Groomed for Trump

The New Republic points out that the right wing in the US has been encouraging ignorance and anti-intellectualism for decades and thus grooming a large chunk of the population to be unable to see through Donald Trump. Well yeah – it’s obvious, but worth saying anyway.

Not so long ago, in the days before Marco Rubio endorsed Trump, the Florida senator called him a “con artist.” It’s hard to imagine how anyone could dispute Rubio’s evaluation. The operations of Trump University alone paint the convincing portrait of a swindler. Yet the deeper question is how such an obvious mountebank could win the majority of a major party’s delegates. Is there something in the nature of the Republican Party and its conservative base that made them particularly vulnerable to Trump’s deceptions?

Well of course there is. Have we forgotten “the reality-based community” already?

In a sense, conservative voters have been groomed for Trump since the 1960s. As the historian Rick Perlstein wrote in The Baffler and The Nation in 2012, the American conservative movement has become more and more amenable to get-rich-quick schemes, snake-oil salesmen, and confidence men. Direct-mail barons like Richard Viguerie began raking in the dough in the 1960s by stirring up ideological hysteria and convincing an audience of senior citizens that only their small-dollar donation could fend off union bosses, abortionists, and gays. Of course, most of the money ended up with the fundraisers.

From the direct-mail bunco artists, it was a natural progression to conservative media selling ads to the most outlandish dream peddlers and conspiracy-mongers. After Perlstein subscribed to email lists for publications like Townhall and Newsmax, he started getting some strange notices, including “the 123-Cent Heart Miracle,’ the one ‘Washington, the medical industry, and drug companies REFUSE to tell you about.’ (Why would they? They’d just be leaving money on the table: ‘I was scheduled for open heart surgery when I read about your product,’ read one of the testimonials. ‘I started taking it and now six months have passed and I haven’t had open-heart surgery.’).”

If you’ve been trained to think that business is always and automatically honest and self-regulating, you’ve been trained to stop thinking in general.

In Perlstein’s words, “The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place—and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.”

There’s another factor at work here: The anti-intellectualism that has been a mainstay of the conservative movement for decades also makes its members easy marks. After all, if you are taught to believe that the reigning scientific consensuses on evolution and climate change are lies, then you will lack the elementary logical skills that will set your alarm bells ringing when you hear a flim-flam artist like Trump. The Republican“war on science” is also a war on the intellectual habits needed to detect lies.

They raised up a viper and now it’s biting them in the ass – and unfortunately it’s biting the rest of us too.

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