If you spend any time consuming right-wing media in America, you quickly learn the following: Liberals are responsible for racism, slavery, and the Ku Klux Klan. They admire Mussolini and Hitler, and modern liberalism is little different from fascism or, even worse, communism. The mainstream media and academia cannot be trusted because of the pervasive, totalitarian nature of liberal culture.
This belief in a broad liberal conspiracy is standard in the highest echelons of the conservative establishment and rightwing media. The Russia investigation is dismissed, from the president on down, as a politicized witch hunt. George Soros supposedly paid $300 to each participant in the "March for Our Lives" in March. (Disclosure: I marched that day, and I'm still awaiting my check.) What is less well appreciated by liberals is that the language of conspiracy is often used to justify similar behavior on the right. The Russia investigation is not just a witch hunt, it's the product of the real scandal, which is Hillary-Russia-Obama-FBI collusion, so we must investigate that. Soros funds paid campus protestors, so Turning Point USA needs millions of dollars from Republican donors to win university elections. The liberal academic establishment prevents conservative voices from getting plum faculty jobs, so the Koch Foundation needs to give millions of dollars to universities with strings very much attached.
This did not begin with Donald Trump. The modern Republican Party may be particularly apt to push conspiracy theories to rationalize its complicity with a staggeringly corrupt administration, but this is an extension of, not a break from, a much longer history. Since its very beginning, in the 1950s, members of the modern conservative movement have justified bad behavior by convincing themselves that the other side is worse. One of the binding agents holding the conservative coalition together over the course of the past half century has been an opposition to liberalism, socialism, and global communism built on the suspicion, sometimes made explicit, that there's no real difference among them.
In 1961, the American Medical Association produced an LP in which an actor opened a broadside against the proposed Medicare program by attributing to Norman Thomas, a six-time Socialist Party candidate for president, a made-up quote that "under the name of liberalism the American people will adopt every fragment of the socialist program." Because these ideologies were so interchangeable in the imaginations of many conservatives--and were covertly collaborating to enact their nefarious agenda--this meant that it was both important and necessary to fight back through equally underhanded means.
The title of that LP? Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine. The American left is used to waiting for liberals to finally get ruthless. Through the eyes of the right, they always have been.
Long before Fox News, conservatives began forming their own explicitly right-wing media landscape. Supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal dominated the "mainstream" press, which meant that conservative dissidents needed a home. The conservative magazine Human Events was launched in 1944 as an alternative to what its cofounder, Felix Morley, believed was a stifling conformity in the American press. The same was true of the American Mercury in 1950, when under the ownership of William Bradford Huie the formerly social-democratic magazine moved to the right. "There is now far too much 'tolerance' in America," Huie declared in the first issue of the new Mercury. "We shall cry a new crusade of intolerance ... the intolerance of bores, morons, world-savers, and damn fools."
Both Morley and Huie felt victimized by a liberal press establishment that stifled alternative voices--and, after all, liberals had the New Republic and leftists the Nation as journals of opinion--but their charge of mainstream "bias" was more complicated. One of the largest newspapers in the United States, the Chicago Tribune, owned by conservative businessman Robert McCormick, had militantly opposed the New Deal and American entry into World War II. Fulton Lewis Jr., a Washington, D.C.-based political journalist who was, by 1950, one of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy's biggest supporters, had one of the most listened-to radio programs in the country. And both Morley and Huie had had illustrious careers before launching their magazines. Morley won a Pulitzer Prize when he edited the Washington Post in the 1930s; Huie had a solid reputation as a freelance journalist. But they clung to the belief that dissenters from the liberal orthodoxy were being hounded out of media, which more than justified questionable acts, particularly on Huie's part. Desperate to keep his magazine afloat, Huie sold the...