tv Charles Sykes How the Right Lost Its Mind CSPAN December 25, 2017 11:30pm-12:15am EST
he is also a journalist background he was covered the milwaukee city hall for milwaukee journal it goes on to become the editor-in-chief of milwaukee magazine. most folks know him today as the host on msnbc but for that he was a powerhouse radio host in wisconsin testing a conservative talk radio show for 13 years that was highly influential and did a great deal. basically he if you wanted to win office in wisconsin you came through sykes show. of course, today his book is how the right lost its mind and there's a follow-up book, i'm going to suggest, that would be and the rest of us soon followed. [laughter] it is my honor to introduce
charlie sykes. >> oh yes, there will be follow-up books here, i think. first of all, i want to thank you for inviting me here today with folks from the c-span, too. believe it or not i don't want to spend most my time talking about donald trump today. want to talk about what donald trump is doing to us, you know, including for living through this together.nc 2017 and bam. we of hurricanes that full eclipse of the sun, wildfires, aaron rodgers is injured. [laughter] it's almost like the universe or god is trying to tell us that we did something wrong. [laughter] i would suggest that if you ask yourself what would jesus do the
answer would not be elected roy moore to the senate. [laughter] [applause] set i may be in the minority among conservative republicans on that issue. we are going to find out. i want to start off by giving you background. i was a conservative talk show host for 23 years and i thought i understood what the conservative movement was about. i thought i knew conservatives were but then along came donald trump. this is what he wrote, just to set the record straight, in august 2015, a few months after donald trump descended that golden escalator announced he would run for president. i wrote donald trump is a cartoon version of every media stereotype of the reactionary nativist misogynist right. except that he is not a cartoon is the leading gop candidate for president at the moment.
to be clear, trump is not only a cynical opportunist and an incoherent ideologue but a generally repellent human being. even b reading his plan one maks you dumber. donald trump is this character a real candidate which makes his current success even baffling andth troubling. point number one, republicans were warned. and not just by me. people keep asking the question what does donald trump have to do and what line does he to cross for republicansns to break and my answer is whatever the line is he's already crusted is already broken the norm. this is not new. in may of 2016 after trump had successfully nailed down the republican nomination, i was on fox news, i believe this was the last time that i was on fox news which will mean it's the last time i will ever be on fox news. [laughter] and megan kelly asked me the question why are you not joining
everyone else in the republican party and getting on board and i said donald trump is a serial liar, a con man who marks the disabled women is a narcissist and a bully and a man with no fixed principles the vocabulary of an emotional insecure nine -year-old so no, i don't want to get control of the fbi, the irs and the nuclear codes. that is just me. but my confession is that donald trump does not bother me as much as what he is done to us and to my fellow conservatives one after another looked at him and said okay, we can support him to be theni president of the united states. i have compared it to -- and i borrow this line from jonah goldberg, compared it to watching invasion of the body snatchers. one after another people who i knew did not disagree with me about my assessment but decided
that in our political era in this political age, the moment were in right now, that it was essential for them to get into line into capitulate to him, and to enable him, to rationalize his behavior, to defend the indefensible. so, if you follow me on twitter you know that i'm horrified by a lot of what is happening and what the president does. it is not if you paid any attention to him in 2015 or 2016 what he has done is present but is still shocking to see it taking place somebody with a mantle of power of the presidency of the united states. in my one and only conversation with donald trump on the air i actually said to him, i said, mr. trump you are running for the office oncero held by abrahm lincoln. you know, is this language appropriate and of course, we know the answer is. a
what i want to do in my brief comments and all open it up to questions when i try to do in the book is to take the focus off trump or are obsessive focus on the god king and turn it around to us.d how did we elect president? how did the conservative movement go from william buckley to and told her? how do we go from ronald reagan to donald trump had eagle from edmund burke to sean hannity? what happened to us? one of the key things when i started writing the book was to figure out what just happened to us was this a one off, one time thing? was there something we missed in the conservative movement? the donald trump just parachuted in and take over and on otherwised healthy movement? or something else going on? i concluded reluctantly, very
reluctantly, that donald trump is not merely a cause, he makes things worse but he's a [inaudible] and the dysfunction was a pre-existing condition which will also not be covered by republican healthcare plans. [laughter] what we have also learned that i think this is the shock that a lot of us are experiencing and i have described it and depending on our politics we have different reactions. for me 2015, 2016 was a soul crushing disillusioning slog as i watch this happen there was also a shock to other folks who were realizing that this was something i think new one our politics and it's a reminder of our fragility. our system and our democracy is more fragile than we thought. that a lot of what we have taken for granted in terms of the democratic norms and things like for example checks and balances
that these turn out to be more metaphors than hard and fast rules. that our government and our s system has really been based on an honor system where the assumption was that the man or woman in the oval office was a reasonably honorable person and now we are testifying to what if that is not the case and how will we react as a democracy. were also realizing i hope and i can try to be tooiz dark here tt america the united states of america this shining city on a hill, this great last hope of humanity is not in fact in the history. we in fact can squander our democracy and that we can take the path that other democracies taken that we are not necessarily entitled to simply go on by violating these norms because we living with her.
