 pm

The ongoing problem with the “conservative media” is that too much of it is still running errands for Wall Street and Israel. Solve that problem and you’ve got a much more coherent, powerful, and popular conservative media.

#20 Comment By Tyro On October 18, 2017 @ 4:12 pm

Sykes doesn’t understand what Trump, Alex Jones, and numerous radio hosts do: details about facts and what claims are and aren’t technically “true” are meaningless to people. What is important to the human spirit are narratives and mythologies.

If you want to talk about “elites” you’re talking about people spending their times accumulating facts and figures and picking out which things fail a “fact check” of their opponents.

Conservatism prizes philosophy and belief primarily and opposes “moral relativism”, which they see manifesting itself in deriving policy and beliefs by circumstances and forming policies around that.

Movements and belief systems need a binding mythology, and Trump provides it. Sykes doesn’t, getting himself bogged down in the weeds of facts and figures. Trump nourishes his supporters’ intuition in a way that Sykes can’t.

If we want to talk about getting back to traditional values, we need to consider that people’s souls were nourished by stories and songs and parables that imparted their lessons, not by utilitarian concerns.

We can argue forever about whether it’s technically true that Obama was born in Kenya, whether Hillary belongs in jail for murdering her colleagues, or whether she’s involved with a child molestation ring in the basement of a D.C. pizza restaurant. But the fact is that these stories firm the core of the conservative movement, and they know that if they listen and tells those stories, they can identify and bring together people with a shared value system. That’s more valuabe than facts and figures over whose health care policy will help more people or not.

Sykes feeds people’s minds with fodder about what may or may not be good for the GDP. Trump and Hannity feed the soul and nourishes their shared community.

#21 Comment By A DC Wonk On October 18, 2017 @ 4:34 pm

Rachel — terrific post. And thanks to TAC for headlining it.

One of my favorite examples of “turning the shirt inside out” is this classic PSA, co-starring Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich, talking about how climate change is a serious issue, and support for Cap-n-Trade (which was in the 2008 GOP platform, iirc).

Check it out:

[3]

My other favorite example: the right wing Heritage Foundation’s terrific insurance plan that covers almost everybody and maximizes free market concepts to implement it. Of course, this was the basis of Romneycare, and, thus, Obamacare. (And it’s why the Right will never find an acceptable conservative replacement for Obamacare, because Obamacare already *is* the conservative plan for health care!)

Another one: that, according to most of the GOP and most of the RW media, deficits seem to only matter when a Dem is president. Look it up.

#22 Comment By Kent On October 18, 2017 @ 4:47 pm

@ Tyro,

Fantastic comment! Where I have a personal issue with all of that is that there is a subset of conservatives (into which I fall), that believe the movement should be based on values and the facts and truths that inform those values. Not just stories and narratives.

But you are 100% correct. Trump and Hannity know how to use often false narratives that “feed the soul and nourishes their shared community”. So, Yikes! A good 60% of my fellow “conservatives” are marching off in a direction that I just can’t follow.

#23 Comment By Conservative Reader On October 18, 2017 @ 4:51 pm

The American Establishment can thank itself for the rise of populism both in the US and Europe. Our establishment is responsible for the rape of the middle class by Wall Street – in particular the bailouts of 2008/2009 – and also for the budget busting wars we’ve been fighting for Saudi Arabia and Israel in the Middle East.

Middle class jobs were destroyed, the financial elites grew immensely richer, and the wars created millions of refugees flooding into Europe from the hellholes we made in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and now Yemen, Niger.

Show me a “conservative media” broadcast outlet that focuses on those hard home truths and I’ll turn the TV or radio back on.

#24 Comment By Whine Merchant On October 18, 2017 @ 6:31 pm

Courtroom writes: “Sanctuary cities: it’s not our job to control the borders, it’s the president’s.
Judges : it’s illegal for the president to control the borders. Anybody who wants to can come here.”

No – the LAW is what confounds Trump’s proclamations, not judges. And your fear and hate say “anyone can come here”, not any judicial ruling.

These kind of conspiratorial attitudes thrive in the world of emotional pseudo-conservatism, but would wither in the sunlight of calmly rational conservatism. I think that is what this book is telling us.

Tyro [above] is correct: If it “feels” truthy, then Rupert Murdoch will publish it and make a few more dollars.

#25 Comment By One Guy On October 18, 2017 @ 6:39 pm

Good post, Tyro.

#26 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 18, 2017 @ 8:38 pm

“If we want to talk about getting back to traditional values, we need to consider that people’s souls were nourished by stories and songs and parables that imparted their lessons, not by utilitarian concerns.”

Hmmmmm . . I have been a conservative a long time. And I can say with complete confidence that narrative are fine. But a narrative that espouses falsehood is worthless. For example, the current executive makes the suggestion that there is a war on police — but it is simply false and it false on every level. A conservative is not going to embrace falsehood merely to be in tune with a candidate and a candidate who merely uses narrative to pander for support is not following a conservative ethos.

