Political commentator David Frum wrote something extremely prescient about the future of conservatism in his book, Trumpocracy. He said that “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.” That is exactly what’s happening as the president, and his enablers challenge the election results.
The quote from Trumpocracy, however, isn’t the only time Frum was prescient about conservatives. Ten years ago, the former George W. Bush speechwriter took on the real leaders of the Republican Party: right-wing commentators on television and talk radio.
I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters — but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government.
Frum went on to point out that television and talk radio personalities have no interest in governing. Their goal is to draw more eyes and ears to their shows (puts money in their pockets), which is much easier to do if their audience is riled up.
If you’re wondering why 70 percent of Republicans believe the election was stolen, it isn’t just because of Trump tweets like this:
….The fact that our Country is being stolen. A coup is taking place in front of our eyes, and the public can’t take this anymore.” A Trump fan at Georgia Rally on @OANN Bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2020
Right-wing radio talk show host Eric Metaxas said that to overturn the election, “we need to fight to the death, to the last drop of blood because it’s worth it.” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners that there could be no peaceful coexistence between liberals and conservatives while speculating about secession. At the Stop the Steal/Jericho March in Washington on Saturday, Alex Jones declared that “God is on our side” before predicting that “Joe Biden will be removed, one way or another.” That is what conservatives hear from the GOP’s real leaders. Is it any wonder then, that Republicans like Rep. Steve Scalise still refuse to recognize Joe Biden as the president-elect?
To explain why more than half of the Republican members of Congress signed on to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attempt to destroy democracy by overturning the election, Kevin Drum got to the heart of the matter by writing, “they’re signing it because they’ve created both a base and an entertainment complex that will punish them if they don’t continue to feed it ever larger and bloodier chunks of red meat.” When the Supreme Court dismissed Paxton’s lawsuit, Allen West, chair of the Texas GOP, encouraged the secession alluded to by Limbaugh by issuing a statement that included: “perhaps law-abiding states should band together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution.”
Fox News has become the leading example of what happens when a right-wing network doesn’t dish enough red meat. While commentators like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham continue to spread propaganda, the news division is partially grounded in reality. In response, the Fox News audience is fleeing to Newsmax and OANN, where they are fed a steady diet of outrage.
Conservatives have spent years decrying mainstream media as liberal and, therefore, not to be trusted. At the same time, a network of right-wing news organizations developed to spread propaganda and disinformation. Stars like Limbaugh, Hannity, and Jones were born. Then along came Trump, who upped the ante by telling his supporters that mainstream media was “the enemy of the people.”
As a result, about 40 percent of the public now lives in a bubble where facts don’t exist. It has been designed to keep the audience enraged and engaged, which means that they’ll buy more MyPillows, gold coins, and all the other items that are advertised between TV/radio segments. That’s the business model. While democracy faces its most serious threat since the Civil War, the real Republican leaders are laughing all the way to the bank.