FOX News galvanizes their brainwashed viewership to act on right-wing extremist, murderous ideologies. It's time Democrats launch their own network to counter the toxic noise and mobilize the base.
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From the massacre in Buffalo, New York, to the horrors of the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, we cannot escape the damage an idea can do. That is the clear and undeniable lesson from the former tragedy in upstate New York, where a white supremacist gunman targeted and killed Black people due to his deeply wrong and perverse belief that ethnic minorities are part of a Jewish plot to replace white people. Thirteen people were shot, ten died, hundreds are experiencing the despair of sudden loss, and millions are now in mourning, reckoning with the very real and present threat to their own lives—all because of an incessant noise machine designed to service the needs of the radical Right.
The gunman in Buffalo, an 18-year-old, didn’t develop these ideas all on his own. Every brick and stone in the path of his radicalization was laid down by a right-wing media ecosystem that has laundered extremism for mass consumption. For more than three decades under the direction of Roger Ailes and his acolytes, this radical media Wurlitzer has dredged up the most noxious and dangerous ideas from the most depraved corners of our media discourse, given them a rhetorical rinse, a clean-cut appearance, and the seriousness of a suit and tie, and then pumped them directly into the American cultural mainstream.
Surely and steadily, this media apparatus has warped us. We are trapped in policy arguments and social discussions that revolve around conservative concerns, regardless of the actual belief of the proponents or the effects of the decisions. That is how after every mass shooting or prominent gun tragedy, we find that an almost 90% consensus on gun control is not enough to move a single Republican vote or even inspire the tiniest morsel of shame. Everything from the language we use to the frames and lenses through which we look to the reactions we have are products of right-wing efforts to define the boundaries of acceptable discourse and craft an environment where every response feeds into a lose-lose situation for their opponents.
Perhaps that is why Democrats have largely limited their reaction to this flood of radical rhetoric with the energy of either mild, avuncular disappointment or the scripted anger of an applause line at a sparsely attended rally. Rarely does the party offer a forceful rejoinder to the extremism of their opponents, choosing instead to politely reject their statements in an effort to maintain their appeal to a largely illusory political middle. Someone, after all, has to appear like the grownup in the room. Someone has to keep the discourse at the appropriate and stately level. Someone has to go high for each low blow. Matching the Republicans, we are told, would topple all of us into the political abyss.
The problem with that reasoning, of course, is that we are already there. Radicalized individuals are perpetrating monstrous violence; state and local politics are polarized and outrageous to a degree not seen since the Massive Resistance, and election law is being undermined and overwritten by operatives and legislators who are increasingly untethered from reality. Republicans have built a propaganda juggernaut to churn up every anxiety in their alarmingly homogenous base, to hold their adherents in an inescapable thrall, and to seek the total and eternal destruction of their political, social, and cultural foes: the constituents and representatives of the Democratic Party. We are at the bottom of the slippery slope.
It is too late for appeals to decency, the shame of hypocrisy, or the cold truth of clear and unambiguous logic. The Republican Party has demonstrated that there is no bottom to their behavior, that they won’t give us the satisfaction of shame, that reason, logic and facts are easily voided by conspiracy and ideology. There is no magic sequence of words that will reconstitute shared reality and the comity of bipartisan consensus. As my grandmother was wont to say: You can’t reason someone out of a position they never reasoned themselves into.
So Democrats and the broader American Left should stop trying—and make an emotional pitch instead. Abandon Republican framing, bipartisan unity, a notion of fairness that gives equal heft to lies and fact. It is time for the Left to do what the Right has done for decades: Construct a media ecosystem to engage the most visceral emotions of their base, amplify them, and channel that energy into action.
This is not a call for Democrats to craft their own set of organ-grinding propaganda monkeys, dutifully churning out Democratic talking points with the charm of an automated phone tree. This is about fostering a media environment dedicated to critical thinking, political engagement and policy discourse with a proudly liberal bias and an unambiguous independent streak. It is about supporting and expanding a loose network of aligned commentators, scribes, independent journalists, and content creators to make an affirmative argument for liberalism and progressivism—with the Democratic Party a mere extension of those philosophies. The point of this operation is to counter the noise, not to subsume it with our own.
It is a tired refrain that this is the purpose of mainstream newsrooms, said with disdain on the right and hope on the Left. Waiting for the likes of the New York Times or major broadcast news to perform this function has put us in this mess, leaving our politics vulnerable to extremism because these institutions value the appearance of balance over the purpose of truth. Whatever the leanings of individual journalists, the institutions themselves are hopelessly reactionary, peddling broadly accepted blandness, refusing to kick up a fuss or cross-cultural trip wires, and offering the sheen of fairness to right wing depravity, giving it the veneer of legitimacy.
Democrats and their funders can’t continue to rely on someone else to do the affirmative, engaging messaging that they have left as an individual matter, waiting for voters to make a logical choice when the politics of the country has lost its damn mind. The Republican Party and the right wing apparatus that funds and feeds it had no hesitation in warping the political discussion to serve their own ends: pumping gobs of cash into information infrastructure, curating a media strategy for every platform, and ensuring that everyone willing to parrot the company line has a very comfortable place to lay their head at night. We scoff at “wingnut welfare,” but it has crafted a stable, self-perpetuating core that powers the conservative media universe.
In comparison, the people speaking from the Left are either scrambling for a handful of safe and steady positions in a rapidly shifting (and radicalizing) media landscape, or are wandering the wilderness of social media with a Venmo and a prayer. There is no structural support for liberal and progressive base-building messages, no steady survival in sharing the values of the Democratic Party or the constituents who rely on it. What little cash there is goes to a consulting class that is either using a playbook that’s 30 years out of date or only works if you’re a once-in-a-generation political talent. And in the meantime, we fritter away our most precious resource—time—to center debates around conservative talking points, react to conservative political desires, and strive for conservative approval.
At the beginning of the Trump era, the Washington Post proclaimed that “democracy dies in darkness.” But right now, everything that Republicans are doing is happening in broad daylight. They are unassailable because they have made themselves impervious to narrative, to reason, to reality itself. And so our survival as a polity, the future of representative government, rests on finding a way to break through the conservative media machine. Democracy doesn’t die in darkness; it dies in silence. Our only way out is to find and fund the words that make the noise stop.
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