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The Normalization Of Evil In American Politics

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The Normalization Of Evil In American Politics

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Published with permission from AlterNet

The racist, misogynist, authoritarian strain has always been there, but Trump’s candidacy has brought it into the mainstream. And media have helped.

Time was when a presidential candidate who played footsie with segregationists and white supremacists would have banished to the fringes of the American political scene. But Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has changed all that.

Oh sure, there have been plenty of codes telegraphed to the anti-black base of the GOP’s southern flank: Ronald Reagan’s choice of Philadelphia, Mississippi, as the place to make a “states’ rights” speech in his 1980 presidential campaign; Richard Nixon’s southern strategy and “Silent Majority” framing. But after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, expressions of outright racism were frowned upon in presidential politics. And articulations of misogyny were generally doled out in the form of withering condescension.

I don’t need to recount for you Trump’s friendliness with the alt-right, the white nationalist movement that was given a platform at Breitbart News by Stephen K. Bannon, the man Trump hired as his campaign CEO. You don’t need to take my word for it; Bannon has boasted of this fact. And you surely know of Trump’s numerous retweets of posts and memes from white supremacist websites. And who can forget all of the lovely things he’s said about women, calling them fat pigs and demeaning them for having menstrual periods?

Just yesterday, Trump’s running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, declined for a second time to say that former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke was “deplorable,” stating that he isn’t “in the name-calling business.” Isn’t it enough, Pence asked, that he and Trump have disavowed Duke’s endorsement?

Trump yesterday won the endorsement of Operation Rescue president Troy Newman, an anti-choice extremist who co-authored a 2003 bookaccording to People for the American Way, that “argued that the government has a responsibility to execute abortion providers.” In 1988, Newman’s co-author, Cheryl Sullenberger, was sentenced to three years in federal prison for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic.

On Friday, Donald Trump appeared before evangelical Christians assembled at the Values Voter Summit, an annual confab convened by FRC Action, the political arm of the Family Research Council. The conference exhibit hall featured the booths of such co-sponsors as Tradition, Family and Property, a paleo-Catholic cult whose founder described the Spanish Inquisition as the church’s most glorious moment, and the conspiracy-theorist and segregationist John Birch Society, which William F. Buckley thought he had managed to purge from the conservative movement in 1962. This was the first time the JBS appeared in the Values Voter hall of sponsors. It could be said that the Trump candidacy helped pave the way, what with his embrace of the conspiracy theorist radio host Alex Jones, and his numerous winks to white nationalist extremists.

The following day, FRC President Tony Perkins, who has endorsed Trump, defended the alt-right when I asked him about the movement at a press conference. Its existence, he seemed to say, was the fault of President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, for having “snuffed out” the voices of people who disagree with the administration’s policies.

To lay all of this at Trump’s feet would be to give him too much credit. As I’ve argued before, the misogynist, racist, nativist, anti-LGBT right wing that took over the GOP in 1980—of which Perkins himself is evidence—has much to answer for, not least of all, the rise of Donald Trump as the party’s standard-bearer. Trump may not have been the first choice of right-wing leaders, but they created the conditions that cleared his path to the nomination, and most have lined up behind him since he won it.

But mainstream media are also complicit in this normalization of hatred, allowing it to masquerade in the guise political positions. For decades, when reporting on the Christian right, for example, media have treated it as a religious movement, barely mentioning—if at all—the roots of movement positions in the segregationist backlash of the South. Instead, media executives allowed themselves to be cowed by the right wing’s outrage machine, every time it cranked up its conveyor belt of allegations of the anti-religion bent of reporters.

Today, the same tendency is evident in the false-equivalence reporting prevalent in the degrees to which media cover different stories. Questions about Clinton’s emails demand teams of reporters toiling for months; scandals involving Trump are too often written as one-off reports—so fearful are mainstream editors of fielding an accusation of liberal bias.

In the meantime, a monster has been allowed to grow in our midst. Bannon take an obscure fringe of the right and elevates it to a platform that garners tens of millions of pageviews per month. Trump hires Bannon. Media say, hey, that’s interesting, do one story, and say, “Next?”

Covering the Values Voter Summit this September 9 and 10 was downright depressing. Trump addressed the conference on Friday, and Pence on Saturday—meaning that the conference attendees represent a legitimized constituency of the GOP, as they have for 30 years. The founders of the religious right are passing onto their just rewards. Organizers Paul Weyrich and Howard Phillips died in 2008 and 2013, respectively; Phyllis Schlafly died on September 5 (but not before she took the opportunity to endorse Trump). The movement they founded, however, continues to wreak the havoc of hate on the American political landscape, and the media dare not call it by its name.

Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the National Guard Association of the United States 138th General Conference and Exhibition in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., September 12, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar



  1. Daniel Jones September 15, 2016

    It is no longer false-equivalent reporting: It is simply false reporting.

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  2. Siegfried Heydrich September 15, 2016

    If Drumpf wins, I’m just going to stay in Europe until he’s gone. The really great thing about living aboard a vessel is you don’t have to stick around when things go purely to hell. You can simply weigh anchor and go find someplace else where it’s nicer.

  3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth September 15, 2016

    All of which illustrates how severely, and perhaps irreparably damaged, is the spiritual cord which connects us with our Creator. This litany of transgressions by Trump, and any other extremist, is a true reflection of the spiritual damage that has been done so far to a large swath of Americans, of a sizable portion of citizens in Europe, Asia, Russia, Africa, the Middle East, Australasia, Latin America, and elsewhere.
    In a recent interview by a spokesman for Alt-Right on Diane Rehm’s program, he proudly cited that his organization espouses no religious beliefs, to which I was reminded of why the waywardness of America is continuing at a reckless pace.
    Donald’s recent visit to a Black Church in Flint, Mi. highlighted how unfamiliar he is with the terrain of Religion and had to be reprimanded by the minister who made the fatal mistake of inviting him to speak to the congregation. The reprimand was because Trump had no notion of, or respect for, the sanctity of the Church. Instead, like the boorish person he is, he launched into a tirade against Hillary as though the Church served as his personal bully pulpit to force-feed the black congregation as though they were children who didn’t know better—the “Bwana” in Trump couldn’t resist the opportunity to exert itself.

    Alas, his followers and the anti-abortionists claim to be religious yet some will actually kill others while claiming to respect life. Where were there ancestors who very likely engaged in lynch mobs in the South and the North?

    Trump is serving a useful purpose as an embodiment of all that is wrong with America and the world. For that, we owe thanks to the Creator for the opportunity to have a life-sized bombastic mirror reflecting our warts on a daily basis during this Election Season.

  4. PrecipitousDrop September 16, 2016

    The big ol’ scary “Media” would not exist without readers and viewers, Ms. Stan, no matter how fair, balanced, or factual it aspired to be. People are attracted to the things they like, or want. They use “The Media” as a resource to find these things.
    The better inquiry is why, in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave — “…the Republic…One Nation…with Liberty and Justice for All.” — is so easily separated into mean, edgy coalitions of what have been called Rethuglicans and Libtards. We live here together. We govern together. We are the UNITED States of America.
    Are we failing this primary civic principle?

  5. Elliot J. Stamler September 16, 2016

    The NEW REPUBLIC has a current and very detailed article on all of the extremists playing an enormous, influential role in the Trump campaign.
    I myself have on the Internet been told by Trumpers that they have their guns ready to start killing Democrats if Clinton is elected as per the recent comment of Gov. Bevin of Kentucky about another civil war if she wins.
    I think we Democrats have a share of blame for all this too…a small share, to be sure, but a share.
    Sec. Clinton has NOT taken off the gloves and really started walloping Trump, etc. “Basket of Deplorables” isn’t nearly harsh enough; she has not faced the reality that as Ms. Stan so brilliantly writes above, our politics has now entered a new phrase…with one party now a party of authoritarianism and anti-democracy.
    Barack Obama has an enormous share of blame…as James Carville said years ago, he is a president who is in politics but doesn’t like politics. His political leadership of THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY….as distinct from the government, has been abysmal. If he had been a Kennedy, Johnson, Truman, Roosevelt…we’d have a Democratic congress and the GOP wouldn’t have a chance. Obama’s monumental deficiencies are due to his innate, professorial personally and psyche–they can’t be changed..he’s what he is. He shouldn’t have been nominated 8 years ago. (Full disclosure: I was then a Clinton supporter after Biden withdrew.)
    I pray we win this election and as of today I think we will. But I am no longer certain.
    Wishful thinking won’t make it so.
    And worst of all, in the majority of states (not my own unfortunately) which have relatively liberal gun-ownership laws, we Democrats, moderates, centrists..and yes, the Berniecrat leftists too, had better start owning guns too. THAT IS HOW DANGEROUS I THINK THINGS ARE.
    Do not think that “it can’t happen here.” IT CAN. IT IS.


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