The former George W. Bush speechwriter who coined the phrase “axis of evil” lamented that conservatives had allowed themselves to become consumed with dehumanizing conspiracy theories that would eventually destroy their movement.
Michael Gerson, who famously — or, perhaps, infamously — recommended an alteration to fellow Bush aide David Frum’s phrase, “axis of hatred,” in the 2002 State of the Union address, has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, just like his former speechwriting colleague.
But he’s particularly disturbed by the recent transformation of mainstream Republicans like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh into unhinged promoters of baseless conspiracy theories about the slaying of former DNC staffer Seth Rich.
“How could conservative media figures not have felt — felt in their hearts and bones — the God-awful ickiness of it?” Gerson wrote. “How did the genes of generosity and simple humanity get turned off? Is this insensibility the risk of prolonged exposure to our radioactive political culture? If so, all of us should stand back a moment and tend to the health of our revulsion.”
He blamed Trump — who has suggested Sen. Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved in the Kennedy assassination, hinted that Hillary Clinton was involved in the death of Vince Foster, claimed Barack Obama was born outside the U.S. and raised questions about the safety of vaccines.
“The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased,” Gerson wrote. “The movement has been seized by a kind of discrediting madness, in which conspiracy delusions figure prominently. Institutions and individuals that once served an important ideological role, providing a balance to media bias, are discrediting themselves in crucial ways. With the blessings of a president, they have abandoned the normal constraints of reason and compassion. They have allowed political polarization to reach their hearts, and harden them. They have allowed polarization to dominate their minds, and empty them.”
He warned that conservatism could be historically destroyed as political outsiders, including immigrants, foreigners and ideological rivals, are singled out as props or threats.
“Conspiracy theories often involve a kind of dehumanization,” Gerson wrote. “Human tragedy is made secondary — something to be exploited rather than mourned. The narrative of conspiracy takes precedence over the meaning of a life and the suffering of a family. A human being is made into an ideological prop and used on someone else’s stage. As the Rich family has attested, the pain inflicted is quite real.”