Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Made Man

"The inaugural issue of The Weekly Standard, the conservative magazine launched in 1995," writes The Atlantic's David Frum, "depicted then–Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich swinging into action, a submachine gun blazing in his left hand, under the headline 'Permanent Offense.'"

And now the GOP, the much-preferred party of the Weekly Standard (and still somewhat of David Frum) has Donald Trump on its hands.

Oh, it's not because of The Weekly Standard or Newt Gingrich, though each has played a part.  It has been a long time in the making, as described in July by author and professor of history Heather Cox Richardson.

It started, she implied, with Barry Goldwater but intensified with Richard Nixon, whose media advisor explained the psychological underpinning of the strategy when he once wrote

Voters are basically lazy. Reason requires a high degree of discipline, of concentration; impression is easier. Reason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demand…. When we argue with him, we… seek to engage his intellect…. The emotions are more easily roused, closer to the surface, more malleable….

But the major blow to appealing to reason and fact probably was struck by the administration of President Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6) when

To avoid niggling fact-checkers, in 1987, President Reagan’s FCC abandoned the Fairness Doctrine, a decision that meant that public broadcasters were no longer required to provide their audience with opposing viewpoints. Within a year, talk radio had taken off, with hosts like Rush Limbaugh hammering home the vision of a nation gone to ruin, awaiting redemption from the latest Movement Conservative candidate. In 1992, Limbaugh began to broadcast a television show, produced by Roger Ailes, to take the story to viewers. By 1994, the show was carried by 225 television stations.Two years later, Ailes would become the CEO of a new media channel, Fox News, which used the same formula—albeit updated—that Ailes had used to package Nixon’s story almost 30 years before.

Richardson reminds us of the senior adviser to Bush 43, who dismissed the "reality-based community" because "that’s not the way the world really works anymore…. When we act, we create our own reality…. We’re history’s actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

It is a "disregard for fact in favor of narrative," Richardson notes, which "appears  to have become so accepted in the Republican Party that it is now openly driving Republican presidential candidates."

The only thing missing in the professor's analysis is that one word which encapsulates the Republican approach and conservative mindse. Oddly, that comes from an economist, Paul Krugman, who the other day commented

The subtext was that real leaders don’t waste time on hard thinking, that listening to experts is a sign of weakness, that attitude is all you need. And while Mr. Bush’s debacles in Iraq and New Orleans eventually ended America’s faith in his personal gut, the elevation of attitude over analysis only tightened its grip on his party, an evolution highlighted when John McCain, who once upon a time had a reputation for policy independence, chose the eminently unqualified Sarah Palin as his running mate.

If attitude is one of the traits of Donald Trump- along with bravado,  dishonesty, misogyny, a simplistic view of minorities- it neatly encapsulated the style of McCain's running mate, and still does.  Addressing the delegates and guests in St. Paul, Palin asserted "I love those hockey moms. You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.'

Republicans were delirious with delight. The mainstream media swooned. Centrists found someone they just knew they could believe in.

No surprise there. We had experienced the same thing five-and-a-half years earlier when, as Media Matters characterized it years later

On May 1, 2003, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln aboard an S-3B Viking jet, emerged from the aircraft in full flight gear, and proceeded to "press[] flesh," as The Washington Post put it, as he shook hands and hugged crew members in front of the cameras. Later that day, Bush delivered a nationally televised speech from the deck of the Abraham Lincoln in which he declared that "[m]ajor combat operations in Iraq have ended," all the while standing under a banner reading: "Mission Accomplished." Despite lingering questions over the continued violence in Iraq, the failure to locate weapons of mass destruction, and the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, as well as evidence that Bush may have shirked his responsibilities in the Texas Air National Guard (TANG) during the Vietnam War, the print and televised media fawned over Bush's "grand entrance" and the image of Bush as the "jet pilot" and the "Fighter Dog."

It's how they've built the modern Republican Party, as Krugman and others- especially Richardson- have pointed out.  The monster they've created is different in style, but little different in content, from the rest of them. So criticize Donald Trump for all manner of things, including his (extremely tenuous) connection to David Duke (e.g., here, here, and here).  Or alternately ridicule, and apologize to, Trump, in the manner of Stephen Colbert (video below). However, as Colbert and others should realize, Donald Trump didn't drop out of the sky; the Republican Party is the test tube from which he has emerged, the gutter he has crawled out from.

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