now that i don't think will be specifically defined by donald trump and by that i mean even after he leaves the damage will remain because of what has happened to us in is happening and is accelerating this rise of win at all cost partisanship and this tribal identity in this post truth society that we live in, our post ethical society are post knowledge politics. i argue in the book that one of the things and i argue because it was for me when the most troubling parts was watching the repudiation of the conservative mind. all through 2016 we heard that this was an assault on the establishment or the elite and it was actually an assault on a lot of things. yes, there is an establishment in elite but it was an assault on decency. it was an assault on traditions
of thought, coherence that we are still living through right now someone asked me earliereb today so what about the conservative thought leaders and the people who care about some of these ideas and my answer is most of those are in exile. most of them have been labeled conservative and have been excavated from the. one of the stories i count in the book is about william f buckley junior, the godfather of the modern conservative movement who in the mid- 1960s understood that if conservativism was ever going to be taken seriously it had to clean its own house and had to get rid of the bigots, the crackpots, the lunatics and they had to expel the john society and make it clear that the ku
klux klan was beyond the pale didn't do that because he wasn't any communist or because he was a squish but he said if you want to w be taking really fiercely u need to drain your own own papers and was successful largely in pushing them to the margins. they honestly never went away because when they made their come back in 2016 we found there was no william f buckley junior had the moral intellectual and political authority to say stop and expel you again. in fact we saw was the rise of the forces and the empowerment in the emboldening of folks that i will confess and may think i am a for this i thought we had marginalized them. he always knew that the angry drunk at the end of the bar was there. your bigoted oraclend at the
giving, right to track the one you said can we just turn on the television stop talking about politics. but it turns out that it was a huge mistake to ignore the existence of these folks push back. i try to go back and look at the key moments of how and when this happens and there's no definitive answer. i've had interesting conversation. was it when sarah palin was nominated to be vice president? was that a key moment? or was a before that? was it when new gingrich weapon iced politics in the 1990s or was it before that? was it when richard nixon adopted the southern strategy or was it when the drudge report and by the way many of you are familiar with how important the drudge report is? this is basically a website that for many years was the assignment editor for much of
the conservative media. every conservative talk show in every conservative media person probably within the first hour of the day would read the drudge report which was a series of links to various things. sometimes in the last ten years and was never able to and by the last moment but it began linking to alex jones from info wars and i can tell some of you are familiar are not your garden-variety conspiracy theories this is the darkest toxic bark of the paranoid fever swamps. 911 was an inside job but so was sandy hook. that was stage and this is stuff but he was injected into the mainstream and into the bloodstream of the conservative movement. if you want to know what happened with the explosion of big news and propaganda how is the immune system of the conservative movement destroyed and that was certainly one of
them. you could go back to what happened with the tea party which i have a completed relationship with. ultimately, the tea partyhe morphed into this perpetual outrage machine that i think was taken over by doctors in charlotte and but also led the conservative movement into this place we are in now where the shock of realization that conservatives are not clear what they are for. they're very, very clear of what they are against and they hate and to a certain extent politics today, conservative politics today, and i will be of course criticized for this but can be summed up in whatever makes liberals upset. excuse me, as long as i [bleep] liberals it must be good. as long as i make liberals heads explode that it must be good. no matter what that is it is essentially a form of negative