I think the Pres has some conservative leaning. He may even desire to operate a a Conservative, but thus far, he reflects what was known about him during the campaign – he is not a conservative.

Here is where your narrative fall apart:

“If we want to talk about getting back to traditional values, we need to consider that people’s souls were nourished by stories and songs and parables that imparted their lessons, not by utilitarian concerns.”

There is very little about Pres trump that hearkens to traditional conservative values. I think that was clear going in. However, his positions on more issues were in line with my own.

And I think he deserved a fair hearing.

#27 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 18, 2017 @ 8:59 pm

“Based on his work, western nations worked hard over decades to moderate human behavior. A key aspect of that was bringing the media into control of responsible individuals.”

And gave birth to;

the kinsey report

violent protests at apa conference to force change on the clarification for same sex relational behavior.

attacks on all christian traditions.

attacks on family

same sex behavior is normal

A media that supports and advocates from all manner of speculative notions is hardly under anyone’s control moderating behavior.

That is some standard. excuse me but does Hollywood or New York media appear under control

I need not mention what is referred to as tabloid journalism though it is getting increasingly difficult to know what media outlets meet that definition.
______________________

The turning of the shirts represents the exchange of sincere commitment to sincere — appearances of winning or being on the winning side — whatever it takes.

#28 Comment By community pillar On October 18, 2017 @ 9:25 pm

“No – the LAW is what confounds Trump’s proclamations, not judges. And your fear and hate say “anyone can come here”, not any judicial ruling.”

Ha ha. We’ll find out what “the law” means in due course. I wouldn’t waste much energy on defending any putative “right” of damn aliens to barge into our country at will.

#29 Comment By Chester Middleton On October 18, 2017 @ 9:40 pm

“the blame should rightly fall at the feet of the establishment and politicians who have compromised ideology in exchange for personal expedience on far too many occasions.”

By politicians, you are most likely referring to people that members of your party have elected multiple times.

Fooled at least twice, the shame falls on all of us.

#30 Comment By swineherd On October 18, 2017 @ 10:50 pm

Here’s a clue for TAC: don’t ever take the sort of creepily false line in that NR article by Michael Brendan Dougherty that TAC currently links, the one in which he blames Merkel for refugees flooding into Europe from Syria and N. Africa a couple of years ago.

That wasn’t Merkel, buddy boy, it was US. WE caused that flood. It was OUR stupid policies in the Middle East and Libya that wrecked the joint and created failed states hemorrhaging desperate people into Europe. Merkel made a bad mistake by trying to take too many of them in, but she at least had begged us not to invade and destroy these places. We ignored her and did it anyway, and she was left to cope with the consequences.

How dare Dougherty accuse her of causing that disaster. Dougherty’s disgusting neocon colleagues at NR (and their Israeli masters) bear far more blame for it.

If conservatives openly distort and falsify as Dougherty has done in that vile NR article, they can expect to be swept out of power as they deserve. And the “conservative media” cited in this article can expect to be swept out too.

#31 Comment By max skinner On October 19, 2017 @ 1:15 am

“We can argue forever about whether it’s technically true that Obama was born in Kenya, whether Hillary belongs in jail for murdering her colleagues, or whether she’s involved with a child molestation ring in the basement of a D.C. pizza restaurant. But the fact is that these stories firm the core of the conservative movement, and they know that if they listen and tells those stories, they can identify and bring together people with a shared value system….”

A value system based on what? On lies? What validity can it have?

#32 Comment By Kenneth Almquist On October 19, 2017 @ 3:20 am

“Here’s the core of Sykes’ answer: Right-wing media created a fever swamp of misinformation, fanaticism, and resentment, which ultimately derailed the party and American politics.”

I haven’t read the book, but it seems to me that’s as far as his answer goes, he’s missed something rather fundamental. There are relatively few wealthy people. By definition, only 1% of Americans fall into the top 1%, and you aren’t going to get all of them to vote for you. (I recall a Forbes writer explaining, “Being truely wealthy means you don’t have to worry about marginal tax rates.”) To win an election, you need 50% plus 1. So if you want to advance the interests of the 1%, you need to find a way to translate money, which the 1% have lots of, into votes.

That, in my view, creates an asymmetry between between the political left and right. Take Obamacare as an example. Repealing Obamacare would reduce taxes on the top two percent, at the cost of thousands of Americans dying due to lack of healthcare. This is not a tradeoff that is easy to sell to Americans who aren’t wealthy enough to benefit from the tax cuts, and I would hope that simple human compassion for one’s fellow Americans would lead many in the top 2% to oppose it as well. Republican members of Congress voted to repeal Obamacare back when Obama was President, but now Republicans are afraid that the fever swamp of misinformation, fanaticism, and resentment won’t be enough to protect their political careers from the wrath of those hurt by a repeal when the repeal actually becomes law. In short, for some, the fever swamp isn’t the problem; the problem is that the fever swamp isn’t quite big enough.

