Jeet Heer writes that the Republican Party, not Donald Trump, is the real threat to American democracy. He argues that Trump is a symptom of a larger problem within the GOP. As he puts it:
But one institution has sorely failed in its constitutional duty to restrain the president. Time and again, the Republican-controlled Congress has ignored, defended, or outright enabled Trump’s authoritarian excesses.
I don’t think he’s wrong in this analysis but I think focusing solely on the GOP electeds’ indifference toward Trump’s authoritarian impulses minimizes the role conservative media plays in shaping the Party’s agenda. Heer mentions that the conservative media has “a profound influence” on the Party, but I think that’s an understatement.
Conservative media leaves in a conspiracy bubble. Its success depends on profits and those profits depend on viewers, listeners, and readers coming back. Reality is warped to the extent that even when the Republican Party controls the White House, both branches of Congress, and a majority of state governments, they still act as if they a persecuted minority. This warped reality has reached now ridiculous heights. Institutions conservatives normally love like the FBI and the CIA are under attack as part of a “deep state” conspiracy.
Trump is not just the de facto leader of the GOP; he’s also an avid consumer of conservative media. He is the poster boy of conservative news consumers: a white, male Boomer with too much time in his hands. Many of the members of his administration come from that media ecosystem. Understanding the current GOP means understanding how Fox News, Breitbart, and the like have monetized outrage to the extent that an organization at the peak of its political power believes it is the underdog.