–submitted by Ben Hebebrand; photo by Valerie Renk
Self-identifying as the “Benedict Arnold of conservatism,” Wisconsin conservative radio talk show host and author of several books Charlie Sykes addressed members of the Rotary Club of Madison on Jan. 3 to promote his book “How the Right Lost its Mind.”
“I left (the conservative radio talk show circuit) on my own, but I have been excommunicated from the conservative movement,” remarked Sykes, who now works for MSNBC. But Sykes was rather firm in proclaiming that “I have not changed, but the Republican Party has,” indicating that conservative values are still very much part of who he is.
While the vast majority of Sykes’ comments centered on the performance and behavior of President Donald Trump, Sykes made it clear that “I am less bothered by Trump himself, but rather the normalization of his behavior.”
Sykes identified three specific current political thought movements afoot in our country. Firstly, there are those who are “horrified by everything – both the policies and the behaviors.” Secondly, there are the MAGA Republicans, those who want to Make America Great Again; and thirdly, there are what Sykes termed as “mainstream Republicans,” who are looking the other way as regards to the President’s behavior, since his policies represent wins. “You get what you want (in terms of policies), but the price is too high,” he said.
The price is too high because one has to ignore behaviors such as name-calling, bullying, withdrawal as a world power, or classifying the media as fake news, said Sykes. But the most important litmus test on whether the price is too high is that “we have to accept the indifference on our democracy by the Russians.”
Sykes included several other items one must ignore such as the endorsement of Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate from Alabama, as well as the President’s erratic behavior in regards to the escalation of the potential of a nuclear war in the showdown with North Korea.
“The bottom line is that we have to realize that our political culture is more fragile than we thought,” said Sykes. We could go down the path of other democracies,” said Sykes. He characterized Trump as a cause of our current situation, but also referred to the President as “a symptom of a pre-existing condition.” While Sykes did not directly identify the pre-existing condition, he implied that it is our current tribalism that is at the root of the current political climate. Disagreement has turned to hate, he said, resulting in a “binary, polarized culture.”
In offering a glimpse of improvement to the current political landscape, Sykes offered that the current modus operandi may lead to a revitalization of democratic norms. Potentially, a coalition of Center Right and Center Left could restore the norms.
Our thanks to WisconsinEye for videotaping our meeting this week. You can watch the video here.