It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump (11 page)

They believed mainstream American journalists were shutting out alternative points of view, that they were “coloring, slanting, selecting and editing the news” in order to tamp down any criticisms of the war. Morley argued that in trumpeting the official line doled out by government agencies, journalists had played a role in the “subtle regimentation of public opinion.” Never one to shy away from a Nazi comparison, he added, “While we have not yet carried these practices as far as did the unlamented Dr. Goebbels, the general direction of governmental propaganda has paid that Nazi leader the sincerest form of flattery.”
16

The small D.C. apartment where Morley and Hanighen started
Human Events
is, to the industries of right-wing media that follow, what Steve Jobs’s garage was to the tech world. An heir to a Chicago-based textile fortune, Henry Regnery stepped in to help fund and promote what was basically no more than a newsletter. Regnery used
Human Events
as the first effort to launch Regnery Publishing, which would become the dominant publisher for conservative books and still thrives today. Astonishingly, considering its later course, one of the first publications of Regnery’s new publishing venture was
Blueprint for World Conquest,
a collection of documents from the Communist International. This was followed by several books that were, as Hemmer wrote, “revisionist works on Germany: Victor Gollancz’s
Our Threatened Values
(1946) and
In Darkest Germany
(1947), and a translation of Max Picard’s
Hitler in Our Selves
(1947). The books, which were critical of the Allied treatment of Germany and the postwar order, did not sell, but Regnery didn’t mind.”
17

In 1951, Regnery agreed to publish William Buckley’s
God and Man at Yale,
the book that secured the role of both Regnery’s publishing house and Bill Buckley in the coming conservative wars. Eager to have the book available for the 250th anniversary of Yale, Buckley got his father to kick in $3,000 to cover costs for expedited publication, then another $17,000 for publicity, making the conservative classic close to a self-published book.
God and Man at Yale
became a
New York Times
best seller, and Buckley followed it up with a defense of Joseph McCarthy written with his brother-in-law Brent Bozell,
McCarthy and His Enemies: The Record and Its Meaning
.
18
Like his defense of segregation in the
National Review,
the McCarthy book is a reminder for those who today, in the age of Trump, like to cast William Buckley as the lost soul of true conservatism: that for all his well-crafted sentences and love of language, Buckley was often a more articulate version of the same deep ugliness and bigotry that is the hallmark of Trumpism. If nothing else,
McCarthy and His Enemies
prompted one of the classic negative reviews of literary history, a brief treatment by Philip Kurland, a University of Chicago Law School professor, that reflects the disdain of Buckley by the liberal academic establishment he loved to attack:

This volume is the development of a theme expressed by Christopher Fry’s mayor in
The Lady’s Not for Burning:

“That’s enough!

Terrible frivolity, terrible blasphemy,

Awful unorthodoxy. I can’t understand

Anything that’s being said. Fetch a constable.

The woman’s tongue clearly knows the flavour

Of
spiritu maligno
. The man must be

Drummed out of this town.”

Buckley wrote another book which Regnery published. This is more of the same.
19

After investing in Regnery Publishing, William Buckley’s father helped launch the
Manion Forum of Opinion,
a weekly radio show hosted by Clarence Manion, a former dean at the Notre Dame Law School. Like the founders of
Human Events,
Clarence “Pat” Manion had taken an unlikely path to becoming one of the brightest stars in the conservative galaxy. He came from an upper-middle-class family in northern Kentucky and studied philosophy at Catholic University in Washington. Rick Perlstein in
Before the Storm
paints the scene of what it was like for a young, idealistic Democrat like Manion who was strongly opposed to America’s involvement in a war in Europe:

Woodrow Wilson had captured Washington from the stolid, stand-pat Republicans. The nation’s capital was teeming with brash young intellectuals from all over the country who believed the progressive mood percolating through the states had finally found its fit exemplar in the former political science professor now in the White House. He had resisted the entreaties of Wall Street and had pledged that under his Administration no American would suffer entanglement in the blood feud then raging in Europe. Manion, too young to vote, was swept up in the excitement. The night before the 1916 election he stood in front of Democratic headquarters and led the chants for reelection: “We want peace, we don’t want war. / We want Wilson four years more!”
20

