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The Immorality of Modern Conservatism 

Tucker Carlson poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio, in New York, Thursday, March 2, 2107. (Richard Drew/AP)
Tucker Carlson poses for photos in a Fox News Channel studio, in New York, Thursday, March 2, 2107. (Richard Drew/AP)
This article is more than 1 year old.

According to most news sources, it was a bad weekend for Fox News. One of their hosts, Jeanine Pirro, suggested that Rep. Ilhan Omar, who wears the hijab, opposes the Constitution — a document, interestingly, designed to ensure freedom of religion. A few hours later, a watchdog website unearthed audio tapes of Tucker Carlson, an even bigger Fox News star, making dozens of misogynistic statements, including defending a man who is serving a life sentence for sexual assault against a minor.

If the talent from another major media outlet had said such things, they would have been fired in a matter of hours, and calls for a boycott of the network would have sounded. It's a fair bet the blow-dried demagogues at Fox would have led the charge.

But there’s a reason Carlson has thus far brushed off these revelations. And it’s the same reason that Fox News didn’t really have that bad a weekend: because the world of modern conservatism is shame-proof at this point.

There’s almost nothing a conservative politician or pundit can do or say that the party’s base won’t somehow ignore or justify.

There’s almost nothing a conservative politician or pundit can do or say that the GOP's base won’t somehow ignore or justify.

The dulling of the Republican Party's moral gag reflex began long before Donald Trump came along. Back in 1968, Richard Nixon made a conscious decision to adopt a Southern Strategy that would transform the party of Lincoln into a party happy to welcome white supremacists into the fold.

In the ensuing years, GOP leaders happily torpedoed campaign finance reform measures that arose from Watergate. They slashed taxes on the rich and waged a war on social programs. They launched costly wars based on bogus intel. They ran up massive debts after fulminating about budget deficits. They chose to protect the profits of the gun lobby over the lives of children — even after 20 6 and 7-year-olds were gunned down in cold blood. They embraced voter suppression. They flouted the Constitution by refusing even to consider the Supreme Court nominee of a Democratic president, and rubber-stamped a Republican nominee credibly accused of sexual assault. They even found a way to justify ripping migrant children from their parents.

Republicans have done so largely at the bidding of talk radio and TV hosts whose only goal is to build audience share by stoking a narrative of white male victimization, in which hatred of immigrants and minorities and homosexuals and women is the logical correlate.

Why was a reality TV star with a history of bankruptcies and criminal associates able to conquer the Grand Old Party within a few months? Because there is no guiding morality at the heart of modern conservatism. The party’s only aim is to hold power. It is wholly unmoored from coherent policy aims, aside from the protection of the donor class that underwrites it.

Deep down, most Republicans know that their party has lost its way.

They know the president is a lazy conman who cares more about making money than running the country, and who was thrilled to receive help from Russians to win his election. They know that his spouting of conspiracy theories and his flouting law enforcement and intelligence agencies poses a danger to democracy.

[conservatives] have created a political culture virtually devoid of accountability.

But it’s this very knowledge — the shame of their own complicity — that keeps them loyal. Like Carlson, their best defense is to go full frat boy, to embrace shamelessness as a form of liberation and empowerment.

The suckers on the other side of the aisle have no such refuge. When a Democratic politician or pundit makes offensive comments, or engages in sexual misconduct, fellow Democrats demand a reckoning. Just ask Omar. Or Al Franken. Or Samantha Bee.

This is why conservatives are so incredibly defensive, why they are constantly whining that everyone is so condescending to them: because they have created a political culture virtually devoid of accountability.

Conservatives worship guys like Trump and Carlson not just because they traffic in bigotry, but because they make their constituents feel respected for harboring those same corrupt values.


Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.


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