Dirty pol­i­tics on right re­flect re­ver­sion to old ex­trem­ism


“Some peo­ple say I’m ex­treme,” an In­di­ana tea party leader told The New York Times at the height of the move­ment’s rebellion in 2010, “but they said the John Birch So­ci­ety was ex­treme, too.”

Uh-huh. The so­ci­ety, which still ex­ists, en­joyed its hey­day in the early 1960s and saw Com­mu­nists ev­ery­where. Robert Welch, its founder, even cast Pres­i­dent Dwight Eisen­hower as a “ded­i­cated, con­scious agent of the Com­mu­nist con­spir­acy.” The group was so far-out that the founder of mod­ern con­ser­vatism, Wil­liam F. Buck­ley Jr., pub­lished a 5,000-word ex­co­ri­a­tion in the Na­tional Re­view that ex­com­mu­ni­cated the Birchers from the re­spon­si­ble right.

The tea party loy­al­ist’s ob­ser­va­tion might bring a chuckle from those who still re­mem­ber the old Birchers, but it was also telling. Why have our pol­i­tics gone hay­wire, why have our po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ments turned so bit­ter and why was Don­ald Trump able to win the pres­i­dency?

A cen­tral rea­son has been the main­stream­ing of a style of ex­trem­ist con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics that for decades was re­garded as unac­cept­able by most in the GOP.

The ex­trem­ist ap­proach is built on a be­lief in dread­ful con­spir­a­cies and hid­den mo­tives. It in­dulges the wildest charges aimed at as­so­ci­at­ing po­lit­i­cal foes with evil and sub­ver­sive forces. What’s strik­ing is that such ground­less and reck­less ac­cu­sa­tions have be­come a rou­tine part of pol­i­tics.

On Thurs­day night, Pres­i­dent Trump sent out a typ­i­cally out­landish tweet ped­dling de­ceit by way of pro­mot­ing Repub­li­can Ed Gille­spie against Demo­crat Ralph Northam in next month’s elec­tion for gover­nor of Vir­ginia.

Trump wrote: “Ralph Northam, who is run­ning for Gover­nor of Vir­ginia, is fight­ing for the vi­o­lent MS-13 killer gangs & sanc­tu­ary cities. Vote Ed Gille­spie!”

If that tweet sounds like des­per­a­tion, that’s be­cause it is. Northam, Vir­ginia’s lieu­tenant gover­nor, has been lead­ing Gille­spie by 4 to 6 points in most polls. The Demo­crat was ahead by 13 points in a Wash­ing­ton Post-Schar School poll.

On one the­ory, Trump is try­ing to rally his en­thu­si­asts to Gille­spie to help him cut his polling gap.

Toss­ing out the out­ra­geous ab­sur­dity that the mod­er­ate, mild-man­nered Northam is “fight­ing for” a gang whose motto is “Kill, Rape, Con­trol” should be dis­qual­i­fy­ing for any politi­cian who makes it. The claim orig­i­nated in Trum­p­like Gille­spie ad­ver­tis­ing rooted in Olympian leaps of il­logic and dis­tor­tion.

Ah, you might say, cam­paigns are of­ten dirty. But cur­rent forms of right-wing dirty pol­i­tics re­flect a re­ver­sion to the old ex­trem­ism. It has be­come part and par­cel of “nor­mal” pol­i­tics and jus­ti­fies kooky pro­nounce­ments as ex­pres­sions of pa­tri­o­tism. Or­di­nary po­lit­i­cal acts are painted as di­a­bol­i­cal. Dark plots are in­vented out of whole cloth. They are first cir­cu­lated on web­sites that traf­fic in an­gry wack­i­ness, and are even­tu­ally echoed by elected of­fi­cials.

The old ex­treme right linked ac­tions by its op­po­nents to Com­mu­nism. The new ul­tra-right ties its foes to crimes as­cribed to im­mi­grants, or to rad­i­cal Is­lam.

An au­then­tic con­ser­va­tive knows ex­trem­ism is the an­tithe­sis of a phi­los­o­phy de­voted to the preser­va­tion of free in­sti­tu­tions. The ex­trem­ists hated Eisen­hower be­cause he un­der­stood this.

Our cur­rent com­man­der in chief has lit­tle in com­mon with our 34th pres­i­dent. Trump is urg­ing the right down a path that leads to noth­ing but trou­ble — for con­ser­vatism, but also for our coun­try.

E.J. Dionne Jr. He writes for the Wash­ing­ton Post.

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