Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The GOP has Become Increasingly Reliant on Reality-Defying Paranoia

There have always been out of the mainstream paranoid conspiracy theorists, but generally they have been a tiny minority and have been viewed as crazy by larger society.  With the rise of the Christofascists and their Tea Party first cousins in the  Republican Party, the paranoid fringe became mainstream - at least in the GOP.   The result is the lunacy that we now see writ large in many of the GOP's policies and fear mongering.  A piece in Salon looks at how crazy became the norm with the GOP base.  Here are highlights:

In the 1960s, William F. Buckley tried to banish organized conspiracists from the conservative movement with his crusade against the John Birch Society, which tellingly organized itself secretively, just like the Communists that it believed were everywhere. In a 2008 article in Commentary, Buckley told the story of how he, writer Russell Kirk, AEI’s William Baroody, and Barry Goldwater met in 1962, and discussed “the need to excommunicate the John Birch Society from the conservative movement,” so that they wouldn’t derail a Goldwater presidential bid in 1964. As Buckley described Robert Welch, founder of John Birch Society:
His influence was near-hypnotic, and his ideas wild.
 John Stormer’s “None Dare Call It Treason,” promoted as detailing “the communist-socialist conspiracy to enslave America,” sold 7 million paperback copies, mostly during Goldwater’s campaign, at the same time that Phyllis Schlafly’s “A Choice, Not an Echo,” another multimillion-seller, gave the campaign its most memorable slogan, while promoting the conspiracy theory that the Republican Party was secretly controlled by members of the Bilderberger banking conference, who were also in cahoots with global communism. It was these us-vs.-them conspiracist narratives that pulled together the conservative movement on the ground.

[T]he Buckley/Kirk/Goldwater strategy kept the conspiracists in line, in the background, as far as D.C.-based politics were concerned, and that was key to conservative success—keeping up the appearances of being a rational, factually informed political movement. 

[T]he real story was about how Ronald Reagan became the Republican nominee—and that was very much a story about how he managed to mobilize the conspiracy-minded GOP base to secure the nomination.

In short, conspiracism was never anywhere near being excommunicated from the conservative movement or the GOP. It was, however, generally kept in line, which is why sanitized stories like Rauch, Buckley and Maddow’s can plausibly be told.

Now, however, conspiracism is virtually all the GOP has left, and it’s not just a sudden development with the emergence of Donald Trump. The attacks on Planned Parenthood were based on a multilayered conspiracy theory view of what Planned Parenthood does, with no relation to reality. Its actual purpose—providing family planning services and healthcare—seems utterly impossible for its enemies to grasp. Instead, it’s made out to be a sinister criminal enterprise . . . 

The birther response to Obama’s election is another major example of conspiracism, as is the whole parade of so-called Clinton scandals, which we’ll return to below. Neither Clinton nor Obama was a traditional liberal, much less a left-winger, so fantasy-laced conspiracy narratives had to be concocted to justify treating them as beyond the pale of reason.

In short, this kind of politics has been a big part of the GOP for quite some time now, despite all efforts to pretend otherwise. And that’s what makes Trump more of a logical development, part of a broader pattern, rather than—as he would like to be seen—as a unique figure signaling a radical new direction.

Conspiracism is surely a key element in the rise of Donald Trump. His portrayal of Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers, and disdainful dismissal of anyone who questions his lack of data, are right out of the conspiracist playbook. 

In the end, their beliefs become “self-sealing,” so that any conclusive evidence disproving their suspicions is treated as evidence that the conspiracy is even larger than previously thought.

All this systemically distorted reasoning suits the GOP just fine—they’ve used it to attack presidents Clinton and Obama virtually nonstop for their whole terms in office—only now, they can no longer control the dynamic. 

But conspiracist narratives aren’t about facts, except in the most selective of ways. They’re more about painting a picture of the world as people want it to be—not the best possible world, but the most satisfying one, given the reality of their known hopes and fears. A detailed study published in 2011 shows that FoxNews.com and Newsmax were the two most important Internet sites in propagating the term “anchor baby” from 2007 to 2010, when it moved from anti-immigrant fringe into mainstream usage. It’s no more of a commonsense term than any ethnic slur you can think of. It exists specifically to invoke a conspiracist narrative of how our country is under sneak attack. 

In the real world, there’s simply no foundation for Trump’s scaremongering. Crime has declined dramatically over the past two decades. According to the FBI data for 2013, the most recent full year for data, the violent crime rate is just 367.9 per 100,000, compared to 713.6 per 100,000 in 1994—a reduction of 48.4 percent. The murder rate is also down by 50 percent. Similarly, as data from Pew shows, the number of unauthorized immigrants has declined since its pre-recession high, while the number of those deported under Obama is the highest ever.

What’s really going on here is white conservative identity politics. Their share of the electorate is in long-term decline, and their ability to define political reality is inevitably waning. . . . Trump is offering a way for them to imaginatively deny reality—much like the Ghost Dance movement promised Native Americans in the 1890s . . 

Just don’t expect him [Trump] to stop spouting conspiracist nonsense. By now, it’s become the conservative’s lingua franca, and he speaks it like a native son. Like a birthright citizen, even. There is no other language left for any of today’s conservatives to speak.

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