Manion was disillusioned but remained a Democrat and went on to write a textbook that explained it was a government’s duty to guarantee all citizens a certain standard of living. His continuing isolationist and antiwar attitude pushed him into becoming rabidly anti-Roosevelt. He left Notre Dame in 1952 and supported Robert Taft based on his foreign policy. Perlstein describes how Manion

became one of the nation’s foremost advocates for the strange foreign policy mishmash cooked up by Ohio senator Robert Taft, leader of the conservative forces in Congress: anticommunism for isolationists. Like their internationalist cousins, Taftites held that the Communist conspiracy was America’s eternal enemy. But they also believed that America’s antecedent eternal enemy—what George Washington warned of in his farewell address as “entangling alliances”—was worse. The solution to this contradiction was the belief that policies such as signing mutual security pacts in the NATO mold and pledging foreign aid to vulnerable nations sapped America’s ability to fight the menace at home, where the real threat was, from traitors like Alger Hiss and Owen Lattimore, and the agents in the federal government who would bring America to her knees through social spending that would cripple the economy through inflation—Russia’s most devious offensive of all. (One theory had it that Harry Dexter White, the former Treasury Department official who went on to become director of the International Monetary Fund, stole U.S. Mint engraving plates so that Communism could flood the country with excess currency.)
21

You can draw a straight line from that blend of kooky conspiracy theory, anti–foreign alliances, and instinctual victimhood to Donald Trump’s worldview. In Trump’s world, the internal forces conspiring against the country are the Deep State, not the Communists, but it is a vision of the world through a heavy fog of paranoia and fear. The steady conservatism of Eisenhower is unmasked not as governance that brought peace and prosperity to a postwar America but as a naive breeding ground that allows the rest of the world to take advantage of our too-generous benevolence. The
Manion Forum
radio program became a model for the talk radio empires of conservatives and a centerpiece in the movement that helped Barry Goldwater seize power in the Republican Party. In 1959, Manion helped organize the “Goldwater Committee of 100” that reached out on the radio and through direct mail, which was just beginning to take off as a conservative engine, to solicit contributions and build lists for the conservative movement. In 1960, William Buckley’s brother-in-law and co-author of the book defending McCarthy, Brent Bozell, ghostwrote Goldwater’s
Conscience of a Conservative,
which became to conservatives what Mao’s
Little Red Book
was to the Red Guard. Others joined the
Manion Forum
radio show, as E. J. Dionne Jr. details in
Why the Right Went Wrong:

In the late 1950s, H. L. Hunt, the Texas oil millionaire, set up the Life Line Foundation, which included a newsletter, television programs, and a book club. Its greatest influence came in its radio program. By the end of 1962, as the scholar Mary Brennan noted, it was being broadcast 342 times a day on roughly 300 radio stations in 42 states and the District of Columbia. There was also Dan Smoot, a former FBI agent turned right-wing pamphleteer and later a John Birch Society leader. He developed a substantial audience, with his radio program at one point reaching 150 stations and 16 million households weekly. Typical Smoot fare was his 1962 book,
The Invisible Government,
about the Council on Foreign Relations and its efforts to create “a one-world socialist system.” It sold more than 2 million copies.
22

But these conservative successes were dominated by journalism that operated under a shared code of standards and professionalism. The Federal Communications Commission’s fairness doctrine was one limiting factor for conservatives, as described in
Network Propaganda:

Most Americans got their news from the three broadcast networks. Radio still operated under strict group ownership limits, which meant that national syndication required negotiations with many independent station owners. Broadcast operated under the FCC’s fairness doctrine, whose core requirements were that broadcasters cover matters of public importance and that they do so fairly, mostly in the sense that they air competing positions. The doctrine was often associated with a right of reply for politicians who were subject to personal attack and other elements of the broader “public trustee” doctrine that held that private broadcasters holding licenses to public airwaves should act in managing those airwaves as a trustee for the real owners—the American people. While the fairness doctrine did not often result in complete silencing, it made many broadcasters skittish about airing programming that they thought might trigger an obligation to grant free response time to those attacked in these broadcasts.
23

