The Absence of Progressive Voices on Talk Radio Fosters Demagoguery Instead of Debate
One of the most historically catastrophic decisions that Democrats have made is not investing in talk radio stations. This has created an enormous vacuum where progressive ideas are absent in these venues, while conservatives hold court with endless streams of lies and conspiracies. The lack of balance on talk radio has created the misleading impression that progressive policies are out of step with the American public, while conservative “ideas” represent majority opinion.
How could conservative rants not rub off on drivers, when that’s all they hear, day after day, year after year? Even if people only hear snippets of this propaganda, while flipping stations, the totality of these noxious narratives can subtly shift political thinking to the right. This is particularly damaging in rural and suburban America, where talk radio is a critical source for disseminating political information on peoples’ long commutes.
If it weren’t for radio, the bizarre ideas and outlandish policies pushed by right wing crazies would be somewhat relegated to the fringe. By ceding the airwaves to conservatives, however, we have allowed millions of cars to be transformed into right wing propaganda pods. The alarming result is that tens of millions of Americans, from coast-to-coast, are brainwashed every single day.
The New York Times reveals how conservatives are exploiting talk radio dominance to divide America. Legions of right wing talk radio hosts across the nation are habitually spewing lies about the integrity of elections. They are falsely, without a shard of evidence, claiming that the only way Democrats win is by cheating. This creates a dangerous dynamic where conservative voters believe that elections are fairly won only if Republicans win. If Democrats win, in their warped view, it must be the result of deception and mass election fraud.
The New York Times reports:
Mentions of “Democrats cheating” and similar ideas were raised more than 5,000 times on syndicated radio shows and local broadcasts this year, according to an analysis of data from Critical Mention, a media monitoring service. Similar ideas were mentioned a few hundred times on television shows and podcasts tracked by Critical Mention during the same period.
Charlie James is a typical right wing talk radio host. His show airs on Greenville, South Carolina’s 106.3. He recently read from a blog post that argued, “the Democrats are going to lose a majority during the midterm elections unless they’re able to cheat in a massive wide-scale way.” On Virginia station WJFN, Donald Trump lackey Stephen Bannon said: “If Democrats don’t cheat, they don’t win.”
Republicans are unnecessarily creating a phony crisis of election legitimacy. Democracy can’t work and will cease to function if Republicans refuse to transfer power based on false election tampering allegations. But increasingly it appears that the entire point of these lies is to undermine the system, create disarray and exploit the manufactured chaos to replace democracy with autocracy.
In fact, right wing talk radio has already conditioned the lemmings who listen to reject the will of the American people. A typical conservative comment on our TikTok page is, “We are not a democracy, we are a Republic. Democracy is the biggest lie Democrats tell…Democracy is mob rule.”
Ironically, conservatives like to portray themselves as populists who represent the Average Joe. Yet, their leaders are stuck-up elitists who believe in “snob rule”, where autocratic leaders substitute their “wisdom” for the will of the voters. What they are cynically peddling is a gross distortion of the American system.
The stunning ignorance of their voters is an indictment of our nation’s severely underfunded educational system. It’s a powerful argument for requiring civics classes in schools. In my interview with Constitutional scholar Bryan Wildenthal, he explains the fallacy of conservatives who deny that America is a democracy.
“Right wing Republicans who say that the Constitution is not about democracy have not even read the first three words in the Constitution. So, I would tell them sit down and read the document that you’re preaching about.
It begins by saying ‘We the People’. And, it goes onto say ‘We the people of the United States ordain and establish the Constitution’. So, the Constitution is founded on democracy, which simply means rule or government by the people.
Although, the Constitution doesn’t contain the word democracy, it contains the word ‘people’ in the preamble and when it comes to the election of the House and of the Senate. So, it’s a lie. It’s another Big Lie to say that our Constitution is not democratic. Of course, we are a republic also, but a republic founded on popular sovereignty, rule of the people, i.e., democracy.”
It’s easy to write off the ranting and ramblings of delusional talk radio hosts as insignificant. However, we can’t underestimate the cumulative result of millions of people being brainwashed on their daily drives home from work. If people truly believe that Democrats are stealing elections, as these propagandists are drilling into their heads, many of the duped will become dangerous. We saw this on January 6 when conned conservatives pilfered the U.S. Capitol in the false name of patriotism.
A new University of Chicago poll found that 28% of voters agreed with the statement “it may be necessary at some point soon for citizens to take up arms against the government.” According to the polling:
That skewed heavily toward Republicans, with one in three Republicans and 45% of self-identified “strong Republicans” agreeing with the statement. The GOP doesn’t hold a monopoly on the sentiment, though – one in five Democrats agreed, as did 35% of self-identified independent voters.
The belief in armed resistance was loosely correlated with actual gun ownership. About 37% of those who said they had guns in their homes also agreed with the “taking up arms” statement.
A slight majority of those, 56%, said they believed the government was corrupt and “rigged against everyday people like me,” with self-identified Republicans polling substantially higher on that question than Democrats.
Clearly, the fanatical messaging of Republican reactionaries is not benign. Right wing radio, as well as online forums and television networks like FOX, are promoting a paranoid vision of the world. They portray their listeners as “real Americans” and “good Christians” constantly under siege by minorities and liberals. They are working to discredit elections and radicalize their base, acclimating them to the perverse idea of using violence to solve political questions.
Yes, one-in-five Democrats also believed that taking up arms might be necessary. However, I would argue that this is a recent phenomenon, that is a logical reaction to heavily armed Republican belligerents threatening violence and working to extinguish democracy. It’s a false equivalency to compare the genuine concern of democrats, who support our nation remaining free, to right wing Republicans who lie about elections and support authoritarianism.
If major Democratic donors want to save the country, they can’t abandon an entire medium that much of the nation relies on to form their political views. They must invest heavily in buying radio stations and creating farm teams of superior, well-paid radio hosts that can compete with conservatives. The ideological one-sidedness of talk radio has created a hole that cultivates demagoguery instead of debate.
Sure, getting into the radio business is not as cool or glamorous as purchasing online media. It’s not as exciting as producing films for the Big Screen. However, it’s where information is disseminated in the suburbs and the countryside. Wouldn’t you feel more confident about our nation’s future if the person next to you at the stoplight was listening to someone other than a Sean Hannity clone? I certainly would.