All over liberal social media, you see the same questions being asked. Now that the Republicans are taking their healthcare away, will white working class voters turn against Trump? Will they realize what a mistake they made voting for him?
The Republican Party is set to revoke the healthcare of 24 million Americans by replacing it with political rhetoric. Once again, the GOP demonstrates that its sole constituency is the small group of people we call the 1% whose annual income is $700,00 and up, and who will receive hefty tax cuts when the ACA (i.e., “Obamacare”) is repealed.
Donald Trump promised to replace “Obamacare” with something better. And you’re gonna love it, he said. It’s gonna be just great, he said. We’ll cover everybody, he promised. And it’ll be affordable!
Why do Trump’s supporters keep on believing this gasbag? Because it’s a fact that quite a few mostly white citizens of these United States will be seen to have voted their own health insurance away. The rest of us post snarky comments on Democrat-only sites and complain that those people are ignorant and deluded.
But Trump voters are largely standing firm, and to understand why, you have to realize that they don’t share our reality – in fact, they don’t live in anything that even resembles reality. Oh, you’ll see an occasional story on Facebook about how a couple of these saps are finally figuring it out. But those people are only freaked out because a reporter from the L.A. Times called and let them know what’s going on. Don’t forget, nothing has happened yet. No one has lost anything so far.
Some Trump supporters voted for him because of an ideological bent – like the fetus fetishists who will vote for anyone who pledges to intervene in other women’s pregnancies. But the fact is, most Trump supporters are feeding on a completely different media diet from the rest of us.
Jeffrey Berry and Sarah Sobieraj in their 2014 book, The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility, include talk radio, TV, and political blogs in their study of what they have dubbed “the outrage industry.” While their book does include some notable liberal personalities like Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, it makes clear that outrage media are overwhelmingly conservative. By and large, liberals watch and read “real” news with maybe some NPR thrown in while they’re driving. In fact, reading the New York Times on line or following current events on CNN is pretty much the definition of “liberal” these days. The outrage side of the dial, write Berry and Sobieraj, “is particularly notable in that the competition is largely conservative versus even more conservative.” And they note that, unsurprisingly “there appears to be a broad personality difference in those who are attracted to conservative talk radio and those who shun it.”
Lovers of outrage media, Berry and Sobieraj found, tend to be “authoritarian” and to be “more attracted to aggressive rhetoric in political commentary, which narrates the world in black and white.”
Any Democrat with a Facebook page knows this. You accidentally make a post public and suddenly some idiot is calling you names – not engaging in civil political discourse making a point about why they disagree with you, but just being blatantly nasty. Trolling is mostly a conservative activity, to the point that the White House is now accused of “trolling the media” and has invited troll-driven Web sites like Gateway Pundit to seats in the press room. Hell, Steve Bannon, of the űber-troll site Breitbart News, is a presidential adviser and has a seat on the National Security Council. And make no mistake, when Bannon calls the press “corporatist,” implying that it is beholden to wealthy special interests, he knows that’s only half the story. Bannon used to work for Goldman Sachs. He knows that right-wing outage is big money. Rupert Murdoch has made billions purveying it, and Clear Channel and Sirius are no slouches either.
The United States was once a country where everyone clustered around the TV at six o’clock to watch Uncle Walter Kronkite. His sign-off was, “And that’s the way it is!” Back then, the nightly network news was “a source of social cohesion as well as a source of information,” Berry and Sobieraj write, linking the American people to each other “in a way that was unprecedented.”
Those days are clearly over. Today we live in the “divided states of America,” as Time magazine called our country. This is the land where Donald Trump is president. Today many people get their news on their phones, their radios, and from a wildly proliferating number of niche sites, many, like Info Wars, Breitbart, the Drudge Report, selling a point of view rather than providing information.
One of the interesting things Berry and Sobieraj discovered is that fans of outrage media are not hooked on politics but actually have “an aversion to political conversation” because it “activates fears of . . . looking uneducated/uninformed.” Talk radio personalities and internet troll sites appeal primarily to people who feel ejected from a political conversation they see as controlled by liberals.
The outrage jocks, the Rush Limbaughs and Michael Savages and Glenn Becks, structure their programs “so that they systematically diffuse the most common fears evoked by political conversation and create a safe space for audience members,” say Berry and Sobieraj. Rush has his “ditto heads” (unquestioning true believers), Savage has his “Home of Savage Nation” Web site touting “Borders, Language, Culture.” Berry and Sobieraj quote a long radio rant from Savage in which he rages that “in the past people would come over and become Americans. Now they come over and they want you to become them. They want you to speak Spanish. They want you to act Muslim . . . . We’re going to have a revolution in this country if this keeps up.” Donald Trump couldn’t have been elected without Savage Nation. So says the Web site, and I don’t doubt it. Limbaugh and Fox’s Sean Hannity, avid Trump backers, also did their share.
I listened to part of Limbaugh’s show last week during the healthcare debate in the House. It was not easy. Limbaugh has a high, hoarse voice that sounds like the screeching of a horny cat. And the stuff he says would strike an even moderately sentient earth-dweller as ridiculous. Limbaugh was pushing the idea that 20 million people continued to be uninsured after Obamacare, which makes sense if you’ve spent the past eight years pretending that the American Healthcare Act is costing jobs, is a total failure, and nobody signed up for it.
“If I didn’t know any better, just watching the drive-by media . . .I would think that the 20 million people – and how does it still eventuate” that this number of people “don’t have health insurance?” Limbaugh pondered. “But you look at CNN and the fake media, and you’d think that all we’re talking about here is 20 million people.”