tribalism that is incredibly powerful and important to understand. the other thing i think will have to grapple with is the rise of the alternative reality silos in our media and this is a very difficult thing for me because i was part of the conservative right wing media for two decades but i thought, perhaps naïvely, that we were presenting a different point of view, not that we were creating an alternate reality. i knew that this was morphing into a nickel chamber but what we found in 2016 is the silos have become in penetrable. the information that portrayed in and that all kinds of bizarre, sick and did stories with a circulate and were impossible to refute. a lot of my year in 16 which i recounted in the book was
pushing back on people that i have known for years, 20 years. and in the past i was able to is a hoax, that is not true or here's the actual fact and people would say okay, thank you charlie for pointing that out. but in 2016 that changed. that changed the explosion of facebook and the breitbart india infrastructure. i would point out this is not true and i'll send you a link to "the washington post" or "the new york times" in response that i got increasingly was those liberal rags. they want believe anything outside the bubble. that is the moment you realize over my. we have succeeded in delegitimizing, not just criticizing the media but delegitimizingti any fact-based journalism and i think that we've seen the consequence of that andd i think that the president of the united states is reprising that particular phenomenon is a real and present
danger for democratic discourse. for me writing this book is a little cathartic because it's asking the question as a conservative who are we and what do we really believe in? what is important to us? and what if we miss to ignore? what were the failures to take a stand at the right moment? i will be honest with you that i'm still wrestling with all of this. still wrestling with the power of tribalism and i don't think that we've actually plumbed the bottom of it yet.st if you ask the questions what you mean and by the way, a lot of conservatives to understand there's a alternative reality conservative say the title of my book is ridiculous because how did the right loses mine, are you kidding me? we on the election. just because you're crazy doesn't mean you don't win
elections. were about to get this past cut bill and my answer to how does the right loses mine and if you want to know what's going on is look at alabama right now. look where we're going and i'll wrap up because i want to get your questions in a moment but you almost get the sense that even in the heart of trump world they realize that they cannot fully control all of the forces they have unleashed and they've nourished this alligator in the bathtub and alligator his growth and it is loose and it is still angry and republicans are vying with one another to the last one in and to borrow a phrase from winston churchill. but you are seeing this, the tribalism what is happening to evangelical christians and the
notion that this character actually matter anymore and this is how old i am i remember when conservatives thought character mattered but i will wrap up on this disabled list. we are more polarized than ever. if we had a vin diagram of the left and the right there is not a lot of overlap but the part that isn't overlap that small sliver of the intensely important and that overlap -- with decency, truth, constitutional limits, rule of law, all of those things i think are absolutely crucial and that's our dialogue that we urgently have to have if you're willing to break out of our own bubbles. thank you very, very much. [applause] >> we will take questions now. line up here. i'll be coming to the back. please, we only have 20 minutes
for questions. no speeches, get your questions. [applause] are right. be respectful. a lot of people want to ask questions. >> thank you. i never thought i'd be admiring our conservative [inaudible] [laughter] in this show indivisible on npr how can we get it back? it was fantastic and i sent e-mails that i just don't know how to make it happen. >> referring to the show that we did out of wnyc broadcast on public wireless stations across country. we had post across the spectrum and it was an extraordinarily interesting experience for me in the first 100 days of the trump administration but i will say my very first show on public radio in january of this year as i am a stranger in a strange place you have to understand having been a conservative talk show host on the npr station i had a
