What Happens to Politics When Crazy Has a Seat at the Table?

Last week I posted this video as an example of the kind of thing that was out there in the ether during the Obama administration and suggested that, if we are going to understand how we got from his presidency to Trump, we have to take this into account.

But something else strikes me about this compilation of clips taken predominantly from Fox News. The same people who embraced birtherism and said that Barack Obama grew up in Kenya, was a Manchurian candidate with a deep-seated hatred for white people who hates the flag, and was bringing socialism/fascism to America are the ones who not only embrace Donald Trump, but have become a veritable shadow White House. Some of the names include Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Mike Huckabee, Jeanine Pirro, Andrew Napolitano and the hosts of Fox & Friends.

What struck me about all of that is how it has affected my view of right-wing media. In the past we could never completely ignore outlets like Fox News, but it was the channel that our old crazy uncle watched. We knew it were basically a propaganda outfit for a Republican Party that was willing to, at minimum, stay silent about the lies it told to demonize Obama, but we didn’t really have to take them seriously.

One of the ways that “crazy” has been normalized is that it has become dangerous to ignore Fox News because they are often directing White House policy. When they accused Obama of being a Kenyan Muslim who hated white people and the flag, they were fringe extremists. Now the president listens to them more than he does his Cabinet. That is what we mean when we say that “crazy has a seat at the table.” It’s actually not just one seat, it is the majority of them.

As someone told Lenoard Pitts:

“There’s a war going on outside,” one anonymous poster wrote, “… and it is only partially being fought with guns. The real weapon is information and the attack is on the mind.”

When you can’t ignore Fox News, there is no way to escape the fact that you’ve just entered a hall of mirrors. How do you have a reasonable debate with people who cherry pick what they want to believe, make up lies and have no interest in facts? You can’t.

Here’s what Hillary Clinton said about that at PEN America’s World Voices Festival:

When leaders deny things we can see with our own eyes, like the size of the crowd at inauguration, or when they refuse to accept settled science when it comes to urgent challenges like climate change, it is not just frustrating to those of us who try to live in a fact based universe. It is the beginning of the end of freedom. That’s not hyperbole. It’s what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality – not just our laws and policies but our thoughts and beliefs.

It was probably a mistake to not pay more attention to the fact that right-wing news outlets like Fox were creating an alternate reality that too many people bought into prior to the 2016 election. But what are our options now that crazy has a seat at the table? We can fact-check all we want, but those who don’t care about facts will simply ignore it all. Meanwhile, a vision of Democrats as people who want to kill babies, take away guns, import socialism, unleash violent criminals/aliens into our communities, deny the religious freedom of Christians and attempt a deep state coup is going to be the platform of these extremists for the November midterms.

We can talk all we want to about the challenges Democrats face in this and future elections. But the truth is that none of that matters as long as crazy has a seat at the table and reality is in question.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.