The 1987 FCC decision to stop enforcing the fairness doctrine supercharged conservative media into a billion-dollar industry. Now there was no need to be concerned with offering equal time or performing a news function. It was true for liberals and conservatives, but the conservative audience has proven wider, more reliable, and more profitable, which is not surprising. For all the reasons discussed above, conservatives were hungry for a different source of information and belief, a stronger bond than mere opinion, that would validate and confirm their view of the world that was strikingly different from that presented by “mainstream” media. In 1988, Rush Limbaugh launched his radio show, and as Max Boot points out in
The Corrosion of Conservatism,
“Limbaugh called his fans ‘dittoheads’ because they mindlessly echoed his prejudices—or he theirs; the pandering went both ways.”
24
Conservatives have managed to turn the phrase “mainstream media,” or “lame stream media,” as that noted arbiter of intellectual rigor, Sarah Palin, called it, into a pejorative. But what is mainstream media? It’s the journalism that believes in standards, strives to report facts, and has a professional standard to correct errors. It’s the news the majority of Americans consume. The brand of conservatism that has emerged from those early beginnings at
Human Events
requires the absence of professional standards. The entire purpose of this ever-increasing brand of conservative journalism—and it does great violence to the profession to call most of it by that term—is to confirm not just your opinion but also your
feelings
.

The charge that Barack Obama was not born in America is a quintessential conservative media moment, an attempt to provide some factual basis for bigotry. The birthers “felt” that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama could not truly be an American, so a cottage industry was born attempting to “prove” a lie. That it was demonstrably a lie backed by hospital records was quickly brushed aside in pursuit of the “larger” truth that Barack Obama wasn’t “really” an American because an America that could elect a man with the middle name Hussein is not really America. The playing ground between “mainstream” media and the conservative alternatives is forever tilted against the side that has standards, because part of those standards is admitting mistakes and correcting them on the record. The result is a disproportionally long catalog of errors in the press with standards because, more often than not, there is little if any pressure within conservative journalism to admit errors, much less correct them. It happens every day, again and again, in large and small instances that combine to reinforce whatever it is that share of the conservative world chooses to believe.

The day I am writing this, Donald Trump, leading up to a visit to England, was asked about critical remarks made by Meghan Markle about Trump before she married Prince Harry. They included her support for Hillary Clinton, “not because she is a woman, but because Trump has made it easy to see that you don’t really want that kind of world that he’s painting.” She also said that she might move to Canada if Trump was elected.
25

Trump responded, “I didn’t know that. What can I say? I didn’t know that she was nasty.” When his remarks drew criticism, Trump tweeted, “I never called Meghan Markle ‘nasty.’ Made up by the Fake News Media, and they caught cold! Will @CNN, @nytimes and others apologize? Doubt it!” As he was leaving for England, Trump insisted again, “No, I made no bad comments.”
26

The Trump era’s consistent denial that you did not hear what you heard and did not see what you saw has managed to make George Orwell one of the most relevant authors of the day. When Donald Trump tweets, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” Orwell’s
1984
is the perfect framework in which to understand his mentality: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
27

There is an old joke about a country lawyer who, when he was hired to defend a man accused of killing a family of four and their dog, produces a dog and denies everything. When the Trump wing of the conservative media isn’t simply inventing something out of nothing—the murder “conspiracy” of the DNC staffer Seth Rich is a perfect example—it loves to take one bit of truth and abuse it into a much larger lie. Some of this is merely silly and falls into the category of life imitating high school. But some has profound impact on domestic and foreign policy. When the Mueller Report was complete and did not find grounds sufficient to bring a charge of criminal conspiracy against the Trump campaign, it became for Trump “complete and total exoneration,” and he immediately renewed his demand for an investigation into the “conspiracy” against him. Conspiracies are dominant realities in the world Trump and his followers inhabit. Unseen but powerful forces that the uninitiated can’t see shape their world. Mollie Hemingway writes in
The Federalist,

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