ngreat deal but i do think the focus of public radio are looking at ways of continuing that dialogue and i continue to work with those folks and it will take a different form but those kinds of conversations arn actually so rare but they're so valuable. >> i think we have devolved into a red state, blue state society so my question is how has the electoral college fair? most people in the world look at our elections as being unfair because they don't understand the system and i guess i'm not i sure i understand why we have electoral college and what the reason we continue to have it. wouldn't it be better for candidates went to all the states and not just the states they think they can win for the borderlinein states? >> yeah, that would be but let me answer the sacred you said we
become a red state, blue state divided country and it's way worse than that. it is fundamentally worse. we are becoming two separate societies. it's obvious what is happening on social media this point in a minute but we live in different worlds. i'm still doing my conservative talk show i got a sense of that. in the morning i was in the conservative bubble were trying to break out of it and in the evening doing msnbc which the left hasas its own bubbles as wl but increasingly it's not just on the states but we are sorting ourselves out geographically. there is a book called the big sort written in the 1990s has tracked the way we are now choosing to live in places that based on lifestyle and politics in this vision is getting worse. it's manifesting itself in look at the county maps not just the statements of what's happening to the. frankly, any of the policy
answers including change in the electoral college or even d redistricting and i'm not saying they're not legitimate arguments. don't go to the heart of the division that we are having right now that we are trivializing ourselves and that is the fundamental issue. in a lot of ways i think the other physical dimension of that is really in outcropping. thinking. >> my advice to democrats is when the electoral college. i was in wisconsin and it would've been nice if hillary would have come once. we have cheese and beer stuff and sometimes you have to show up. >> how can we get out from under this? i'm active with my local aclu and the democratic party were always looking for ways to get people in and educate but weree
usually preaching to the choir. how can we get out from under this? >> i used to address this question of preaching to the corporate do you know why we preach to the choir? so they will sing. [laughter] but this is one of the things hethat i think is happening on e right and i'm not going to try to judge your answer but honestly right now problem of the left and the democrats as they put that in the box they call not my problem. but in order to understand the trunk campaign to understand the public and politics is they have stopped talking to people outside of the tribe. they are almost everything they are doing is throwing red meat to their base and you see that in the congressional votes where everything is being done on the narrowest partisan majorities. you see the president unwilling to break with his base in any way which by the way explains why he is not rescinding his endorsement of an accused pedophile running in alabama so
this may be an opportunity if in fact trump conservatives stopped talking to moderates and independents and people across the aisle. this is an opportunity and why should democrats listen to my advice? they scare the crap out of us. part of it is understanding there's a lot of voters who you will want to democrats not to force them to vote for donald trump and i understand how sensitive that is for some people but in this binary world that is the essential dynamic at the end that no matter how awful donald trump was remember he was elected byom a 60% his approval rating and yet he is running to get someone who was regarded as even worse whether that is true or not. this is part of the thinking in american politics of who will talk to people outside the bubble. >> you think we should reach out to those republicans?
>> i would think so, yes.ou i think the virginia election was an indication that you had a moderate democrat and i'll get criticized for that, as well, who did not frighten those swing voters and if they won in alabama it would be for the same reason. >> aea few. >> if you're running bernie sanders in alabama, forget about it. hello. thank you for your integrity. i watch msnbc but even when trump was rising up there was much tension up a damn intentionally to say things because he knew that things would cover that because it was so outrageous. my question is to say more about the entertainment and the politics have become entertaining in the social media and 50 years ago before the rise of social media would trump has had got off the ground?
