“There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways. And microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera. So we know that that is just a fact of modern life.”
—Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Tr-mp
Every day we see and hear almost nothing but propaganda, some of it strange and dark, from Tr-mp and his regime and his enablers in Congress. Trashing the Congressional Budget Office’s estimates of killing Obamacare is just one example (the CBO, by the way, is headed by a conservative Republican economist and critic of Obamacare). Another example is the attempt by Sean Spicer to reinterpret what Tr-mp meant when he accused President Obama of a crime. There are countless cases of such surreal attempts to ignore or, more often, invent an alternative reality.
Some people call this stuff gaslighting. Some call it deflection. Others call it simple obfuscation, designed to draw attention away from the Russian scandal or the Tr-mp family grifting and Emoluments Clause violations or the administrative incompetence—or Tr-mp’s personality disorders. But because I spent more than 20 years listening to talk radio—as a conservative—I know exactly what it is we see and hear. It’s an attempt to radicalize Americans, at least enough of them to make a good living, or in terms of politics, to retain political power and achieve reactionary policy goals. These people sell conspiracies, they peddle half- and quarter-truths as gospel. They tell lies. They radicalize Americans so they can use them, either to get their money or their votes.
And I have bad news. It works.
We can trace nearly all of what we see today back to Rush Limbaugh. He went national with his divisive, propagandistic, profitable radio show in 1988. I was there with him from the beginning. Every day. First it was two hours, then it went to three. I was a believer. I was a dittohead. I had been educated in conservatism by intellectuals like William F. Buckley and George Will and Joseph Sobran. But I was, to tell the truth, radicalized in my formerly rabid conservatism by Limbaugh.
It was the Limbaugh model—distort and skew the news to promote far-right politics and demonize Democrats—upon which Roger Ailes, who once tried to make Rush a television star in the 1990s, based the idea of Fox “News.” Debuting in 1996, Ailes’ Fox enterprise became the number one cable “news” channel in 2002 and has remained there ever since. It turns out, as Ailes learned from Limbaugh’s financial success, that disseminating disinformation and propaganda, turning the Democratic Party into an America-hating institution, and radicalizing conservatives, is a lucrative business. According to the Pew Research Center, Fox “News” enjoyed a profit in 2015 of some $1.5 billion, well ahead of CNN’s $381 million and MSNBC’s $227 million.
About the same time Fox “News” was beginning its televised assault on the truth, hijacking journalism for the radicalization of the right, a former 7-Eleven night clerk and telemarketer named Matt Drudge began to make his mark on the Internet. The Drudge Report began as a small email newsletter dabbling mostly in showbiz, “part gossip and part opinion,” as Wikipedia describes it, that Drudge ran out of his tiny two-room apartment in a run-down part of Hollywood. It morphed into a news aggregation site, began focusing on politics, and gained prominence by first revealing, early in 1998, that Newsweek was sitting on a story about someone named Monica Lewinsky. We all know what happened to Bill Clinton after that. What happened to Drudge is that outing Newsweek, assisting in the right-wing assault on the Clinton’s, made him a superhero on the right. His intentional and ongoing disdain for journalistic standards, of standards of any kind, is demonstrated by a story published by Media Matters in 2013 involving Drudge and a crazy conspiracist now linked to Donald Tr-mp:
Matt Drudge has long been conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ biggest ally. According to a Media Matters review, the heavily-trafficked Drudge Report has promoted at least 50 separate articles at Jones’ Infowars website in 2013, and has linked to at least 244 different articles on the site in the past two years.
Drudge announced this week that he had privately told friends that 2013 would be the “year of Alex Jones.” Considering Drudge’s penchant for promoting Jones and his Infowars website, those comments are more of a promise than a prediction.
Drudge missed the exact year that the kooky Jones—on whose program Tr-mp has appeared, whom Tr-mp has called “amazing,” and to whom Tr-mp said “I will not let you down”—would rise to prominence. But that wasn’t the point. The point was and is to make money off misinformation and propaganda and lies, which is a reason to promote people like Jones. Mediaite reported that in July of last year, DrudgeReport.com “netted a combined page view count of 1,189,670,000 for the month and held its position as the #3 media publisher in the country.” This stuff works, people.
