When Muslim extremists attack, we often hear they were “radicalized” by watching videos, listening to speeches and engaging in social media that fueled their fears and resentments.
Can immersing yourself in toxic media really cause crazy behavior? Of course it can: It has been happening to some American conservatives for years.
Inflammatory talk show hosts and Fox News pundits can take a lot of credit for the radicalization of previously rational people. The result is turning the GOP into a white nationalist party bent on self-destruction.
The lunatic fringe was unleashed in 1987 when President Ronald Reagan’s Federal Communications Commission repealed the 38-year-old Fairness Doctrine. Bombastic talk show hosts started getting big ratings by stoking anger and resentment. They convinced listeners they couldn’t trust government, educated “elites” or the “liberal” media, which they defined as any media outside the right-wing echo chamber.
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These crazy-talk entertainers empowered opportunistic politicians and drove the Republican Party further and further to the right. They fueled the Tea Party movement and congressional gridlock and paved the way for Donald Trump, the most unfit presidential nominee in American history.
Pundits like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter now have more power within the GOP than party leaders. In fact, party leaders are scared to death of them. The talkers influence large numbers of voters willing to ignore facts, logic and science to have their feelings and prejudices validated. What used to be called civility is now rejected as “political correctness.”
Right-wing media made over-the-top political rhetoric not only acceptable but expected. Now, politicians such as Trump and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin think it is acceptable to incite violence to advance their agendas.
Words have consequences. What happens when somebody acts on Trump’s comments about “Second Amendment people” or Bevin’s ramblings about the need to “shed blood” if Clinton is elected. Not long ago, most Republicans would have condemned such remarks as un-American, if not treasonous. Not anymore.
The level of crazy talk we hear now ignores reality. Nobody’s guns or liberty have been taken away. Nobody’s religious freedom has been infringed, unless you count the freedom to impose your religion on others. We aren’t being overrun by illegal immigrants; in fact, we have about a million fewer than a decade ago. Violent crime rates aren’t soaring; they’ve been falling for 25 years.
Many Trump supporters seem to have been traumatized by America’s first black president and the prospect of the first woman president.
Right-wing media have waged a non-stop hate campaign against President Barack Obama. Like every president, he has made mistakes. But Obama has done a remarkable job of trying to fix the mess he inherited from former President George W. Bush. And he has done it despite a complete lack of cooperation from congressional Republicans more interested in seeing Obama fail than the nation succeed.
The crazy talkers have demonized Democrat Hillary Clinton since she became First Lady in 1992. Although highly qualified to be president, she is a flawed candidate — secretive and ethically challenged. But compared to Trump, she’s a saint.
Trump has no coherent philosophy or policies. He praises dictators such as Russian President Vladimir Putin. His business career is marked by bankruptcies and poor ethics. Trump is the first presidential nominee in decades to refuse to release his tax returns so voters can judge his conflicts of interest — a trait he shares with Bevin.
Every former Republican president and nominee except Bob Dole has shunned Trump. In a hacked email, Gen. Colin Powell, the retired four-star general who was Bush’s Secretary of State, called Trump a “national disgrace.”
Another takedown came this week from the Union Leader in Manchester, N.H., one of the nation’s most conservative newspapers. For the first time in more than a century it refused to endorse the GOP’s nominee and went instead with Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.
“The man is a liar, a bully, a buffoon,” Publisher Joseph W. McQuaid wrote of Trump in a blistering editorial. “He denigrates any individual or group that displeases him. He has dishonored military veterans and their families, made fun of the physically frail, and changed political views almost as often as he has changed wives.”
Can you imagine Trump getting the Republican nomination had not so many voters been “radicalized” by right-wing media? The crazy talkers may destroy the GOP. I just hope they don’t take the country down with it.