Recently, Sean Illing at Vox interviewed Charlie Sykes, a conservative radio host in Wisconsin who is quitting the business.
Sykes says a good many interesting things in the interview. Mostly what impressed me was his consistency. He believes that Republicans who considered Bill Clinton’s sexual behavior unfit for the White House are utterly hypocritical in supporting Trump. Sykes admits that Trump represents a fascist figure, and that some conservative voters believe in “crazy stuff.” He said, “How many times can you say that Obama isn’t gay or a Muslim or that he wasn’t born in Kenya?”
I especially liked his take on the conservative media’s support: “another chance to beclown themselves on behalf of the Orange Duce.” He added, “They broke it. They own it.” And Trump’s most fervent GOP political allies? “The Huckabees, the Giulianis, the Newt Gingriches — they ought to be totally and utterly discredited by their support.” I agree. But I feel the less outspoken allies should be as well.
Naturally, as I am not a conservative, there are areas of disagreement. Charlie Sykes respects Paul Ryan; I do not. Sykes believes William Buckley’s rejection of the John Birch Society was principled; I see it as purely a strategic move. The Birchers often accused prominent Republicans of being Communist tools; it was wise to break off that kind of dissension, while maintaining the anti-civil rights and Cold War rhetoric that appealed to Birchers.
Did Political Correctness Give Birth to Trump?
There’s one area where I both grant his point, and reject it. Sykes blames some of the far-right’s rise on liberals who were too quick to label opponents as “racist” or “sexist” (while acknowledging that Trump is both). And I’ll agree that these terms are very powerful, so they should not be used lightly.
However, there’s a difference between attacking people and attacking policy. I neither know nor care what Reagan’s views towards African-Americans were. His policies were deeply racist. People who support voter-ID laws may themselves be unbiased; but voter-ID laws are deeply racist. Bush II worked well with Condoleeza Rice; but he also supported policies that endangered women’s health.
It Was You, Charlie
Furthermore, at least before the rise of social media, calling conservative voters “racist” or “sexist” was not a frequent occurrence. How often did it come up at the workplace, or at family dinners? Most accusations of “sexism” or “racism” were over-hyped instances of, say, something spoken at a college protest.
It was Limbaugh and Fox News that spread these stories, to further their narrative that liberals were bent on thought-controlling dissent out of existence. I’d argue that the perception conservatives have of the nation being “too PC” is very like their perception that crime rates are rocketing and voter fraud is rampant. It’s something few conservatives have any direct experience with, but they hear about it from their media.
There is blame on our side for using those terms too lightly (particularly on the internet, where pejorative terms are used with little care for how harmful they can be). But it’s mostly right-wing media that has created the notion that white male Christians are threatened by “PC.”
Charlie Sykes and the New Prometheus
Finally, there’s one area where Charlie Sykes is completely, 100% correct. Illing compared Trump to a “Frankensteinian monster,” and Sykes didn’t think it’s an apt analogy. Right on, Charlie! The monster was highly intelligent, and only became filled with violent rage once he’d been rejected by humanity’s cruelty to those who look different.
Trump does indeed resemble an angry monster, but it’s what’s inside that counts. If we’re going horror classics, he’s more Dracula. He lives in a castle, must return every night to his lair, preys on superstitious rural villagers. And like Dracula in bat form, Trump is skilled at navigating blindly through an echo chamber.
My credit to Charlie Sykes for leaving it.