Let’s face it, politics can be pretty darn boring. I know, having seen it first hand at the local level. I used to attend council meetings in the wee village of Thorndale so I could write about the latest goings-on for the Village News. Say that real fast? Village Snooze. Ha ha.
But then, along came “The Former Guy”, as President Biden has christened him. He sure spruced up snooze-fest politics, huh? Maybe you liked it, so you lapped it up? Reality TV! Maybe you couldn’t stand it, so you lapped it up? Why? My husband B says, “I could not go down that rabbit hole like you do.” I explain: “I just keep trying to understand how people could like it, vote for it, even think of him as a legitimate leader. Plus, that crazy train’s gotta crash sometime.”
No crash . . . yet! Though a recent ruling by the Supreme Court on The Former Guy’s taxes may mean, as many hilariously call it: “Orange is the new orange”! So, perhaps a slamming of bars as opposed to derailment? Like the chants he loves to promote at rallies: “Lock him up!”
I’ve learned a lot in my time down the rabbit hole. Mostly? Anyone paying attention saw this crazy train (which many conservatives willingly boarded) careening down the tracks decades ago:
*Perhaps former US Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, was the original train operator? You’ve no doubt heard these phrases: “the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists”. Yes, formerguyspeak, but Gingrich started it. He realized in the late 70s that to regain power from the Democrats, Republicans had to stop being so even-tempered, so much like them. Historian Julian Zelizer says of Gingrich, “He believed that the more confrontational, the more outlandish you were, the more the media would cover you and the more the media would replicate what you said about your opponent – whether it was true or not true.”
*Get Me Roger Stone on Netflix helps make sense of the crazy train’s path. Stone is a character, a “self-proclaimed dirty trickster”. In his early 20s, he worked on Richard Nixon’s campaign; in fact, he sports a large tattoo of Nixon’s face on his back. Watching this documentary, you see how his influence on The Former Guy led to such things as birtherism, the attack on Hillary Clinton’s emails. Wikipedia says, “He has described his modus operandi as ‘attack, attack, attack – never defend’ and ‘admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack’.” Sound familiar?
*Conservatives, drawn to controversy (as my sleuthing uncovered), pushed hard for the repeal of the fairness doctrine in the US, a policy requiring “honest, equitable, and balanced” news. They succeeded in 1987. This often gets the blame for the rise of partisan news sources, but keep in mind that it applied to broadcast licenses, not cable. AM talk radio grew from 7% in 1987 to 28% by 1995.
*Then along came Rush Limbaugh, a guy born for radio and eager to steer the conservative train. Limbaugh, who just died of lung cancer on February 17th, worked his first radio gig at just 16 and was fired from a job as a Rock and Roll DJ – a coveted goal of his – in his early 20s for . . . controversy. He landed at KFBK in Sacramento, California in ’84 and, as Daniel Henninger wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Ronald Reagan tore down this wall (the fairness doctrine) in 1987 . . . and Rush Limbaugh was the first man to proclaim himself liberated from the East Germany of liberal media domination.” For decades he spewed bile over the airwaves to tens of millions of American listeners. His personal quest? Fame. Money. He succeeded: he’s a household name and a 2016 radio contract was for $400 million over eight years. Memorable quotes: “Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream.” “You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray (Martin Luther King Jr. assassin).” “Obama and Oprah are only successful because they’re Black.” Experts have observed that after decades of Limbaugh listening? When The Former Guy speaks in his weird broken rambling way? It’s a language Limbaugh listeners understand.
*Roger Ailes, who died in 2017, helped steer Republican political careers of men like Nixon, Reagan and Bush Sr. He’s credited with the “Orchestra Pit Theory” of politics: “If you have two guys on a stage and one guy says, ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem,’ and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?” When asked by broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff: “. . . the notion of the candidate saying, ‘I want to run for President because I want to do something for this country,’ is crazy?” Ailes replied: “Suicide.”
*Of course, conservative TV news outlets like Fox News (Ailes was CEO until 2016 when he resigned over sexual harassment allegations), Newsmax and OAN, significantly fuel The Former Guy’s train. They have nary a bad word to say about him. Heavy on opinion, light on fact. And now heavy on a lawsuit; voting machine company Smartmatic filed a $2.7 Billion defamation suit against Fox, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell over what they call their ‘disinformation campaign’. Experts indicate they have a strong case, so might these so-called ‘news’ outlets be more committed to ‘news’ in the future?
*And what about social media? It’s had a major stake in the spreading of misinformation and conspiracy theories, yes? Add to that the algorithms that deliver you content based on prior behaviour? Voila! You get the current reality (or unreality) silos we exist in. Sure, many of us are on there for cute pet pics and just to keep in touch with friends, near and far. But many people, with extra time on their hands throughout the pandemic, got sucked into the outlandish (and historic, it seems) ideas of QAnon. From Wikipedia: “a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotted against . . .” The Former Guy. Jews were accused of such activity in Nazi Germany. Wow.
Want entertainment with your politics? DANGER! Look no further than the January 6th insurrection at the US Capitol. Common sense screams: “The Former Guy has blood on his hands!” Yet six of the seven Republicans who voted to convict are facing serious blowback. Of Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey, Chairman of the Washington County GOP Dave Ball said this: “We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing or whatever he said he’s doing.”
Have a conscience? Prefer to do the right thing? Think truth, science matter? Then you’re either a piss-poor conservative or a boring liberal. While they may have their flaws – God help us, we all do – I’m pretty happy (and frankly, bored most of the time) watching Biden and Trudeau quietly go about the work of governing without continuously and theatrically falling into orchestra pits.