In 2000 I felt duty-bound to vote for the most putrid politician I had ever met, Joe Lieberman, who was running for VP on the Al Gore ticket. I was no fan of Gore's either and when his wife asked me if I would support him at a White House dinner, I laughed in her face. I went back and forth about what to do. Gore was certainly a lesser evil than Bush-Cheney and, as bad as Lieberman was, I didn't feel he would tip the balance in regard to which ticket was the greater evil. To be honest, I can't remember if I actually voted for Gore-Lieberman or not; I've blocked it out of my mind, but I think I did. I'm pretty sure I didn't vote for Nader, so I must have held my nose and voted for the two very conservative Democrats. (Since then, Gore has moved left and Lieberman has moved even further right.) They got about half a million votes more than Bush-Cheney but the election was stolen by Bush's brother, the governor of Florida, plus an uber-partisan Republican-dominated Supreme Court.
Gore- 50,999,897 (48.4%)
Bush- 50,456,002 (47.9%)
Nader- 2,882,955 (2.74%)
4 years later, neither Kerry nor his running mate, John Edwards, had a bad record and Bush and Cheney were even worse than anyone expected they would be, so I didn't hesitate in voting for Kerry, who got nearly 9 million more votes than Gore had, but lost because Bush picked up almost 12 million more.
Four years after that, I allowed myself to get swept up in Obama-mania, even though I was completely aware of his shitty voting record in both the Illinois legislature and in the U.S. Senate. But it was too historic an opportunity to not get behind it. As president though, he was disappointing enough for me to have voted for Nader or Cynthia McKinney-- I can't remember which-- as a protest.
Anyway, I was very enthusiastic about Bernie in 2016 and 2020 and didn't seriously consider voting for the garbage candidates the Democratic Party puked out for the general either year-- not even against Trump. Now this next cycle, when democracy itself is fighting for its life against the encroachment of real-life fascism, I sure hope the Democrats nominate someone I'll be enthusiastic to support, like Bernie, Jeff Merkley, Elizabeth Warren or Ro Khanna. But I expect, instead, to see someone on the ticket I couldn't vote for without hating myself, worthless political garbage like Kamala, Mayo Pete, Bloomberg or worse. Will it be time to embrace a lesser evil strategy again before I die? I'll have to think about it.
About a week ago, Jacobin posted an essay by Luke Savage, Joe Biden and the Democrats Will Pay a Heavy Price for Betraying Young Voters. Summation: "The Biden administration has reneged on key promises that candidate Biden used to entice younger voters to turn out for him in 2020. Surprise: his approval ratings with the young are now in free fall." Biden took voters under 30 by a massive 59% to 35%. Savage concluded that "The bottom line is that Biden and the Democrats are already paying a heavy price for their failure to deliver on key campaign promises, with every age group but most dramatically with the young. Given the administration’s first year, it’s an entirely predictable development-- and one that will only intensify if it continues to spurn progressively minded young voters and take them for granted."
OK, that's one side of the equation. The other side is horrifying and Evan Osnos elaborated on one small-- but dangerous-- piece of what the far right is planning for the immediate future. The villain is Trump crony and neo-Nazi radio host Dan Bongino, the fourth most listened to hate spewer in America, who projects, live on the air, that progressives are "legitimately crazy satanic demon people." His 8.5 million followers internalize that kind of hate-talk. Osnos points out that Bogino also "commands a Fox News program on Saturday nights, a podcast that has ranked No. 1 on iTunes, and a Web site that repackages stories into some of the most highly trafficked items on social media. In recent months, according to Facebook data, his page has attracted more engagement than those of the Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal combined.
Bongino refers to Biden as a "disgraceful, disgusting, grotesque bag of bones" and tells his moron followers that "The FBI and the CIA, members of it, unquestionably tried to rig both the 2016 and 2020 election... they didn’t put out bad information on someone-- they hid information about Joe Biden and his corrupt son."
