Readers of this blog frequently send me articles I am unlikely to have seen; often, those are from their local papers (where such papers still exist). I keep the ones I find interesting in a file, and from time to time, I review them. Often, the saved articles no longer seem relevant, but sometimes, the opinions expressed and predictions made are even more meaningful than when I first saw them.
That was the case with “Early Warning Signs,” an essay from the Madison, Wisconsin Capital Times. Published in March of 2021, the essay began
You’ve likely grown numb to daily outrages by the Republican Party of Donald Trump. You’ve given up hope that at some magical moment, when some line is crossed, masses of educated, intelligent people who identify as Republicans will gently slap their foreheads and say enough is enough.
Enough of the lies about stolen elections, the denial of facts and the rejection of expertise. Enough with a party that has morphed from being about personal responsibility and limited government to one primarily about grievance.
The author then looked back, to see whether incidents” that seemed innocuous at the time” might actually have been “harbingers of catastrophic dysfunction.” He identified three: the vast number of threats to the life of then-candidate Obama that required Secret Service protection much earlier than had been the case with previous Presidential candidates; John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate; and the rise of Rush Limbaugh and “hate radio.”
The volume of threats against Obama–then a little-known Senator–was very clearly prompted by the racism and racial grievance that has become far more visible since his Presidency.
Here in 2021, one can see the direct line from there to a party whose white supremacist faction carries Confederate flags, including inside the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Is it any wonder that after eight years of fury about a Black man being president that those boiling with racial hatred would come to worship a racist like Trump?
The choice of Palin–and especially the GOP base’s response to that choice– was the moment when it “became OK for a politician to just exalt in ignorance.” The author quoted Obama’s recent book:
“What became abundantly clear as soon as Sarah Palin stepped into the spotlight was that on just about every subject relevant to governing the country she had absolutely no idea what the hell she was talking about,” he wrote.
“I noticed from the start that her incoherence didn’t seem to matter to the vast majority of Republicans; in fact, anytime she crumbled under questioning by a journalist, they seemed to view it as proof of a liberal conspiracy.”
Like they did with Ronald Reagan years earlier, Republicans said the self-described “hockey mom” had “good instincts” and would grow into the job, Obama wrote. “It was, of course, a sign of things to come, a larger, darker reality in which partisan affiliation and political expedience would threaten to blot out everything.”
As the essayist noted, it’s a straight line from Palin to Trump and to Marjorie Taylor Greene and her ilk.
With his choice of a third omen, the writer echoed my frequent lament about the sea-change in America’s media environment, a change foreshadowed by the emergence of Rush Limbaugh. As he noted, Limbaugh sounded “Trumpian 25 years before Trump became president.”
Limbaugh introduced a formula for ratings success that many others would ape: giving voice to the cultural grievances of older, uneducated White guys. After the creation of Fox News–which was specifically and very consciously aimed at the anger of that same demographic–it became acceptable to openly express, and defend, ignorance, racism, homophobia and misogyny.
And so here we are.
There may have been other signs, other omens we missed, but it’s hard to argue with the three chosen by this writer. That, of course, leads me to wonder what omens we are currently missing.
The overturning of Roe is clearly one of those–but will it trigger a return of respect for women’s autonomy, or a march toward Gilead?
The revelations of the January 6th Committee could prompt a return to serious, democratic governance–or fail to halt the next coup effort by proponents of the Big Lie.
The astonishing overreach of the Supreme Court’s hobbling of the EPA (not to mention the ability of all executive branch agencies to issue regulations) could generate environmental energy–or be a harbinger of planetary doom.
That’s the problem with omens–you can’t tell where they’re pointing until after the fact.