Alex Jones, a right-wing YouTube sensation, boasts a following of two million subscribers. Utilizing his reliably baleful manner and his inclination for incredible conspiracy theories, he sells shirts with a portrait of President Bill Clinton and the word “rape” below.
Milo Yiannopoulos, yet another right-wing internet sensation, defended pedophilia – a move he later attempted to retract. In a March 2016 interview, Yiannopoulos asked, “Why are we surprised that Muslims are blowing things up? That’s what they do.” Seconds later, when pressed to discriminate between jihadists and the vast majority of peaceful Muslims, Yiannopoulos declined.
And, finally, Tomi Lahren, right-wing commentator and new Fox News contributor, spends her days fulfilling all possible strawmen and unfortunate characterizations of conservatism.
Last week, Lahren spewed far-right hardline positions on immigration, relitigated the 2016 election, and complained about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem.
Fox News’s credibility has long rested on hallucinatory ground. The addition of Lahren does nothing to ameliorate the situation. Additional equally infamous figures and actions exist, but one would require an eternity to compile the list of misdeeds committed by this cohort of odious hucksters.
So, instead, one must ask why this infection has permeated the political right?
Since the 1960s, progressivism has held the spirit of political rebellion. Progressivism, however, entered the mainstream sometime in the past sixty years — especially on college campuses. Universities with departments stocked with neo-Marxists and post-modern thinkers seem especially gripped by progressivism. While this is, to some degree, undeniably true, young men and women of the right dial this narrative up a magnitude.
Under this view, all institutions — universities, media and political — are controlled by progressives. Thus, progressivism is the status quo. To be a progressive, especially on most campuses, is to be well within the mainstream. Being of the political right, on the other hand, emerges as the rebellious action.
The excitement of attacking the status quo is alluring. With progressivism as the status quo on campuses, emboldened people of the right enjoy revelry in rebellion. This group’s energy is derived not from an intellectual wellspring, but an unmitigated opposition to progressivism. This drives many into the arms of unprincipled opportunists — like Jones, Yiannopoulos, and Lahren.
For this group, which is perhaps best described as confused rebels and odious alt-right goons, inducing progressive tears is as delightful as bona fide productive pursuits. No serious intellectual ground exists here. Even a cursory examination reveals no intellectual commitment; one needs only consult the embarrassment that is Tomi Lahren’s public policy statements to confirm this claim. Perhaps a more obvious example: Lahren and friends rarely discuss “wonkish” or philosophical positions. Instead, they attend to divisive issues such as the Black Lives Matter Movement and the transgender bathroom policy.
It must be noted, without an intellectual base, this group is discrete from true conservatives — think Bill Kristol, Jonah Goldberg, Charles C.W. Cooke and Kevin Williamson — who rely on profound intellectual convictions. But, lamentably, the Lahren cohort enjoys far more prolific support.
Besides the disposition to rebellion, other causes contribute to this problem. If politics is downstream from culture, when the culture is stupid, politics is stupid. Thus, an indictment of culture may prove prudent. Also, the Internet allows unqualified charlatans to make unqualified statements with little consequence.
Unfortunately, there seems to be little hope that viewers will abandon insipid nonsense for profound reflection. However, the causes of this problem are intractable, but not impossible, to alleviate. Since this problem exists more intensely on the right, the responsibility for quelling it falls to true conservatives and libertarians. A return to stolid philosophical interest in politics, rather than a hedonistic obsession with transient details and excitements, would do much to dissipate this problem.
Zach Gluckow is a sophomore majoring in philosophy and political science.
Featured photo courtesy Flickr user Gage Skidmore.