I love talk radio. At least in theory.
I did a syndicated talker for a few years back in the dinosaur days, and I love the medium. Even though I am a solid liberal, I frequently listen to conservative talk radio. In part because most progressive talk radio is terrible. But also because I'm interested in hearing the talk points from the other side of the political spectrum.
And one of the things I've learned listening to the conservative talk radio is that for all of the handwringing in the media about fake news, lies, and political misdirection, the problem with conservative media isn't that some of their talking points aren't based on reality. It's that the format is designed not to allow conflicting voices to interfere with the messaging of the day.
Take Dennis Prager, the relentlessly dry-to-the-point-of-being dour talker who has built a huge online business selling his Prager U as a viable alternative to traditional education. He frequently argues two intellectually conflicting points: people on the Left don't want to debate the issues and, people on the Left are so contemptible and incapable of telling the truth that they aren't worth talking to about the issues. So apparently, all that is left is listening to his show and burying yourself in the relentless droning of America's inevitable decline as the Left takes control of the country.
This is a common theme on conservative talk radio, from Sean Hannity to Charlie Kirk. The Left isn't just Socialists. They don't just hate America. The Left is incapable of mounting a coherent intellectual argument, and because of that, they rely on emotion and bogus charges of racism and white hatred to win the day.
The irony of this point of view is that most of these hosts know full well what the political arguments might be from the Left. And they are concerned that if their listeners heard a rational explanation of the Left's point of view, they might be persuaded to change their opinions.
For all of their blustering and talk about being tough, the truth is that most conservative talk show hosts are cowards. They are the reincarnation of Braveheart when they are seated behind the microphone, speaking to the true believers. But they are much less confident when they are asked to defend their beliefs and back up their political arguments with facts and data.
This is essential context for media reporters when they write stories about Hannity or Tucker Carlson, or Glenn Beck telling some blatant falsehood. What is said is less important than the universe in which it's delivered. Conservative radio couldn't thrive if it lets in opposing points of views. It's the same reason why so many conservatives argue against public education or claim that the media, government, scientists, universities, and a dozen other institutions can't be trusted. It's not trust that's the issue. It's the belief that any other point of view is not worth hearing. An attitude which doesn't say much about the conservative movement's faith in the staying powers of their beliefs.
Modern-day conservatism can't intellectually survive in a world where it's forced to compete on a level playing field with liberalism. It's the reason why so many of the attempts by those of us on the Left to have a conversation about policy or politics with conservatives quickly devolves into charges that we're lying and/or too stupid to grasp the truth. If you can't win on the facts, then the next best option is a distraction.
This inability to see any opposing opinion as valid or honestly held is a large part of the reason why it's been so easy for the idea of 2020 election fraud to burrow deep into the psyche of the conservative movement. If all you hear are people who believe as you do, if you're constantly told that your beliefs are in the majority, then the next logical step is to suspect that if your side loses, it has to be the result of fraud.
Conservatives frequently reference Ronald Reagan, as if a Republican with his beliefs would feel comfortable in today's conservative movement. But for all of the things I disliked about his politics, Reagan had beliefs that he was willing to argue for against anyone. He believed that facts would win the day, and that's a powerful message.
Compare that to today's conservative movement, which is a collection of empty suits and random grudges. It's anger for anger's sake and has replaced the intellectual underpinnings of Reagan conservatism with the political equivalent of that guy who used to spin plates at the top of a bunch of sticks. It's all for the show, which is entertaining. But it doesn't stand up to any close examination.
The modern-day conservative movement is built on fear and intellectual cowardice. And once you understand that, then everything about politics in 2021 falls quickly into place.