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Trump, bullshit, and the state of the right

March 3, 2016

There have been many editorials on how the modern conservative movement has created the environment that Trump exploits by actively fomenting and exploiting nativism, racial resentment, dolchstoss notions of America’s decline, and fear generally. There is something to all of that.

But it misses something important. Trump is a bullshit artist. The difference between bullshit and a lie is that while truth can expose a lie, truth simply doesn’t matter to bullshit. Bullshit is willingly believed by some, willingly peddled by others, all facts notwithstanding.

The modern right is a maelstrom of bullshit. Obama doesn’t just have economic policies they think are worse than theirs, but is purposely trying to destroy America through a Cloward-Piven strategy. Clinton intentionally let Americans die at Benghazi, which Obama refused to call an act of terrorism. Jade Helm hid some ghastly plan for martial law. Justice Scalia was murdered. Global warming isn’t simply overestimated or economically not worth the fight, it is a hoax. We could solve malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases, if only environmentalists had not banned DDT. The southern strategy is a liberal myth. And in many right-wing forums and gatherings you still can hear the granddaddy of American political bullshit, the rhetoric of the Lost Cause.

These delusions aren’t relegated to outlets like Alex Jones. They now are standard fare of the right-wing media from Fox News to National Review. They are repeated on the national stage by presidential candidates, US senators, and state governors. Rubio’s dogwhistle about Obama’s intent was well aimed, marred only by its robotic repetition. Romney stumbled on Benghazi only because a debate moderator pointed out the obvious contrary fact in a forum where that couldn’t just be ignored. The governor of Texas pretended so much concern about Jade Helm he assigned the state national guard to monitor it. Treating bullshit as respectable is now a core part of the modern right’s political apparatus.

That is orthogonal to ideology. It runs deeper than than mere extremism. David Brooks worries that the right wing is rejecting politics. “They suffer from a form of political narcissism, in which they don’t accept the legitimacy of other interests and opinions.” They do reject politics. But it’s not from narcissism. It’s from the need to see “the truth” behind the facade of a false reality, an illusion they’re convinced is spread by the “lamestream media” and blindly swallowed by the bulk of society. They don’t accept the legitimacy of ordinary politics because they don’t live in ordinary reality. They have swallowed the red pill and put on the sunglasses. Or so they see their role.

That makes them eager for a leader who is a political outsider, who coddles their fears, who promises restoration, and who thumps on those who hold up ordinary reality as a proposed starting point. The modern GOP should not be surprised that the king bullshitter has stepped in and taken over their game.

That also explains why Trump, who seems to have all the religious depth of a guppy, nonetheless picks up so much evangelical support. He comes from the same soil as preachers such as Benny Hinn and Pat Robertson and David Barton.

Those who view themselves as being among the more sober voices on the right want to see something amiss in so many of their comrades being led astray. But how often did they have a deaf ear or give only perfunctory stniff, when various conspiracy theories worked to their advantage? Now, when that game doesn’t go their way do they moan and cry: How did this happen?

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