Now we come to Breitbart.com, “the platform for the alt-right,” as Tr-mp’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, who recently resigned as the chairman of the extremist site, once called it. The founder of Breitbart.com was no stranger to Matt Drudge, as Reason magazine pointed out:
Andrew Breitbart describes his job function as “Matt Drudge’s bitch,” but he’s being modest: He’s the man behind the curtain at The Drudge Report, stirring up the site’s signature mix of scandal, box office returns, wire stories, and political tidbits.
Even though Andrew Breitbart is dead, his site lives on and is still spreading Drudge’s sludge, as this story from October of 2016 demostrates:
That story was ostensibly about a tweet Drudge sent out:
The real point of the Breitbart story and the Drudge tweet with a photo of Ellen DeGeneres, a well-known lesbian, was to get the following “scandal” and “political tidbit” into the minds of conservative readers who may not have known about it or had forgotten it:
A rumor circulated in the 1990s saying that Clinton was secretly okay with her husband’s extramarital affairs because she was secretly a lesbian, but there has been no truth to the rumor.
This isn’t the first time Clinton has been accused of cheating on her husband.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump accused Clinton of cheating on her husband, but he didn’t say with whom or provided any specifics.
“Hillary Clinton’s only loyalty is to her financial contributors, I don’t even think she’s loyal to Bill if you want to know the truth,” he said during a rally in Pennsylvania on Oct. 1. “Really folks, why should she be?” he asked, a reference to Bill Clinton’s womanizing and accusations of sexual abuse.
Propagating such tripe radicalizes conservatives, make them regular customers, and gets them to pass stories like these among their friends and family and coworkers, which generates income. So does labeling the mainstream press as “fake news,” something Tr-mp and his followers do now without even blinking.
Conservative media, of which Tr-mp is now a part, use these methods to divide the country and exploit and monetize the differences between us. For an increasing number of cynical politicians on the right, the methods are meant to divide the country and benefit from a fevered following of fanatics, those who will express their radicalization by voting against their own economic interests and, in more extreme cases, taking to violence or, as we have seen lately with the attacks on Jewish centers, expressing ancient hatreds.
Just stop and think of where we are right now:
♦ The special counsel to Tr-mp has essentially warned Americans that their government may be using microwave ovens to spy on them.
♦ A United States congressman from Iowa, praising a right-wing Dutch xenophobe who thinks European civilization is being transformed by Muslim immigrants, said, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” He then went on CNN and made matters worse by doubling down on his message. And we barely heard a negative peep from his fellow Republicans.
♦ According to the Anti-Defamation League, “Since January, 161 bomb threats have targeted Jewish institutions across the country.” Another ADL article notes: “White supremacists, emboldened by the 2016 elections and the current political climate, are currently engaged in an unprecedented outreach effort to attract and recruit students on American college campuses.”
♦ One of Tr-mp’s top strategists, Steve Bannon, a self-avowed Leninist who wants “to destroy the state,” thinks Western Civilization is in a Holy War not just against violent Islamist extremists, but with Islam itself, a religion that has 1.6 billion followers around the world, including 3.3 million here in America, some 4000 of whom are currently serving in the U.S. military.
♦ Sean Hannity, a radical radio guy spawned by the success of Rush Limbaugh and who crossed over to TV as a popular host on what masquerades as a conservative “news” network, on Thursday claimed there were “Obama holdovers” in the government “hell-bent on destroying” Tr-mp. He told the Tr-mp regime to “purge these saboteurs before it’s too late.” The next day the purging began with the firing of U.S. Attorneys. None other than Geraldo Rivera called Hannity “the second-most powerful, influential person in the country” because he talks to Tr-mp every day and, more frightening, Tr-mp listens.