Yes, Rush, we’re talking about the people who are now insured and weren’t before, and who will become uninsured if the Republican plan passes, but you’re right, the people who won’t lose their healthcare when they get sick, and the young people who can stay on their parents’ plan, and the people with “pre-existing conditions” are in the conversation too.
It’s clear Limbaugh was pushing the Trump administration narrative. “CNN and the fake media” was one theme. That 20 million people still don’t have healthcare, not that they were going to lose their healthcare under the Republican repeal, was another. He also said that he doesn’t “pretend to have detailed answers to every question” but, “there is no way that 2000 pages of legislation is the way to manage the healthcare industry. It’s absurd.”
Really? Just based on the number of pages? When you’re legislating an extremely complex industry that affects so many individual lives in so many ways? But Limbaugh was simply echoing Sean Spicer, who put the ACA and AHCA bills next to each other on a table by his podium. The Republican bill was only 60 pages. This made Trump’s bill infinitely superior to Obama’s, according to Spicer.
Sure, if your only goal is saving fat cats money. Whenever you hear Republicans use words like “freedom,” “liberty,” and “choice,” that’s what they’re talking about.
Remember, “political conversation generates fears of social exclusion,” Berry and Sobieraj tell us, while “outrage programs incorporate and include viewers and listeners. The host presents as a kindred spirit who ‘gets you’ even when other folks don’t.”
Of course, some former outrage guys now appear to be appalled by the monster they helped create. Glenn Beck is issuing mea culpas and urging his listeners to love those unpleasant liberals he formerly urged them to hate. Wisconsin’s own Charlie Sykes, who helped propel Scott Walker into the statehouse, is remorseful as well. In an op-ed for the New York Times last December, Sykes laments his past success “in persuading our audiences to ignore and discount any information from the mainstream media.” When Sykes refused to become pro-Trump, his listeners turned on him, and Sykes now admits that programs like his were part of a process that “succeeded in delegitimizing the media altogether.”
We’ve gone from a country where one of our founders, Thomas Jefferson, asserted that, if it came down to a choice between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” to a country where POTUS is a news junkie so obsessed with his own image that unfavorable coverage has him calling the press “the enemy of the people.”
Jefferson added that “every man should receive those [news]papers & be capable of reading them.” Today, at the height of the information age, it’s clear that too many Americans, while they may be able to read, lack the critical thinking skills necessary to parse reality from ridiculous partisan fantasy.
That is how we end up with a situation in which a man reads that Hillary Clinton is trafficking children out of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor – a story that anyone not suffering from paranoid schizophrenia should find incredible – and drives up there from Georgia and fires off a round inside a busy family restaurant. While the police are taking him away, he allows as how “the intel wasn’t a hundred percent.”
In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church took care to make sure that it’s teachings were clearly understood by and met the needs of “the simple,” that its theology was not so complex or high-minded that it no longer appealed to the minds of ordinary people. The Church was able to dominate civic and social as well as religious life for centuries because it never deviated from this policy.
Today the Koch Brothers, their fellow billionaires, and the leadership of the Republican Party, dominate politics in the United States; more than politics – they control healthcare, the environment, and the average family’s household income by adhering to much the same policy. They have found a way into the hearts and minds of average American simpletons.
Jane Mayer has written a great book called Dark Money that details how the Koch Brothers masterminded their take over if American politics. Because of the United States’s wealth-favoring tax policies, they had plenty leftover to buy the Republican Party and buy it they have.
But their hegemony could never have been so complete without a vehicle, a delivery system for control of the American mind. The Catholic Church used sermons and Gospel stories, stained-glass windows and religious statuary to control an illiterate population likely to become hysterical and run amok at the least provocation. The Koch brothers, the Mercer family and the entire oligarchy that now rules us possess more advanced weapons – the twenty-first century media. And their goal isn’t to prevent hysteria but to focus and maintain it.
The right wing’s dominance is now complete. Republicans have gained control of Congress, the Senate, and 33 out 50 governorships. The Koch Brothers and their friends in the Club for Growth and at the Heritage Foundation and the Bradley Foundation understood the simple quite well and gave them exactly what they wanted – people to be mad at and blame for all their troubles. People named Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Through the fear and hatred drummed up by outrage media, the Kochs and their cronies have the presidency now too.
This is our national nightmare.
At least, it is for more than fifty percent of us, the loose coalition of citizens who have begun to get organized. In the end, those who are deceived by the Koch brothers and the fake research manufactured by their foundations, by the talk jocks and their rants, by the fake news blogs and their weird stories, are duped because they want to be.
The truth is, the reason we put “united” in the name of our country in the first place is because we needed the reminder. The U.S. was born in division, a country that began with a revolution, not against Britain so much as between two opposing forces, Whigs and Tories, democrats and monarchists.
And this country has been fighting that same battle ever since. The Civil War was about slavery, sure, because slavery was the bedrock of the South’s feudal way of life. The Civil war was a battle between feudalism and modernity. The Robber Barons who fought against unionization and personal income tax in the 1890s were called “barons” for a reason.
History tells us that the Republic ends, not in conquest by another nation, but when the rabble allows Caesar to place a crown upon his own head. That’s what worried the Founders. In the disinformation age, Trump supporters became convinced that the king in his golden tower could save them by bringing back the past. They see Trump, with his vapid, boasting speeches, as an emblem of power.
But will they continue to support his lavish lifestyle while his many promises unravel into lies and his budget cancels essential services? The Secret Service has requested an additional $60M to cover Trump’s weekend jaunts to Mar-a-Lago, his family’s worldwide business travel, and his wife’s separate living quarters in Trump Tower in New York. Will the kingly orange head roll? No matter how good his cover, it’s only a matter of time.