#33 Comment By the recent history rememberer On October 19, 2017 @ 9:48 am

It seems to me that your sports-fan analogy gets things wrong. Republicans wore the same jerseys the whole time.

The party line today is that George W. Bush wasn’t a “true conservative.” But when it mattered, conservatives revered him. He left office with about 30% approval from independents, but 60% from Republicans, and over 80% from “conservative Republicans.”

Then, 20 minutes or so after Bush and the “unitary executive” left office, the Republican base became extremely preoccupied with the deficit and with excessive executive power.

Those issues have somehow become less salient to Republican voters and elites in the past nine months.

Eagles fans have different views on pass interference, depending on whether the most recent call has gone for or against their favorite team. They don’t need to change their jerseys.

Similarly, Republicans have been consistent the entire time.

They’ve cheered their side and booed the other side.

What else would they do? Why would you expect anything else?

#34 Comment By Tyro On October 19, 2017 @ 10:44 am

A value system based on what? On lies? What validity can it have?

I think your average conservative would simply tell you that we can’t really know one way or the other for sure.

There’s something I think that Trump and radio entertainers understand that people like Sykes and many liberals don’t: people don’t buy/consume facts– what they consume is an experience.

Reagan really who made the Dark Enlightenment ascendant in the Republican Party. He made sense of the world to voters and gave them a sense of place in the world. In comparison, the idea that we should teach everyone to be a critical thinker whose life goal was to divide “fact” from “fiction”, understand causes and effects, separate correlation from causation, etc. Sykes is frustrated at watching rank and file conservatives being unable to perform these basic tasks. What he doesn’t realize is that these things are inherently anti conservative, in that he’s basically expecting people to undermine and deconstruct their cultures and communities, whereas people like Hannity and Trump are reinforcing those cultures and communities with shared experiences and values.

My tongue is somewhat in my cheek here, but if you want to take the writings of Rod Dreher to heart and listen to the concerns of small town America, demanding that they critically analyze claims made to them by conservative activists and personalities is the same instinct that alienates people from their families and communities by undermining their own families’ and cultures’ claims.

#35 Comment By max skinner On October 19, 2017 @ 12:41 pm

Tyro:
“My tongue is somewhat in my cheek here, but if you want to take the writings of Rod Dreher to heart and listen to the concerns of small town America, demanding that they critically analyze claims made to them by conservative activists and personalities is the same instinct that alienates people from their families and communities by undermining their own families’ and cultures’ claims.”

I appreciate your comments but I reject the idea that the only way for people to feel connected with each other is to believe in a “narrative” that is factually untrue. There are plenty of reasons for small town residents to feel left out, but isolating themselves with comforting fiction about how depraved the outside world is will not improve their lot in life.

#36 Comment By Charles On October 19, 2017 @ 1:05 pm

“Trump and Hannity feed the soul and nourishes their shared community.”

They have provided a diet of Twinkies and Ho Hos from which the conservative body politic has suffered a stroke.

We are waiting to see what survives.

#37 Comment By One Guy On October 19, 2017 @ 3:13 pm

“…isolating themselves with comforting fiction about how depraved the outside world is will not improve their lot in life.”

Seriously? These are often people who think the factory is moving back from China, and the coal mine is opening up again, and there will be jobs aplenty. In the meantime, they take opioids. ‘Improving their lot in life’ is not something they do (without the government’s help).

#38 Comment By Michelle On October 19, 2017 @ 4:49 pm

Trump and Hannity feed the soul and nourishes their shared community.

No. Trump and Hannity feed the id and create a faux community based on shared resentments, not shared values. Hucksters like Trump know how to tell people what they want to hear but have no values or principles of their own other than self-aggrandizement. They depend on the emotionalism of their targets for their success.

BTW–great review. I now have another book to add to my growing list of must reads.

#39 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 20, 2017 @ 3:12 am

“Republican members of Congress voted to repeal Obamacare back when Obama was President, but now Republicans are afraid that the fever swamp of misinformation, fanaticism, and resentment won’t be enough to protect their political careers from the wrath of those hurt by a repeal when the repeal actually becomes law.”

The conversation I had two night ago was with a friend. She is a die had liberal and democrat. What she described to me was not a system that under lo of tax support. Taxes are not the problem with the healthcare system. Taxes are not going to fix, management issues or the rising costs. It is my supicion that ocial security and medicaid/medicare make up the lion share of healthcare costs and taxes by the 1% haven’t put a dent in those issues.

Furthermore, I think you misunderstood the Forbes article. I could be wrong, the reason the 1% don’t fuss over taxes is that generally, given the system. they don’t actually pay taxes that would sustain the system in the first place.

#40 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 21, 2017 @ 8:52 am

“But the fact is that these stories firm the core of the conservative movement . . .”

I think you may be mistaking republican for conservative.