Neither did Donald J. Trump: To contemplate the gruesome effects of Leaderhip Down, we'll suggest that you take a look at Gene Lyons' syndicated column from last week.
Lyons wrote about an action Facebook had taken. As Lyons wrote, Facebook had "announced that it was banning a bunch of crackpot conspiracy theorists and professional race-baiters from its platform."
One such crackpot was Alex Jones, star of both the Genesis Communications radio network and the crackpot Infowars website. Lyons described Jones' work:
LYONS (5/8/19): Just to remind you, Jones is currently being sued for his bizarre insistence that the 2012 massacre of 26 children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax—supposedly an Obama-orchestrated theatrical spectacle to promote gun control.Simply put, Alex Jones couldn't hold the truth back any more!
It's not going well for him.
Another of Infowars' greatest hits was a 2016 YouTube posting in which Jones asserted that Hillary Clinton had raped, murdered and dismembered scores of children. "Yeah, you heard me right," he claimed. "Hillary Clinton has personally murdered children. I just can't hold back the truth anymore."
Does Jones believe the claims he makes, or is he merely a con man? We can't answer that question.
But as modern history has made clear, the country is full of people who will believe even the most transparently crazy claims. The leading authority on the "Pizzagate" claim about Hillary Clinton—the claim about all the child abuse—recalls one horrid result:
On December 4, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch, a 28-year-old man from Salisbury, North Carolina, fired three shots in the restaurant with an AR-15-style rifle, striking walls, a desk, and a door. Welch later told police that he had planned to "self-investigate" the conspiracy theory. Welch saw himself as the potential hero of the story—a rescuer of children. He surrendered after officers surrounded the restaurant and was arrested without incident No one was injured.Presumably, Welch was some version of "mentally ill." He'd heard that Clinton was trafficking children, and he wanted the terrible conduct to stop.
Welch told police he had read online that the Comet restaurant was harboring child sex slaves and that he wanted to see for himself if they were there. In an interview with The New York Times, Welch later said that he regretted how he had handled the situation but did not dismiss the conspiracy theory, and rejected the description of it as "fake news". Some conspiracy theorists speculated that the shooting was a staged attempt to discredit their investigations.
In his column, Lyons noted the fact that Donald J. Trump had been on the record as a ginormous fan of Jones. "In the midst of the 2016 campaign, the candidate gave Jones' radio program a 30-minute telephone interview," Lyons wrote.
"Your reputation is amazing," Trump had admiringly said to his crackpot host.
As for Trump himself, he had spent the previous five years spreading various crackpot claims about President Obama—claims the New York Times was too timid to challenge directly, even in a front-page report about Candidate Trump's "birtherism" in July 2016.
For what it's worth, many major entities have played a role, whether active or passive, in our society's growing spread of crazy ideas. In this morning's New York Times, Michelle Goldberg recalls the role played by Fox News in the spread of Trump's birtherism.
"During Barack Obama’s administration, Trump was a frequent presence on Fox, where he spread conspiracy theories about the president’s birth certificate that had circulated on conservative blogs and far-right websites," Goldberg writes.
In fact, it was Greta van Susteren who served as Trump's host and enabler during his many appearances on Fox. That said, so what? Cable star Rachel Maddow described van Susteren as her drinking buddy and her great friend when Van Susteren was hired by MSNBC in January 2017.
As she promoted her network's newest hire, Maddow praised van Susteren for her brilliant journalism. Unless she was simply lying, Maddow had been drinking with her great pal during the years when van Susteren was taking millions of dollars from Fox to help Trump spread his crazy claims all through the world.
All such parties have played a role in the deeply dangerous, deeply destructive spread of Leadership Down.
When a nation's multimillionaire TV "journalists" behave in these ways, that nation is destined to suffer. That said, it's worth remembering that the modern promulgation of crazy claims didn't start with Alex Jones or with Donald J. Trump.
Our modern politics had been plagued by the spread of crazy claims for at least three decades by the time Donald J. Trump offered his birther claims. During that period, some of the crazy claims actually came from upper-end journalists, in a deadly example of (journalistic) Leadership Down.
Crazy claims didn't enter the bloodstream of modern politics through the work of Trump or Jones. Let's think back to the Reverend Falwell, the unmistakably holy man of God who spent a good chunk of the 1990s peddling a crackpot film around.
There was no Internet at that time. As Crackpot Barbie used to say, selling The Crazy was hard!
Rolling up his sleeves while possibly reaching for his wallet, the Reverend Falwell put his godly virtues to work selling a godly film called The Clinton Chronicles. Many people were unable to see that the film was loaded with crackpot claims. The leading authority on the film describes one part of its influence:
The movie helped perpetuate a conspiracy theory known as the "Clinton Body Count" about a list of associates Clinton was purported to have had killed. The Los Angeles Times reported that Larry Nichols, who appears throughout the film and is the primary source for a number of the murder and mysterious death claims, was fired from his Arkansas state government job and once admitted to an Associated Press reporter to being motivated by spite. The fact checking site TruthOrFiction.com states that "There is no credible evidence that any of the deaths is related or can be attributed to Bill Clinton."By the summer of 1999, press corps favorite Gennifer Flowers was deeply involved in peddling the Clinton Body Count through her pay-to-read, for-profit web site. In a complete and total accident, Chris Matthews invited her to appear on Hardball for a lengthy half-hour interview without having any awareness, knowledge or understanding of this unfortunate fact.
Over Matthews' protests—and plainly, his protests were fully sincere—Flowers repeated her ludicrous claims about all the people Bill and Hillary Clinton had killed. As Flowers did this, Matthews told her how amazingly smokin' hot she was.
Major press critics didn't say boo. This silence was another example of (journalistic) Leadership Down.
Falwell was peddling crackpot claims long before Donald J. Trump began pretending that he'd sent gumshoes to Hawaii to check Obama out. As Falwell spread his crazy claims, major press organs sat on their hands, unwilling to speak too loudly.
In recent years, Jones has been one of the primary sources of the crazy claims which have polluted our culture. Donald J. Trump has spread crazy claims too. But along the way, so have major members of the mainstream press.
When Matthews clowned with Gennifer Flowers, that was Leadership Down. When mainstream journalists averted their gaze, their leadership also went down.
That said, the loss of journalistic leadership had started decades earlier. We refer to matters where crazy or badly disordered claims came live and direct from the mainstream press, not from outside players like Trump, Falwell and Jones.
Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves (TM), a trademarked yet disconsolate group which reports to us from the devastation of the future, tells us we're in the last few years before the start of Mister Trump's Widely Enabled War.
They tell us we're waiting "on the beach," that the die has already been cast.
The crazy claims about Presidents Clinton and Obama largely came from outside sources. But by the time of the White House campaign of Clinton's chosen successor, Candidate Gore, the crazy claims were coming from the mainstream press corps itself.
That said, the weird behavior the press corps displayed had been under construction for years.
Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves tell us there was never any escaping this profoundly destructive history. "It's just the way we humans were wired," they've frequently despondently said. "The wiring was never all that good. Eventually, the journalistic rewards just became too damn high."
That's the way these anthropologists explain the downward spiral which eventually took us to war. Due to their different training, Future Historians of the High Chaparral take a different approach:
As they focus on the era's history, these future scholars frequently point to the role which was played by the mainstream press. They describe the pathetic events of this "end times" era as The Rise of Leadership Down.
Tomorrow: As crazy as Trump, before Trump