can you say something about the media. >> those points are outstanding. there's a relationship between culture and politics obviously that i think was dramatically [inaudible]. i know virtually no one in political journalism who had watched the approaches so they didn't understand how powerful threality tv was in a nonpolitil event. yes, our policy will become about entertainment and the social media has changed the flow of information and also the way we interact with politics. here is the more fundamental aspect by the way, a terrible, terrible failure of the media and giving so much free airtime for donald trump i think historians in the media will go back and say what were you thinking that you put on unedited and you see the charts
of how much more attention got than any other republican candidate how he sucked the the room and the answer that is twofold. one legitimate perhaps one illegitimate. the illegitimate one being was obvious was that is what got ratings and they chase the ratings. the other one was he was saying so many horrible things that if we just show people they will hear this and be horrified and there's no way he will be able to survive and of course we all live through this but he mocked the disabled, insult women, brags about sexual assault and still gets elected. that's not about him. that's about us. one more point about our politics. guys like you and i this is not personal but we, i think, thought of politics in terms of ideas and policies in the conditions. when in fact politics are now attitudes. it's about your identity. it's why the entertainment
quality becomes so much more important so the people out there in the world like senator marco rubio were sitting and thinking i need to come up with detailed position papers and come up with policy and donald trump is going people don't want that stuff. they just want the bread and circus and they want to make liberals cry and in fact i think he had a new inadvertently into what happened politics. >> trump seems to have a solid support of about 35%. can you imagine any tweet that he might send that is so outrageous for any actions that he might take that are so horrific that might cause that 35% number two decline and part b for that would is any of those things make any difference to the republicans in congress that
are now supporting? >> let me answer the second part first. people keep asking when will they break with trump and the answer is when their base breaks. we look at that 35% number is a he is unpopular. they look at the 80% approval rating among conservatives and among republicans and they say i can't risk it because i'm more concerned about losing in a primary than a general election. ol...
i will let you know what happens. because it's almost impervious. do not assume that base will vote with him after the russia investigation a becomes more toxic. i haven't even mentioned that. i am so old, i remember when republicans actually thought they russian attempt at democracy would be a big deal and we should be concerned about that sort of thing. >> last year's book fair was about two weeks after the election. enough time for the shock to have worn off a little. i spoke to an author at a signing table and set i
understood now the rise of nazi germany and he told me that was ridiculous, things would never get that bad. what are your feelings? >> i can't remember what the tterm is but the first person to invoke hitler loses the argument that i will tell you throughout 2016, i said frequently to people i was close to, which became a smaller and smaller group.sm [laughter] that i understood the dynamics of the 1930s a lot better, including the way intelligent rational, decent people commence themselves to support something because the other side was worse than i understand that. popoi understand now why so-ando made the trains run on time. our version is at least they
cut taxes so we are willing to put up with everything. i'm not going to the nazi thing here, but i will say this, there is nothing preordained about our democracy and our democratic norms. these do not d exist because we been guaranteed them. we are not entitled to them and we have to fight for them. ronald reagan said we are just one generation away from losing our freedom but i think maybe that's the shock, and maybe, just because we are human beings, we don't appreciate something until we are threatened with the loss of it. maybe we understand these things now and feel more passionately. i feel that way now. i feel more passionate about the country than i did ten years ago. we may have been waving the flag but now we really feel it is at risk. >> thank you. [applause] >> good morning. this morning i woke up to an article in the washington post with the headline, in
defending roy moore the alabama gop reflects tradition ofe defiance. although the democratic challenger is edging out in the polls, he still has a very sizable contingency of supporters. in light of this, i wanted to ask, do you think the republican base thi views itself as the party of decency and family values in the age of trump, and if so, how does it justify this? [applause] >> you should invite sean hannity or laura ingram to answer that question because they would have more insight. again when i use words like soul crushing and disillusioning, it is. do you remember when we were the party we talked about decency and family values. how do you reconcile that? again, part of this is if you understand there are politics are tribal. us versus them. if you convince even gelcoat
christians, for example, that you are under seas, you are under attack, they are coming for you, you have people who retreat within the fortress and they won't listen to the argument and they will rally around and defend their guy who is being taken down. it's a very powerful phenomenon. the politics of paranoia. as i've said before, i could write a whole book now not just on how the right lost their mind but how evangelical christian right lost her mind because that's what's really on display. i say that with no disrespect to christianity. in fact, my concern is that those leaders who are rationalizing roy moore are doing more damage to christianity and religion in general than any atheist author or secularist has done. this is real moment of choosing for them as well but if you want to look at the
