Bryan Zepp Jamieson
March 2nd, 2023
For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.–Hosea 8:7
The term “Vast Right Wing Conspiracy” was first popularized by Hillary Clinton in 1998. She didn’t invent the specific term: it was in use in the US at least three years earlier, and in the UK in 1991. The far right, stung, tried to ridicule the phrase, with various deplorables going on line to proudly announce they were part of the VRWC. It didn’t deflect the validity of the phrase—people just pointed to Fox, to Rush Limbaugh, to the panoply of other right wing outlets: Regnery Press, the Scaife media empire, the vast array of right wing think tanks, including the Federalist Society, the Kochs, and the empire of the Christian falangist right, then known as the Moral Majority.
It was around long before 1991, of course. America has always had an authoritarian right wing streak, dating back to the “Know Nothing” party and slavers before the Civil War, and Southern Democrats and groups such as the KKK after. That in turn morphed into the German American Bund, Father Coughlin, and a rise of radio hatemongers. After the second world war, with the term “Fascist” so thoroughly discredited, the far right appropriated the title of “conservative” and began a general infiltration of the actual conservative party in America, which was caught off guard because the new breed of fascists launched by Koch money in the form of the hyper-patriotic John Birch Society were flag wavers and bible pounders. Patriots and God-fearers couldn’t be bad, right? And like most Americans, conservatives thought they were immune to the power of propaganda. Only slave populations like those of the Soviet Union could fall for alluring lies, right? Americans were educated and smart and laughed at propaganda.
Fascist plutocrats such as Rupert Murdoch, the Kochs, and Richard Scaife knew better, and took the lessons taught by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and turned a blare of misinformation on the American public.
Their target was the low-information voter. The methods were time honored: repeat simple lies over and over; persuade their targets that they, and only they, possessed “family values” and held true to American ideals. Sneer at liberals, intellectuals, and non-Christians and imply that they were hostile to America and American values. Explain that public schools, unions, and public interest groups were “communist.” Persuade people that marginalized groups (such as African Americans) were responsible for their poor pay and lousy jobs, and not the plutocrats who spent tons of money in hundreds of outlets to convince them of this.
They targeted the poorly-educated, the impoverished, the fundamentalists, the disaffected and the resentful. They wanted an army of angry morons, not to put too fine a point on it.
But the art of riling up people and getting them angry has a trap. People eventually become numbed to the same provocative speech, repeated over and over, and concepts that once might have created angry mobs just become a background hum in a dull life. So they have to keep topping themselves. Liberalism isn’t just unAmerican; it’s ANTI-American. Blacks don’t want to go to your schools and work in your jobs; they want to take them over. People getting $500 on food stamps are the reason the country is broke, and not the billionaires who pay little or no taxes. Abortion isn’t just unpleasant; it’s murder!
Not enough. People get inured. And of course in instances where the far right could prevail, such as turning back civil rights or banning abortion, they didn’t dare actually try to win because their followers would just look at them and say, “OK, we won. Now what?” Reagan and Bush Junior both ran on anti-abortion platforms, and neither tried to implement change. Bush Junior and the radicals in the House tried to privatize Social Security and turn Medicare into an insurance scam and it cost them dearly in the next election.
It was one thing to bellow angry imprecations into the wind, quite another to act on them.
Newt Gingrich took the GOP to a posture of wild and mostly idiotic stances, blind intransigence, and endless scandal-mongering. He was the face of the VRWC, as Hillary Clinton so deftly noted. Not surprisingly, a lot of this platform blew up in right wing faces (the “Contract for America” quickly became a joke, people noticed the GOP was more interested in posturing rather than governing, and the effort to impeach Bill Clinton actually made him more popular. Newt ended up leaving in disgrace.
But the right wing noise machine was there to soothe the injuries of exposed hypocrisy, social amorality, and blind opposition to providing direction to the country. It was all the fault of the liberal media and social justice warriors, they explained. Newt was a victim. The GOP was a victim. You are a victim.
It worked, for a while.
Then Obama was elected, and suddenly every racist coward in the country was scrambling aboard the GOP noise machine to air their grievances. The tone of the VRWC, never sunny and warm, turned far darker and uglier.
The GOP recruited the racists, and the conspiracy theorists. The latter, being the most credulous and dim-witted of the population, were eager to join powerful forces who would at least pretend to validate their crackpot and often flat-out crazed notions. Yes, the government is lying about UFOs. Yes, Jews secretly control the world. Yes, the Moon landing was faked. Yes, you can turn water into gasoline with this simple little pill.
Enter Donald Trump, amoral, narcissistic, and vicious, but wily enough to know that all he had to do was stir the shit just a bit, and he would have an army of howling, screeching lunatics and toy Nazis set to do his bidding.
Which we saw on January 6th, 2021.
And it is still cresting with the House taken over by the worst of the worst, regular Republicans too weak and cowardly to resist, and the claims getting wilder and wilder, the proposed “solutions” more and more draconian and ridiculous. Ban the Democrat [sic] Party! Jews are out to replace us! They have space lasers! M&M candies are attacking American sexual purity! Litter boxes in school bathrooms! The rest of the world thinks America has gone nuts. It’s actually a smallish group of nuts, but then, so were Hitler’s followers in 1933, or Lenin’s in 1919. They are dangerous, no matter how ridiculous they look.
But the Fox News implosion, combined with the tidal wave of accountability facing Trump and his minions, may cause that wave to break and foam and froth harmlessly back out to sea.
The fascist right spent years cultivating morons. They succeeded. Then the morons took over. Hosea 8:7.
And now, hopefully the end to the fascist right-wing madness is in sight.