♦ Worse, Bloomberg news posted a video story today with this headline and description:
Alex Jones is one of the most famous conspiracy theorists in America, calling events like the Sandy Hook shooting, the Apollo moon landing, and 9/11 “false flags.” One of his biggest fans? Donald Trump. This Bloomberg Profile looks at how Alex Jones went from extremist fringe to a major source of information for the president of the United States.
♦ Our Secretary of State is sometimes unaware when foreign diplomats are visiting Washington, takes foreign trips without the press, and generally has no staff to help him understand the complexities and nuances of diplomacy.
♦ Wikileaks has released potentially devastating intelligence-gathering secrets, and Agent Orange is more worried about The Apprentice’s ratings. In fact, Kellyanne Conway’s allusion to spying microwaves was in the context of Wikileaks—think: Russia—trying to undermine our national security and our democracy.
♦ Tr-mp delusionally claimed Obama committed a serious felony, referred to the former president as either a “bad” man or a “sick” man, and close to half of the country is willing to believe him.
♦ Tr-mp claims, almost every time he talks about the economy, that it was a “mess” when he took over. Journalists, weary of correcting every lie, every day, don’t even bother to address this one anymore.
♦ Before Tr-mp was in power, the employment numbers were phony. After he’s in power, they are indisputable evidence of his governing genius.
♦ The Office of Management and Budget director, former congressman Mick Mulvaney, has not only told lies about Obamacare, but he accused the Obama administration of “manipulating the numbers” in order “to make the unemployment rate…look smaller than it actually was.” He offered no evidence for this claim, of course, but it is part of radicalizing a segment of the population to doubt the facts and believe the unbelievable.
♦ And speaking of radicalism, that same Mick Mulvaney championed the 2011 government shutdown, believed such shutdowns were “good policy,” and, as a congressman, would have cut government spending to the point that it could be drowned not in Grover Norquist’s infamous bathtub, but in Tr-mp’s gold-plated shitter. During hard economic times, he proposed dramatic cuts in government spending, including defense spending, so much so that John McCain voted against his confirmation as OMB director.
♦ The Speaker of the House has called the GOP bill to repeal and replace Obamacare an “act of mercy.” Here are examples of Republican mercy: some 24 million folks, many of them elderly and living in nursing homes, will lose their health coverage; older Americans will pay a lot more for their insurance; “CBO estimates monthly health insurance premium for a single 64-year-old who makes $26,500 would jump more than 700% (from $1,700 to $14,600)”; defunding Planned Parenthood “would leave many women without services to help them avoid pregnancy, resulting in thousands of additional births”; oh, and rich people will get $600 billion in tax cuts over ten years.
All this and more that is happening around us is radical stuff. There is no doubt about it. And none of it could happen without intentionally radicalizing enough people in the country—not a majority but enough— to make it all possible.
Many of us outside the various fundamentalist tribes have wondered how a culture can exist in faraway places that promotes the idea that people should strap explosives to their torsos to kill and terrorize those who don’t share their theological beliefs. Now we can see how that can happen. It starts with radicalization. It starts with convincing ignorant or unsophisticated or vulnerable people that what they see and hear is false, unless it comes from the radicalizers. Microwave ovens can see what we are doing. Our televisions are spying on us. Only the regime’s numbers are real numbers. “Mercy” means taking away healthcare from millions and giving away millions to billionaires. And on and on.
We have not seen and will not see American radicals on the right strap on explosive vests and blow up people in the town square. Theirs is a different brand of radicalism. What we have seen are these radicals collectively strapping Tr-mpism to the chest of America and threatening to politically blow up the place if they don’t get what they want.
Our job, as resisters, is not to let them terrorize us into submission or to numb us into pessimism and paralysis. Tr-mpism is explosive. It is dangerous. But we can fight it and win. We can protect the truth, respect the facts, and insist that our friends and family and others around us do the same. Then when election time comes, we can vote and strip the radicalizers of their power, if not their ability to make money by radicalizing the gullible.