Trump and the Triumph of Fake News

It’s hard to dispute one word of Brian Stelter’s February 4 condemnation of the GOP’s memo-based malevolence–and the right-wing media’s key role in fueling the foolishness of Donald Trump and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA):

Geraldo Rivera is also unquestionably correct: had Fox News and Hannity been a prominent cultural/political force in the early 1970s, Richard Nixon would have indeed survived Watergate. Let’s not forget that Nixon won 49 states in the 1972 election (something Trump dreams he could have accomplished). Had an entity like Fox existed in the early 1970s, that entity would have been able to confuse the issue surrounding Watergate, convincing a majority of Nixon voters that the break-in was no big deal.

At the end of this month, we will mark the tenth anniversary of the passing of William F. Buckley Jr., the National Review founder who in many ways pioneered what we now call Trumpism. It was Buckley whose vehement opposition to civil rights created the pseudo-intellectual foundation for the alt-right. It was Buckley who glorified Joseph McCarthy, whose aide-de-camp Roy Cohn later became a Trump consigliere. It was Buckley whose PBS program Firing Line demonstrated how the far right could masquerade as mainstream.

Yes, Buckley expressed disdain towards Trump back in the day–but there’s no question that had he lived, Buckley would have embraced Trump’s actions. He would have praised Trump’s skill at offending progressive sensibilities. He would have admired Trump’s ability to control the American media narrative via Twitter. He would have hailed Trump’s efforts to tear down what Steve Bannon once called “the administrative state.”

Trump has fulfilled Buckley’s dream, and the overall dream of the far right. Over twenty years ago, Brent Staples of the New York Times articulated what that dream actually was:

The conservative revolution started with the premise that a liberal orthodoxy had hijacked the culture and muzzled public debate. In truth, the architects of the right — Irving Kristol, Paul Weyrich, Pat Robertson, William Buckley — were advancing an orthodoxy of their own, one that cast liberalism as an evil to be wiped out at any cost. With conservatives controlling the national agenda — and the word liberal reduced to a slur — the goal is clearly within reach.

The movement succeeded largely because it was focused — and very well financed. Over the last 15 years, foundations and think tanks like Olin, Heritage, Hoover and Scaife have spent tens of millions of dollars boosting their positions through books, papers and intellectuals-for-hire. The rush of new money created a class of professionals who live very well cranking out ideology masked as disinterested scholarship.

The “class of professionals who live very well cranking out ideology masked as disinterested scholarship,” from Buckley on down, gave us Trump–and gave us an ideologically segregated country in which far too many of our fellow citizens believe that up is down, black is white, science is a hoax, CNN is a front for disaffected Clintonites, and Robert Mueller is a left-wing freak out to destroy Donald Trump at all costs. This is what the right always wanted–to convince enough Americans that nonsense is sense. As Stelter suggests, this is good for Trump, good for the right, and bad for the country.

It was 30 years ago tonight that an estimated 33 million Americans watched a live WWE event on NBC that served as a promotional show for a WrestleMania pay-per-view hosted by Trump. Three decades later–with WWE head Vince McMahon’s wife now serving in the Trump administration–we find ourselves asking two questions: how many of those 33 million ended up voting for Trump, and thus inflicting this madness upon us, because they thought he would bodyslam politics as usual? And how can we possibly undo the all-too-real damage Trump and his minions have caused to our democracy?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.