Part 2—Tracking the downfall of sense: Yesterday, in the Washington Post, McCrummen got it right.
Egad! Stephanie McCrummen had ventured to deepest Alabama, where she interviewed a group of Carson supporters. On the front page of the Washington Post, she quoted these voters at some length as they stated their views.
Personally, we don't share their views. But that isn't the point.
What are the views of these Carson supporters? Late in McCrummen's report, 59-year-old Toni Ledet describes her view of President Obama. The discussion continues from there as her husband joins in:
MCCRUMMEN (12/1/15): "In the last few years, he's made comments about how he supports the Islamic faith," [Toni Ledet] says. "I think he's not 100 percent American."We don't share those views; we don't even begin to share them. But it's good that McCrummen reported those views, which are held by shareholders in America.
She pauses and then describes her darkest fear of all, of what will happen if things keep going in this direction, away from what she and Mike call "the biblical way."
"A lot of people feel like the world is changing drastically for the worse, and I think Satan has his hand in it," she says, and goes on to explain that she sees evil everywhere. In the legalizing of same-sex marriage. In babies being aborted. In the rise of the Islamic State and what seems to her an insistence by liberals on embracing Muslims and a parallel belittling of Christians for their faith.
"There's a biblical verse—I wish I could remember it," Mike [Ledet] says now. "It has to do with when a nation goes against the biblical way, God won't listen to our prayers."
Like Carson, they pray about every aspect of their lives, asking for guidance on everything from money to their eternal salvation in heaven.
"We're going to lose our blessing," Mike says.
And if that happens?
"Oh, God help us," Toni says, looking out at the trees.
"It will basically destroy America," Mike says.
Much more often, we see liberal and mainstream journalists sitting around on cable TV as they draw their enormous salaries, saying they simply don't understand those voters for Carson and Trump. They could interview those voters, of course. But our cable stars tend to be lazy, indifferent, cosseted, corporate. They're overpaid, don't much seem to care.
In McCrummen's report, a group of Southern white conservatives are explaining why they fear Obama but like this black guy instead. Personally, we regard that as a giant triumph. But what's the source of their other ideas—for example, of the idea one of these voters states:
“I believe he’s a Muslim and wanting Muslims to take over our nation. One nation under Allah instead of one nation under God!"
What's the source of that idea? McCrummen didn't ask.
In many ways, views on the right seem to have stopped making sense. In the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post, McKay Coppins tried to explain how that process has worked.
Coppins focused on the continuing rise of Trump, not on the fading Carson. At one point, Coppins explained one of the basic ways our discourse can stop making sense:
COPPINS (11/29/15): The American right has always contained a combative, nativist fringe, where radicals and kooks bend world events to fit their conspiracy theories. There were the John Birch Society newsletters of the 1970s and ’80s; the AM talk-radio shows of the ’90s; the world-government chat rooms and e-mail chain letters around the turn of the millennium; and the vibrant, frenzied blogosphere of amateur muckrakers of the mid-2000s...There's nothing especially new in that, and Coppins' chronology seems a bit odd. The Chad Mitchell Trio was singing The John Birch Society Song as early as 1962, and the Trio was big at the time. (You can sing along here.) Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh went national in 1988. On the local level, conservative AM talk-radio became huge long before that.
But in the Obama era, the reach and power of this segment has increased dramatically. The fringe has swelled with new Web sites, radio stations, confabs, causes, pressure groups, celebrities and profit-making businesses noisily pitching themselves to the tea party. An entire right-wing media ecosystem has sprung up, where journalist-warriors flood social media with rumors of sharia law coming to suburbia and hype a fast-approaching “race war” in America targeting whites. The Republican establishment—a loose coalition of party committees, moderate donors and business interests—once hoped to harness this tremendous new energy to recapture the White House.
Instead, the Fringe Establishment is the one doing the harnessing...
Whatever! In 1962, it was fairly hard to access the Birch Society. You had to send away to order their pamphlets, which would arrive in brown envelopes.
Today, as Coppins notes, fringe ideas are part of a giant ubiquitous industry. In this passage, Coppins suggests that Candidate Trump has been buying favor from some of the sources of these ideas, which are deeply involved in the way the world has stopped making sense:
COPPINS: [T]his year’s groundswell [for Trump] wasn’t totally spontaneous. Over the past four years, Trump has been laying its foundations with a careful campaign of cultivation. In this, he was far ahead of most of his presidential opponents.Did Candidate Trump buy Breitbart's love? We have no idea; Coppins doesn't claim to know either.
Trump came to operate the levers of this new right-wing apparatus slowly. He accumulated key allies at niche media outlets and headlined far-flung fundraisers for conservative candidates and county parties.
He spent his birthday in 2013 speaking at a gathering of conservative Christians and has contributed generously to a variety of right-wing outfits—particularly organizations that host political conferences populated by TV cameras.
This support bought him new opportunities. When some organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference opposed inviting Trump back to speak in 2014, arguing that he was “not a serious movement leader,” the billionaire invited Al Cardenas, then the chief organizer of the high-profile event, to his Mar-a-Lago club and estate in Florida and wrote the group a $50,000 check. When the conference came, he had a plum speaking slot. (Cardenas confirmed the donation to me but denied that the money bought Trump a spot in the lineup. “He’s entertaining,” he said.)
Trump also worked to win over Breitbart, a crusading right-wing Web site that wields tremendous influence within a certain hyper-aggrieved class of conservative activists. (Its unofficial mission statement: #WAR.) Trump turned the site into a source of loyal coverage by showering it with access and possibly more. Employees there have privately complained to me that management is turning the outlet into a Donald Trump fan site, with some even speculating that the billionaire has an undisclosed financial interest in the company that explains the fawning coverage. Breitbart, which is privately held, doesn’t make the sources of its financial backing public, and the company’s chairman, Steve Bannon, denies that it has any financial relationship with Trump.
That said, we were struck by the speculations Coppins reports. We've frequently had similar thoughts as we've watched Morning Joe in recent months. Trump simply has to be paying those people, we've thought, so bizarre has the program's fawning been.
Fawning exists all over the press. But this particular program's fawning has seemed especially odd.
(This week, the fawning abruptly stopped. Morning Joe has swerved back toward its previous fawning to Candidate Christie. Once in a while, Mika meekly claims that she's really a Clinton supporter. This morning, she said it so softly that we could barely hear her.)
Why has our discourse stopped making sense? Unlike in the heyday of Chad Mitchell, The Crazy is now a large industry. As Coppins notes, establishment gatekeepers are largely gone. Increasingly, The Fringe is now in charge of what gets said, repeated, believed.
At one point, Coppins says The Crazy occurs on the left as well. But alas! That's where the imagination and the insight of journalist Coppins fails.
What did Coppins say about Us? That's where we'll start tomorrow.
Tomorrow: Coppins plays the game