On Thursday, writing for New York Magazine, columnist Jonathan Chait outlined how President Donald Trump and the Republican Party are normalizing crazier and crazier ideas — exemplified by Trump retweeting pro-hydroxychloroquine disinformation by a quack “doctor” who believes people are being sickened by “demon seed” and modern medicine contains “alien DNA.”
“Without quite saying so, both Trump [is] observing an invisible line, between politically acceptable kookery and politically unacceptable kookery,” wrote Chait. “Among influential members of their party, it is perfectly fine to insist that the entire worldwide medical Establishment has conspired to suppress an effective treatment for COVID-19. It is not acceptable to blame demons for most medical problems and claim the medical Establishment is controlled by aliens. The problem is that the line keeps moving.”
“The president himself is obviously the most famous example of this,” wrote Chait. “As recently as five years ago, leading Republicans put Trump himself outside that border. He was a huckster who had peddled a conspiracy theory about President Obama’s birth certificate. ‘I think he’s a kook,’ said Lindsey Graham in February, 2016. Now the kook is president, and the unacceptable public position within the party is to call him one.”
Another example of the extremism limits shifting within the Republican Party, wrote Chait, is their gradual tacit acceptance of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
“Its tenets are too wild for Republican leaders, or even Trump himself, to openly endorse. Still, it has gained a large and growing foothold within the party,” wrote Chait. “Eleven Republican congressional candidates openly endorse the theory. Its followers have crowded his rallies, and Trump has (perhaps unknowingly) shared their slogans. His aide, Dan Scavino, has tweeted QAnon memes. Fox News host Jesse Watters said the cult had ‘uncovered a lot of great stuff’ in an interview with Eric Trump, who heartily agreed. Its imprint is large enough that a Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy would not dare deliver a speech denouncing it.”
The point is also driven home by the beliefs of the people Trump has appointed or nominated to key government offices, wrote Chait.
“Merritt Corrigan, the deputy White House liaison at the U.S. Agency for International Development, has written, ‘Liberal democracy is little more than a front for the war being waged against us by those who fundamentally despise not only our way of life, but life itself,’ noted Chait. “John Gibbs, Trump’s nominee to run the Office of Personnel Management (and a current official at HUD) has claimed that Hillary Clinton and John Podesta were Satanists. Rich Higgins, whom Trump nominated for a Pentagon job, has called former President Obama a ‘communist’ and Black Lives Matter ‘an agent of communist China.’ Higgins would be chief of staff to Anthony Tata, who has described Obama as Muslim and a ‘terrorist leader,’ and suggested that former CIA Director John Brennan sent a coded tweet ordering Trump to be assassinated.”
“The ‘fringe’ ideas that do attract attention are by this point nearly indistinguishable from simple mental illness,” concluded Chait. “The border keeps moving further into delusional territory, and will probably keep moving after Trump is gone.”
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