Ben Howe’s short film “The Sociopath” is as much about the failures of the Republican Party and the conservative movement (whatever that means anymore) as it is about the terrifying prospect of Donald Trump becoming president.
On the eve of an election that has left Americans deeply divided, wondering how we managed to nominate two of the most loathed candidates in our nation’s history, Howe, senior contributing editor at RedState, takes us back to the 2008 Wall Street bailouts and the genesis of the tea party movement. A review of the last eight years puts into context how a movement with the potential to be a real agent for change evolved into an angry nationalist populist movement that propelled Trump to the top of the GOP ticket, enabling him to become the unlikely conduit for the frustration that had been bubbling up in the populace for nearly a decade.
The name of the film, “The Sociopath,” gives the impression that the viewer is about to watch 50-minute documentary about Trump’s foibles and failures, but don’t let the name (or the length of the film) deter you. While a fair amount of time is given to Trump’s unfitness to be president—the compilation of his nuclear proliferation comments near the end should terrify anyone—those segments are woven throughout the compelling story of the last eight years of the conservative movement.
The narrative of the video makes it clear that Trump has been a destructive force, not only for the Republican Party, but for the conservative movement in general, in no small part because he has agitated—and in turn been buoyed—by the worst elements of the fringe right. This first became evident in 2012, when Trump flirted with a presidential run.
“Trump’s avenue to the Republican nomination [in 2012] was to embrace what had become the symbol of Republican racism in the media: birtherism,” Howe, the narrator, says in the film. “Among the outraged throngs of tea party protesters, these were by far the most intensely unhinged and active,” he adds. “Seizing on their anger with a system they thought was rigged against them, Trump becomes the tip of the spear for the birther movement.”
Although he wouldn’t become the nominee in 2012, Trump’s birtherism helped him to gain credibility with those in thrall to what Lachlan Markay calls a “quasi-racist conspiracy theory craziness.” The Washington Free Beacon contributor says that at the time, most in the conservative movement were trying to distance themselves from that fringe element.
Enter Breitbart News. Drudge. InfoWars. Gateway Pundit. Sites that “dabbled in the emerging and ever-growing outrage class of the Republican base,” according to Howe.
Howe, an outspoken Never Trumper, admitted in a post at RedState this past May that “Donald Trump is my fault as much as anyone else’s.” He said that as a conservative activist and political commentator during the tea party era he was too quick to turn a blind eye to things he was hearing from people who were his “allies”—things that made him uncomfortable. He wrote:
As more and more people knew who I was and I fostered relationships and allies, I found myself more and more having to look the other way. Moments where I would cringe at something someone said, or quietly roll my eyes at a post they wrote, thinking “Gosh, I can’t believe they think that way” or “I swear that person is one tweet away from saying Obama is from Kenya.”
He said that he chose “peace over principle,” believing that these people who agreed with him on 70% of issues were his allies. “I ignored my gut and my moral compass,” he wrote.
“The result is that, almost to a man, every single person I cringed at or thought twice about, is now a supporter and cheerleader of Donald Trump.”
While it’s true that Trump has not openly courted the alt-right and white nationalists movements that support him, it’s also true that he has done little to quell their fury or discourage their divisive conspiracy theories.
Another problem highlighted in the film is the conservative echo chamber, where leaders and media personalities trafficked in misinformation and unrealistic expectations.
“One of the biggest problems the conservative movement has, and it’s something that we’re really going to have to reckon with when this is all over,” says National Review’s Jonah Goldberg in the film, “is you can make a pretty good living in this business only talking to audiences that already agree with you.”
“Lots of right-wing talk radio people made it sound like it was so easy to fix all the problems, to stop Barack Obama, to get everything right in the world, and they were wrong,” he said. “And they exploited and misinformed a lot of their readers or listeners.”
Anytime Republicans failed to stop Obama, looked like they weren’t trying hard enough, or even whispered about bipartisanship, the rage machine would be fired up, leading inevitably to disappointment.
This was all fertile ground for a leader like Trump, who promised to use strong-arm tactics to break through the status quo.
Mistakes were made and there is plenty of blame to go around. There are very few involved in politics or the media or the conservative movement who didn’t in some way contribute to the train wreck of the 2016 election somewhere along the way. That was my biggest takeaway from the film.
When the autopsies are carried out on the 2016 election, whatever the outcome, “The Sociopath” will be an important stepping-off point for thoughtful discussions amongst those who want to engage in honest introspection of the conservative movement (including the conservative media) and the Republican Party. If conservatism is to survive as an ideological force in the United States, clinical assessments of past successes and failures will be essential to rebuilding something meaningful out of the wreckage this election has wrought.
Watch “The Sociopath” on the next page.