For a while, they played the ideological purity game. Anyone who deviated from the Heritage Action script or the NRA scorecard or the anti-gay-marriage hymnal was a “RINO.” (The problem with Jeb Bush, you see, was that he was too liberal.) Trump, it must be said, revealed all of these folks to be frauds. The media chorus that hounded impure conservatives now embraces Trump and the worst excesses of the welfare state (subsidized health care for Ivanka Trump?!). They’ve decided that large swaths of America are made up of victims, driven to madness by elites who refused to say “Merry Christmas” and deprived them of $30-per-hour jobs that required no college education. They have gone from hawking traditional marriage to embracing a thrice-married adulterer.
But it’s not just the talk-radio screechers or the Sean Hannitys or the Breitbarts. “Respectable” conservative commentators in print, on TV, online and even in some think tanks parrot nonsense about free trade, blame immigration from Mexico (which is, on net, negative) for a raft of economic woes, hold vigils for the end of gay marriage (sometimes extending to the right to discriminate against gays), celebrate lawlessness when convenient (disregard the Supreme Court!) and scream “law and order” when it is about keeping immigrants in the shadows. They claim to be offended by crass culture and lack of traditional values, but calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” is just “telling it like it is.”
Right-wing media now tell us that electing Hillary Clinton will bring about the end of American civilization. And if Trump does not win, it will not be the fault of water carriers like themselves, but rather, the early-warning detectors who understood perfectly what Trump was up to.
They used to resent racial- and gender-grievance mongering. Now they coddle non-college-educated white males whose lives have been ruined by … what? Free trade that saves them hundreds of dollars a year at Walmart? By the idea that the rich have gamed the system? (It may be objectionable, but crony capitalism did not stymie the job prospects of high school dropouts in Appalachia.)
The conspiracy generators — Sen. Mitch McConnell sold them out! 9/11 was an inside job! President Obama was born in Kenya! — assumed that their audience was stupid. They then concocted a brew of urban myth and racial resentment that made their audience even stupider. It used to be that Republicans were the ideas party (Milton Friedman! James Q. Wilson!), while the Democrats were the coalition party (minorities, unions, etc.). Now the Republicans’ “big idea” is that whites are persecuted and Christians get no respect. The right-wing media rails about public schools that don’t teach history adequately — and then spews a fractured fairy tale about U.S. history and makes mincemeat of the Constitution when it suits their purposes.
As Rothkopf put it, some of these commentators on the right now are “running the other way, shocked and horrified at the monster they have made, ink-stained Dr. Frankensteins who lack the courage to admit their own responsibility in this gross national failure.” And some of the most strident voices have decided to jettison virtually every principle that they insisted RINOs were insufficiently devoted to, and instead vouch for a moral toxic waste dump of a candidate whose America First foreign policy is out of the 1930s and whose domestic policy tries to re-create the ’50s.
They are, on the whole, far less informative, honest and fair than the mainstream media (which has its own problems). They sure are less civil. After the election, it will be a good time to name names, to end the Fox News network monopoly on evening conservative news-ish programming, to debunk the false narratives and grotesque sexism and simply to tune out the gibberish. Shining a bright light on charlatans and encouraging more speech have always been the antidote to noxious, false and destructive speech.