David French of the Dispatch has been wondering out loud if most of the right-wing media and institutions have turned into platforms for grift after the arrest of Steve Bannon. This is a natural end for any media based around a movement. As conservatives were pushed out of mainstream media, they left outlets that sought facts and balance. The incentive changed from “being accurate” to “appeal to the base.”
A movement dies when it focuses on purity and stops trying to appeal to outsiders. Truth is hard to figure out in a large, complex society. It takes effort to listen to different perspectives, evaluate the information, and then to draw independent conclusions, especially when everyone around you is focusing on purity. Peer pressure produces conformity.
Ideology is easy to figure out. Read a couple of books, read the right twitter timelines, and then parrot it. The Tomi Lahren’s of the world offer nothing new or interesting, but they tickle the ears. Eventually the passions of the moment fade, people grow up, and they move on. Candy for dinner seems alluring until day seven.
Appealing to people’s passions instead of pushing them to think is a great business model. Many people get rich off of it and defines decency down to the point where a Bannon sees an audience as a cash register. At first, the discerning ones point it out and are name-called for saying it out loud. Then eventually everyone else sees it and norms are re-enforced.
The conservative movement is a long way off from the founding of National Review. Buckley brought in every stream of thought in the movement to battle it out on the pages of his magazine to make his movement smarter. It was about ideas and not cults of personality.
When the dust settles from the Trump era, I’ll be curious to see if that spirit can return. The Dispatch is certainly trying and I recommend it as the only conservative outlet worth reading or hearing. Will all the rest be held accountable for allowing the worst behaviors to flourish by tacit approval? Or will everyone pretend the past five years didn’t happen?
Before whataboutism is applied to absolve one side of any wrong-doing by accusing the other, this is not just a problem for the Republicans. Any grouping of human beings focused around an idea suffers the same challenges, and these impulses should be identified and guarded against.