Hmm…. I need to cogitate on this one. https://t.co/BGHbJThCz4
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) August 1, 2021
Kevin Drum, worthy wonk that he is, lays out a complete history of the post-WWII paranoid strain in American politics, and concludes:
… As we all know, Donald Trump isn’t the cause of the Republican Party’s descent into madness. He’s merely the result of decades of evolution that started when Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, Rush Limbaugh picked up a microphone, and Newt Gingrich reinvented modern conservatism. But these were just warm-up acts. It wasn’t until Fox News was up and running that we started to see permanent changes in the electorate.
Trump took explicit advantage of that by offering the simplest possible fix. The federal government, he said, was full of idiots. It was that simple. He’d appoint smart people who would make commonsense policy and repair everything in a jiffy.
At the same time, he defended Christianity with the power and intensity of a tent revival preacher. Never mind that Trump showed about as much interest in attending church as he did in reading a book. Finally, here was a man who promised that he could revive religion in the public square. White evangelicals almost literally swooned.
And there’s one more thing: As we saw earlier, the past couple of decades have seen a steady increase in the belief among white people—particularly Republicans—that anti-white bias is a serious problem. Fox News has stoked this fear almost since the beginning, culminating this year in Tucker’s full-throated embrace of the white supremacist “replacement theory” and the seemingly 24/7 campaign against critical race theory and its alleged impact on white schoolkids. This is certainly not all that Fox News does, but it’s a big part of its pitch, and it fits hand in glove with Trump’s appeal to white racism.
This, along with the Fox-inspired decline of trust in government, helped Trump produce a winning message, and his appeal to a dispirited evangelical movement produced a highly motivated legion of shock troops to help him spread the word. Remember what Richard Hofstadter said about what conspiracy theorists want? “Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, the quality needed is not a willingness to compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish.” Who better to fill that role than white evangelicals? They’re already conservative and well organized, and they believe that liberals are behind the decay of traditional American morals. From there, is it such a leap to believe that prominent Democrats lead an international gang of deep-state pedophiles?…
What’s more, as Uscinski and Parent remind us, “conspiracy theories are for losers.” When Trump lost in 2020 and put the conservative movement yet again into crisis, it was the kindling that set off everything else. We think they’re fighting against democracy, but many rank-and-file Republicans think they’re fighting for the literal soul of America. Put more bluntly, their claim that Democrats engaged in mass voter fraud doesn’t mean they’ve given up on democracy. It means they think they’re restoring democracy. This is what turned “Stop the Steal” into a nationwide movement. It’s what prompted Republicans in the House to introduce the Save Democracy Act. And it’s why more than half of all Republicans believe the 2020 election was rigged…
What makes this even worse is that many Republican politicians no longer respond to ordinary political incentives. As former Republican House Speaker John Boehner put it, it’s now all about appealing to Fox News and fending off primary challenges from right-wing fanatics. Referring to the first-term House class of 2010, he wrote in his recent memoir that “they didn’t really want legislative victories. They wanted wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades.” Modern Republicans, raised on a diet of Fox News, “were just thinking of how to fundraise off of outrage or how they could get on Hannity that night.”…
For the past 20 years the fight between liberals and conservatives has been razor close, with neither side making more than minor and temporary progress in what’s been essentially trench warfare. We can only break free of this by staying clear-eyed about what really sustains this war. It is Fox News that has torched the American political system over the past two decades, and it is Fox News that we have to continue to fight.