It's hard to explain exactly why we submit ourselves to this. But in our New York City office we spend most of the day listening to Fox News. In moments of tension and incitement such as these it is difficult to capture the sheer scale and measure of the storm of hate, lies, nonsense and febrile fear that constantly flows out of it, minute by minute and hour after hour. I've become particularly focused in the last couple days on the almost constant stream of often small but highly significant falsehoods which go together to create a frightening and highly distorted image of the world.
Just now we're listening to this show "Outnumbered" where a woman named Andrea Tantaros (who manages to combine in her person in a concentrated form everything that is awful about Fox News) went on a tear about how it was that the San Bernardino shooter's brother was allowed to attend a press conference sponsored by CAIR the day after the attack, 'spouting CAIR talking points' as opposed to being in FBI custody. Why wasn't the whole family in FBI custody, she ranted? Well, as far as I know, the person she's referring to isn't Syed Farook's brother but his brother-in-law. His brother is actually a Navy veteran who lives in a different part of Southern California and, from everything we've heard, had absolutely nothing to do with his brother's crimes. ...
These might seem like small or picayune examples. But they are constant. And they build up to a whole tapestry of falsehoods, that combined with incitement and hysteria create a mental world in which Donald Trump's mounting volume of racist incitement is just not at all surprising. They are the false links that piece together the chain of distortion and lies that would simply collapse without them. You may have noticed that Fox felt compelled to suspend two on-air personalities yesterday because of rants about the President. But they were suspended not because of general tone or extremity but simply because they lapsed into profanity. When I saw this yesterday, it didn't seem surprising because the tone has become so hyperbolic and the climate of outrage and drama against the President not endorsing a military escalation or a clampdown on American Muslims so extreme that it's hardly surprising that a couple of regulars would slip into profanity.
As I wrote last night, this is sort of like a national Milgram Experiment. [Note that my post about that is here.] Are there limits on how far you can go as the possible nominee of a major national party? Seemingly not. ...
But it's not about Trump. It's about his supporters. A big chunk of the Republican base is awash in racism and xenophobic hysteria. And this is the food that they feed on every day. It's a societal sickness and we can't ignore it.
Fox 'News' - and the Republican Party in general - have fed Americans this toxic slurry of racism and xenophobic hysteria for decades now. It started long before Fox, with the GOP's notorious 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists, after the Democratic Party abandoned the racist wing of their own party to support civil rights for black people and other racial minorities.
Politically, that was a huge success for the GOP. The Republicans took the entire South from the Democrats and attracted many northern racists, too. I've known many former Democrats who switched to the Republican Party at that time, because the GOP did such a good job of wooing racists.
Republican leaders were able to use those racists to advance their own political power and their own political goals (mostly, giving tax cuts to the rich). They had to throw the racists a bone occasionally, but mostly this was just rhetoric.
But it worked so well, they continued using it. For example, they've deliberately stoked panic about Hispanic immigration. (That's worked particularly well here in Nebraska.) Right-wing talk radio exploded with Rush Limbaugh and others competing on who could be the angriest, who could proclaim the most outrageous lies, who could most ramp up his gullible listeners to the heights of hysteria.
And then Fox 'News' came along and showed how you could really make money - and advance Republican Party goals - by pushing anger, bigotry, and right-wing lies.
Today's Republican Party has thrived on garbage like this. Fear, bigotry, anger, hysteria - all have greatly benefited the GOP financially and politically. But as sane people have increasingly left the party, and elderly white racists die off, the crazy has become more and more concentrated. This is the party base now. This is the Republican Party.
All of the Republican candidates for president have taken advantage of the sickness they've helped create. Donald Trump just does it better than anyone else. But people like Ted Cruz aren't far behind, not at all. This is the Republican Party today.
It used to be that Republicans were careful to use racist dog whistles - messages that resonated with racists without being too blatant. Blatant racism would turn off more moderate voters. (Racism would still work on those voters, of course, but only if they could tell themselves that they weren't racist.)
Most Republicans try to do the same thing when it comes to Hispanics and Muslims. They try not to be too blatant about their bigotry and xenophobia. But Donald Trump doesn't even bother. After all, he's trying to woo the Republican base, and the base doesn't have such qualms. Not anymore.
As I've said before, this reminds me of the French Revolution. When fanatics take control, you can never be too fanatic. When the mob rules, you can never be too extreme. In the French Revolution, as the mob rushed madly to the left, the people left behind lost their heads (literally), even when they'd been leading the revolution previously. You couldn't stand still. You had to be more and more and more extreme all the time.
It's similar in the Republican Party of the 21st Century, only they've all been rushing madly to the right. You can never be too extreme for extremists. Note that the worst thing one Republican can call another is "moderate." Moderation is the kiss of death in today's Republican Party - not literally, not yet at least. So far, Republicans only lose their heads figuratively, not literally. But no Republican politician can stand being considered "moderate."
This is extremism. This is bigotry and xenophobia. And increasingly, as I noted yesterday, this is fascism in America. Have we forgotten how Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler came to power?