In Bongino’s world, it matters little that Trump’s claims of rampant fraud were dismissed by his own top appointees at the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, as well as by federal and state judges. To the true believer, the lack of solid evidence simply confirms how well hidden the rigging was. In the study of conspiracy theories (a description Bongino rejects), this is known as “self-sealing”: the theory mends holes in its own logic. “A corrupted intelligence community, in conjunction with a corrupt media, will eat this country like a cancer from the inside out,” Bongino told his audience, as he built to a takeaway. “This is why I’m really hoping Donald Trump runs in 2024,” he said. “He’s the best candidate suited to clean house. Because if we don’t clean house the Republic is gone.”
Spend several months immersed in American talk radio and you’ll come away with the sense that the violence of January 6th was not the end of something but the beginning. A year after Trump supporters laid siege to the U.S. Capitol, some of his most influential champions are preparing the ground for his return, and they dominate a media terrain that attracts little attention from their opponents. As liberals argue over the algorithm at Facebook and ponder the disruptive influence of TikTok, radio remains a colossus; for every hour that Americans listened to podcasts in 2021, they listened to six and a half hours of AM/FM radio, according to Edison Research, a market-research and polling firm. Talk radio has often provided more reliable hints of the political future than think tanks and elected officials have. In 2007, even as the Republican leaders George W. Bush and John McCain were trying to rebrand themselves as immigration reformers, Limbaugh was advocating laws that would deny immigrants access to government services and force them to speak English.
Seven out of ten Republicans want Trump to run again, according to a recent poll by Politico and Morning Consult. Senior Party leaders perpetuate his fraudulent claims about the 2020 election; in a Fox News interview, Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the result. Trump associates have risked jail time in order to thwart a congressional inquiry into the attempt to overturn the vote. At the state level, an unprecedented effort is sidelining Trump’s opponents and rewriting laws to give partisans control over the administration of elections. On America’s balkanized airwaves, his supporters are using their platforms to spread disinformation, undermine faith in governance, and inflame his followers.
No one in American media has profited more from the Trump era and its aftermath than Bongino. Since 2015, he has gone from hosting a fledgling podcast in his basement to addressing audiences of millions. Pete Hegseth, a fellow Fox News host who served in the National Guard, told me, “I carried a rifle in the military, and now I get to serve in information warfare.” Bongino, he added, “is one of our generals.” This vision of cultural combat is prominent in Trumpworld. Alex Jones, who named his conspiratorial media brand Infowars, uses the motto “There’s a war on for your mind!”
Trump has fostered a crop of broadcasters who owe their power to him, men like Sebastian Gorka, the former White House aide, and Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA. Brian Rosenwald, the author of the history Talk Radio’s America, has noted the triumph of ideology over experience. “Bongino is speaking to the people who believe Trump’s press releases, who see the world caving in and Biden as a raging socialist,” he told me. Rosenwald likens Bongino’s ascent to that of Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, who reached Congress in 2021, despite having voiced belief in a “global cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles” and other delusions associated with QAnon. “Back in the day, Marjorie Taylor Greene would have been consigned to the worst committees, buried by the leadership,” he said. “But the old rules of how you gain stature are out the door.”
...While Trump thunders and plots from Palm Beach, Bongino does the daily work of sustaining the faithful. On a show this fall, he read a listener’s question: “In the event that Trump does get reëlected in 2024, what has he learned from his first go-round of draining the swamp?” Bongino had a ready answer. “They tried to take kind of a Team of Rivals Lincoln approach,” by appointing Republicans who had not been among Trump’s original supporters, he said. “That was clearly a mistake. They backstabbed him. The John Boltons and others.” That wouldn’t happen again, he vowed.
...Jennifer Mercieca, a professor of rhetoric at Texas A&M, analyzed the information warfare of the Trump era in her book Demagogue for President, and catalogued some of the ascendant patterns of communication. There was “paralipsis,” emphasizing something by professing to say little of it (“I’m not going to call Jeb Bush ‘low energy’ ”), and the ad populum appeal, flattering a crowd by praising its wisdom (“The people, my people, are so smart”). When possible, Trump turned to the power of “reification,” applying nonhuman sobriquets to his opponents (“disgusting animals,” “anchor babies,” “pigs”). Aldous Huxley recognized that tactic as long ago as 1936, writing, “The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.”