kind of phenomenon we are talking about, everything is binary, everything is tribal, everything is black and white and us versus them. then at a certain point you say you've given up everything you claim you care about y h because i have adopted this morally win at all cost mentality which is shocking and stunning to see it even though we knew it was there. >> thank you very much. [applause] >> one sentence and then a question. years ago warren was in a movie where he iran for president and he was very different than anyone else because he spoke as he saw fit and i think people are so tired of hearing politicians speak in gobbledygook that some of them might have gone over to tron. for me, thee moment that the republican party gone astray
and met on inauguration day and i want to know if that's happened before and did that happenaf because he was an african-american or because he was a democrat. >> i can't comment on whether that meeting took place.we went into politics where rather than compromise, one of the question, when the compromise become a really dirty word? i felt that happening over the past decade, and we are really reaping the impact of that right now. there's no question about it. now, in question of people supporting from because they were tired of the same old politicians who talked gobbledygook, i would recommend, if you have some time you never want to get back, read a transcript of any interview of donald trump.etre
people always say tell it like it is. >> but when they asked him who here would vote for the republican candidate no matter who it was, he was the only one who said no and of course, the others didn't vote for him but never said. >> there is a novelty candidate aspect all of the study think a lot of people's weight around with thinking this will never happen, this would never actually, it's like playing around with fire and you burn down the whole forest and you bring down the whole city, that sort of thingnd , but i find among the most extraordinary things is number one that he tells it like it te. the bar is set pretty high. we have a lot of liars out there. nobody is in his league. in terms of just how often he says things that are just untrue, how indifferent to the truth he is, how he weapon rises false information, and
yet he tells it like it is. really? not to mention the complete incoherence of the man thought pattern which never ceases to amaze her that is actually the one thing that really depresses me, if you read anything that he says and you go okay, how does anybody listen to this and not think .e are really in trouble >> as a physician with 45 years of experience delivering patient care, i know we need to have every united states citizen covered with comprehensive and yet economical healthcare. now, as a conscientious republican, conservative, i'm sorry, who is not beholden to any of the special interest which have gotten rich out of exploiting the american people, how would a conscientious republican design a program thatt would
give every american comprehensive and economical medical care. the first thing i would say is do no harm. do not break something that you do not have a good idea how you are going to fix. i think that's one of the things that was apparent as a republican who had been campaigning a repeal for obamacare. they get into office and they realize we don't really know how too do this without damaging the system and what i find extraordinary is that right now the only strategy the republican seem to have is to sabotage the existing system, create as much pain and you look dislocation as possible and hope somehow that someone else is blamed. i'm always hesitant to say
unprecedented because there's always a historian in the room that will bring something up but i'm not sure the last time a ruling political president actually set out to sabotage a government program that tens of millions of people rely upon for political advantage. it's truly an external moment. this is one of those things, i don't know that you're ever going to get any republicans, included moderate republicans to buy into single-payer health care. >> i'm not talking about that. >> i know. , but there has to be, sometime in the distant future where this rakes. some sort of a system that was this problem and says rather than imposing some sort of abstract dogma on the medical system, what is the program going to make sure every sick child is able to get the best kind of medical care. that is not left-wing, that's not right wing. the jimmy kimmel test which is
roundly mocked by conservatives, i did not think it was that unreasonable, that no american should be denied healthcare, how we structure it, what the incentives are, i think there are people who can probably design that, but i'm afraid that it's going to get into basically this binary choice, government controls everything or we destroyey everything just because we can and that's why think people ought to be really worried about this because, again, i say this is a conservative, i'm watching guys that i've known for years and asked them, do you actually know what you're doing here. have you thought through, before you break thema china what actually happens and this whole way of governing and legislating without public hearing, without deliberation, especially because like healthcare, the stakes are so great. >> thank you. [applause] >> that is all the time we
have for questions. please join me and thinking them. >> thank you. >> thank you. thank you. >> thank you. thank you. [applause] >> if you wish to have your book signed, he will be in the autograph area. if you intend to stay for the next program, please have your to get handy. thank you. [applause] [inaudible conversations] meantp in the center of the of festival owned of call-in set joint by author and journalist jefferson morley the secret life of c i a spymaster who is he?.