trump and sean hannity
Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr

The people who are close to William Barr, who really know him, know that he only ever turns off Fox News when an opportunity arises to run outside and yell at kids on bikes. What a gift that he managed to make that a full time gig as attorney general of the United States!

He essentially applied for the job by convincing the president that he had a plan for shutting down the Mueller investigation. Now he has been tasked with undermining the entire rationale for the Mueller investigation by “proving” that it wasn’t Russia that helped Trump but Ukraine that helped Clinton. It’s the ultimate get-off-my-sidewalk move.

Here’s some reporting from Philip Rucker and Robert Costa of the Washington Post:

Barr’s role in the investigation into the Russia probe’s origins, which is being conducted by U.S. Attorney John Durham in Connecticut, is extraordinary in part because the probe seeks evidence of misconduct within his own Justice Department to support the conspiracy theory — embraced by Trump and advanced on Fox News — that the Russia inquiry was corrupt and predicated on undermining Trump…

…The White House and Justice Department have defended this review of the investigation into possible connections between Russia and members of the Trump campaign as appropriate; Barr told Congress in April that he believed “spying did occur.”

Barr’s interest in the probe is unsurprising to several of his associates, who said this week he is a headstrong and deeply conservative man who at this point in his career has grown disdainful of the Democratic Party, the federal government and the news media, criticizing them in private as biased and skewed against the president.

In other words, Barr came out of retirement after spending a couple of decades marinating his brain in Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly every night. He’s grumpy and reality-challenged, and whatever moral compass he ever had has atrophied into dust.

The story has been repeated hundreds of thousands of times, all over the country. You hear about it all the time. “I can’t even talk to my father anymore.” “My mother is so bitter.” “My brother never used to be a racist.”

That’s what Fox News consumption will do to a person over time. Before you know it, they’re nodding in approval when the president says we should shoot asylum seekers in the legs to slow them down or build a moat on the border filled with snakes and crocodiles.

Rucker and Costa continue, explaining how Trump’s Fox News-inspired worldview has taken hold throughout the government.

But taken together, they illustrate the sweeping reach of Trump’s power and the culture he has spawned inside the government. The president’s personal concerns have become priorities of departments that traditionally have operated with some degree of political independence from the White House — and their leaders are engaging their boss’s obsessions.

“Barr and Pompeo are stuck in the fog machine. They seem captives of the president’s perverse worldview,” said Timothy Naftali, a historian and former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. “Authoritarian regimes have this problem all the time . . . when all government activity is the product of the id of the leader. But in a republic, that’s unusual.”

There are some obsessions of Trump’s that seem independent of Fox News, inspired perhaps by even loonier regions of the interwebs. But it’s mostly untrue that people like Barr and Pompeo are buckling to a foreign perspective. They hold their current positions precisely because they, like the president, have lost the ability to distinguish between truth and propaganda. Spending twenty years watching Lou Dobbs wet his pants over Mexican immigration will do that to even sturdier stock.

Anyone in the Trump administration who still retained the ability to be skeptical when Laura Ingraham is talking was quickly sacked. The lemmings replaced them.

Some of these lemmings, like Barr and Pompeo, are borderline brilliant in terms of their raw intelligence. Their reasoning ability didn’t collapse overnight or completely, so it was also necessary for their morals to collapse. It’s this second piece that allows them to plod ahead over the objections of that little voice in their head that still knows they are peddling bullshit. It doesn’t matter because they have to beat the other side. It doesn’t matter because they’re the last hope for white people.

It is an urgent problem that these people are running the most powerful government on Earth, armed with enough radiation to destroy all life on the planet. And none of this would be possible without the influence of Fox News. 

Donald Trump will be gone someday, but half our country will still be yelling at kids on bikes.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at