General Kelly enunciated a list of things that American’s used to hold sacred back in the days when “America was great”. I do believe he missed one important item. We used to hold sacred the responsibility for our broadcasters to present a balanced and unbiased perspective. But in 1987, the Federal Communications Commission stopped enforcing the fairness doctrine, which required maintaining a balance in broadcasted opinions. This was part of the first Republican deregulation wave, during the Reagan Presidency. Now, with the benefit of 30 years of experience, we can see the effects of this phase of deregulation.
Once the airwaves were unshackled, broadcasters searched for ways to remain relevant. AM radio in particular needed resuscitation, since it had become much less relevant with the advent of FM radio which had poached its music monopoly. Experimentation began, with syndication of certain voices becoming more frequent. First among his rivals, Rush Limbaugh began syndication in 1988. He found a loyal following among those conservative listeners who began their political involvement by their adherence to the principles espoused by groups like the John Birch Society. This right fringe of the political spectrum found its way to the AM radio dial, and by serving as a dedicated audience, provided the opportunity for others to start their own talk show empires.
It was not long before these purveyors of group think began to affect the popular culture. Dittohead became a common descriptor for those who followed Rush, and people wore it as a badge of honor. It served as a symbol of their liberation from having to think for themselves. Now they could outsource their own need to analyze anything for themselves, allowing the radio to establish their own beliefs. On reflection, it is not surprising that many followers of conservative talk radio are also Evangelical Christians. In their church environment, they also are relieved of having to think about their principles and beliefs. Instead they are told in no uncertain terms about the fifty shades of black and white. The two populations (Evangelical Christians and conservative talk radio listeners) would have a significant overlap if analyzed via a Venn diagram.
Meanwhile, the left or progressive side of the political spectrum did not have a similar movement develop in the broadcast media. For whatever reason, liberals tend to form their beliefs through self-reflection, or through their experiences in the world, rather than have their beliefs spoon fed to them by a larger than life figure. As a result, the language of outrage that developed in conservative talk circles was allowed to serve unopposed as the descriptors for liberals over time. Liberals abdicated the field of linguistic battle, and by the time they noticed the language being used against them, the battle had been won by the conservatives. Witness the common descriptions for liberals and progressives today: libtards; snowflakes; and SJW. These are used as terms of disparagement, intended to insult those to whom the comments were directed.
The final piece of the media establishment that created a haven for conservatives was the birth of Fox News in 1996. In this comfortable environment, conservatives could feel their egos being massaged by a plethora of hosts and guests, all reinforcing the belief systems of the conservatives that they alone were God’s chosen. It reinforced their world view that their steadfastness to the principles and beliefs broadcast on a Fox tape loop was all that stood between them and the chaos that would result if liberals gained ascendancy. More and more people became adherents to the world view of the Foxes and Rushes, and they continued the demonization of the left via the bastardization of the language that they celebrate. They formed what I call the radical right.
The Republican establishment encouraged the growth of this new group that seemed amenable to their party. The establishment offered a wink, wink, nod, nod at the radical right, feigning lip service to the goals of reversing Roe v Wade, pretending to open their arms to welcome the cultural conservatives who ruled the talk show and Fox circles. All the while, the establishment’s true agenda of cutting taxes on the donor class got carried out under W when the surplus amassed under the Clinton years was squandered in the Bush tax cuts compounded with the war on terrorism conveniently left outside of the budgetary process.
This fake adherence to the goals of the radical right festered within the souls of that group. The resentment exploded after the near collapse of the economy in 2008, and with the failure to seek criminal prosecution of the Wall Street collaborators who steered the economy into the iceberg. The Tea Party emerged as an inchoate political movement, seizing on the opposition to big government solutions as being failed policies that landed so many people into an economic morass. That the new leader of the Federal government was a half-black interloper who dared to have an international background, allowed the Tea Party to frame their opposition to the establishment as opposition to President Obama.
The radical right never forgave the slights from the Republican establishment. Thus began the movement to classify establishment Republicans as RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only. Indeed, the vocabulary of the radical right against their own supposed allies was as vindictive as the names they invoked against the left. So we have cuckservatives and RINOs and cucks as derogatory terms used against those establishment Republicans.
At this time, it appears that the radical right wing of the party formerly known as Republicans is rising ascendant. This group does not seem to realize that they are truly a small fraction of the total population of this nation. Instead, they are reveling in each victory against a Flake, or a Corker, as evidence of their superiority.
What I find supremely interesting is that a direct association can be drawn between an act of deregulation (ceasing enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine), and the wave of political polarization washing over this nation thirty years later. As this administration keeps working to roll back regulations developed over decades, it is instructive to keep in mind that these actions can have unintended consequences. And those consequences can be quite destructive, but it may take 30 years for the effects to be fully developed. Be careful what you ask for – you may just get it.