Mercieca describes Bongino as “an important node in the amplification of propaganda.” She told me, “Propaganda used to be primarily vertical, in the sense that it came from the state or some authority, and it was distributed down to everyone through one-way channels of communication. But, in the current moment, propaganda has become horizontal, too.”
...In the stories that Bongino reveals about himself, there are some of the usual private frequencies: status, grit, yearning, humiliation. But nothing rings louder than his awareness of fear-- how it arises and subsides, what it does to the body and the mind. In his punditry, Bongino talks about fear all the time. “Fear has always been the Democrats’ coin of the realm,” he told podcast listeners in June. “How else are they going to coax you into delivering them your civil liberties and freedom? They do it through things like coronavirus.” In a mock orator’s voice, he said, “Give up your right to assemble!”
...Because Bongino has emerged so fast, and because so much of his activity occurs away from mainstream media, few Democrats have noticed that he exists. Carusone notes that there is an entire realm of influential figures who are effectively invisible from the outside. “They’re no longer the fringe,” he said. He points to Steven Crowder, a thirty-four-year-old YouTuber who often broadcasts wearing a gun in a shoulder holster. YouTube has cited Crowder for “egregious” violations of its policies on disinformation and cyberbullying; last spring, it suspended his ad sales, and reportedly penalized him for “reveling in or mocking” the police killing of a Black teen-ager in Ohio. (He disputed the accusation.) In October, 2020, as the election approached, his YouTube channel had more viewers than CNN’s did.
The piece is fantastic-- and much, much longer than what I used. But I do have one bone to pick with Osnos. He keeps referring to fascists as conservatives. I notice that fascists also refer to themselves as conservatives. I can understand why fascists try to hide behind an acceptable front, but why do journalists like Osnos let them get away with it? He ended with an example of that. "The monologue, a snippet of a podcast episode first released in April," he wrote, "centered on his usual complaints about Silicon Valley-- YouTube had removed a video of scholars who advised children not to wear masks-- but Bongino had elevated it to a larger showdown with opponents whom he called 'pieces of human filth... There’s a lot going on behind the scenes,' he said. 'There are people now openly silencing and attacking conservatives [he means fascists], trying to have them jailed, trying to have them sanctioned, bankrupted financially, fired from their jobs. This is all happening right now! And it’s all happening because of the Democrat Party and the liberals.' He was shouting now, waving a hand in front of the lens. 'They are fascists! That’s not in dispute!' He seemed to catch himself. 'My apologies,' he said. 'I don’t mean this to sound rambling.' But, he explained, his experience with cancer had heightened his sense of the stakes. It 'put horse blinders on me to see what really matters,' he said. 'The fight is all that matters, and it’s all that should matter to you.' He reached what he presented as an encouraging conclusion: 'The only good news about the rapid descent is we’re going to hit a bottom soon. And I promise you. . . . ' He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fists. 'I promise you! I know it-- the Lord will not let this country go down like that.' He stared into the camera again. 'There will be an ascent just as fast, where freedom and liberty will reëmerge, and these people on the other side of it, the Big Tech tyrant totalitarian fascists, their liberal buddies, the Biden Administration, they will all-- all-- have to answer for this.' In the next three weeks, Bongino’s video was watched on Facebook nearly six million times. It attracted comments from fans around the country, who heard in his words a case for belief and an argument to take action. A woman from Texas-- whom Facebook had rewarded with a 'Top Fan' badge, identifying her as one of Bongino’s most active supporters-- wrote, 'I wonder when we will put our phones down and get out, face to face and shoulder to shoulder to stand against this?' Another follower celebrated the campaign against vaccine mandates and gloried in the prospect of vindication. 'Seeing a rise in people turning to NOT getting so many jabs, quitting jobs, and telling govt. to screw off is the first sign of a revolt,' she wrote, and added, 'Let the revolt happen.'"
And meanwhile, as the fascists prepare to devour the conservatives, Weimar-era-mentality conservative Kevin McCarthy is salivating over ending the investigation into the 1/6 coup attempt and launching a series of congressional investigations directed by the paranoid fascist delusions.