When I run errands in the afternoon, I frequently turn to WHO to hear right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh. It’s my way of understanding the conservative id. You must know your opponent.
That’s why Donald Trump’s rise wasn’t such a shock for me. Trump was the right-wing radio candidate. He and Limbaugh (and Sean Hannity and Michael Savage and many others) could be identical siblings. Listening to the hosts, you hear the same lies, distortions, racist memes, conspiracy theories, simplistic solutions and preening, bullying behavior as you get from Trump. He’s the strong man Limbaugh has longed for since Ronald Reagan left office. George W. Bush wasn’t pure enough for him. He scorned John McCain and Mitt Romney as conservative lite.
Educated, well-off conservatives, like one of my old college friends, discount talk radio’s power, describing Limbaugh as an entertainer. They either haven’t listened (there’s little that’s entertaining in the daily, three-hour, fear-filled screed) or they’re excusing talk radio because it keeps the electoral base ginned up and ready to vote. But their dismissal has returned to haunt these Republicans: decades of radio ranting primed millions of conservative listeners for a candidate like Trump, who is hostile toward the GOP establishment.
If you think our Constitutional form of government will correct and moderate Trump’s worst instincts, you’re dreaming. He now has a full Republican Congress to do his bidding for at least two years. While Democrats may win a few seats in 2018, they’re unlikely to regain the House: Republicans hold the majority of state legislatures and have redrawn congressional maps to ensure safe seats for many of their candidates. That’s led to groups like the radically conservative “freedom” caucus that whipsaws the House. Many of these representatives hew to the radical right because their constituency is solidly conservative.
Republicans have paired that strategy with voter suppression measures, like identification requirements, shorter poll hours and fewer polling places. (Few people may understand the Republican rationale for essentially reinstating Jim Crow laws in the face of slim evidence of voter fraud. The only proof some Republicans needed was that a black man was elected president twice. For them, that could only have happened with cheating.) The bottom line: there is little legislative counterbalance to Trump’s damaging, know-nothing policies.
Perhaps you think there is recourse to the courts, but soon Trump – enabled by a Republican Senate – will appoint a justice so nakedly political he (and it’s sure to be a man) would make Antonin Scalia blush. If things go his way, Trump will appoint another one or two, creating a partisan court for a generation or more. His federal court appointees will be similar.
In short: We’re screwed, America.
How did we get here? It’s clear part of the population resents what it views as an elite establishment, telling it what to do and what’s best for it while discounting its fears about a changing world and an uncertain future. Hillary Clinton personified that brainy elitism for them, with the additional sin of being female. She also followed in the footsteps of the most egregious (to conservative minds) example of a preachy elite: Barack Obama. The president’s supporters saw him as logical, composed, well-reasoned, informed and commanding. His opponents saw an uppity, preachy, didactic pedant who talked down to them, with the additional sin of being black. Thanks to right-wing radio (and main-stream Republicans like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio), many also believed he was actively destroying America out of a secret hatred.
This illustrates a key problem: We’re more tribal than ever. We sort ourselves into communities of like-minded people who not only think alike but also often look alike. We listen to selected news programs that reinforce our views more than challenge them. There is comfort in that, but also danger: We cling to our views against evidence or reason because to doubt or discard them risks eviction from the tribe.
Democrats must overcome this by emerging from our bubbles, no matter how uncomfortable that feels. We must talk to friends and acquaintances who may disagree with us, and make those friends if we don’t have them. That’s because it’s easy to discount another group’s views when their members are faceless stereotypes. It’s harder when we hear those views from people we’ve known for years. The band parent we’ve scooped ice cream with is a reasonable, good person, not some crazy ideologue; maybe their liberal ideas aren’t insane. The aunt or uncle we can’t talk with about politics has deep-seated reasons for their beliefs. Rather than dismiss them, we should fathom them and help provide comfort and reassurance. Then we can share our own views, in a reasonable way, and perhaps break these tribal bonds.
Progressives should do this not for political gain, but because our policies are demonstrably better for the average American.
We must follow the Prayer of St. Francis, and not so much seek to be understood as to understand:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
by Tom O’Donnell