Gerson was the speechwriter for George W. Bush who came up with the phrase "axis of evil," referring to states that allegedly sponsored terrorism or sought weapons of mass destruction -- such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Bush introduced that phrase to the world in his January 2002 State of the Union Address, a little more than four months after roughly 3,000 Americans lost their lives in the attacks on 9/11.
We now know that none of the countries that comprised the "axis of evil" had anything to do with 9/11. Maybe that's why Gerson wants to gloss over the "Dubya" years, not to mention other eras where conservative "thinking" was around the bend.
Gerson is correct to say that much of today's conservative thought has pathological origins. And he is right to suggest that Trump -- while in office barely four months -- has taken dishonesty, boorishness, and possible criminality to condensed and heightened levels we probably have not seen before. But Gerson is wrong to suggest a diseased conservative mind was not present long before Trump took center stage.
On a personal level, I've witnessed diseased conservative thinking in my own family for roughly 25 years. My late father, to his credit, was a Republican before it was cool -- and I never understood why since he worked for the U.S. Post Office, in a job that offered the kind of union benefits and protections that Democrats support and Republicans abhor. In essence, he was able to support a family of six because of a union job that grew from liberal policies. Still, he consistently voted Republican, probably because of the anti-communist views that were passed down from my grandfather, Walter Shuler, of fashionable Aldrich, Missouri (which mostly now resides deep under the waters of Stockton Lake).
My mother, best I could tell, was a Roosevelt Democrat, largely because of actions FDR took during the Great Depression to save her impoverished portion of northwest Arkansas (which included Osage, Alpena, and the relatively large Harrison, not far from Fayetteville, home of the Razorbacks). She often extolled the virtues of Roosevelt and the public-spending policies that she felt put people back to work and pulled the country out of one of its darkest hours.
I long have considered myself more of an Arkansan than a Missourian because my hometown of Springfield is much closer to the Arkansas border than it is to the heart of Missouri (Kansas City, Jefferson City, Columbia, St. Louis -- along and near the I-85 corridor at the center of the state). Plus, my mother's parents, from a shack in the Ozark hills, produced a nurse, a social worker, an engineer, and an educator -- so, I always considered them the "thought leaders" of our clan. My dad's side of the family, I thought, produced good folks -- "Men From Earth" farming types -- but whatever thoughts they collected tended to stay internalized.
As the 1992 election approached, I was pretty stoked that a real Arkansan, Bill Clinton (as opposed to a watered-down Arkansan, such as myself) appeared to be in good shape to win the White House. When the subject came up at a family gathering, it was clear no one else shared my enthusiasm -- even my mother, who had regaled us for years with tales of comical and dramatic moments from the hard life on an isolated Arkansas farm.
I learned that my immediate family members were suddenly "pro life" on the issue of abortion rights. They were entitled, of course, to hold a wrong-headed opinion (and by "wrong-headed," I mean an opinion different from my own), but it produced a sense of foreboding in me because I had never heard the subject discussed when I was growing up. One of the tenets of the Shuler life, as I understood it, was to keep our noses out of other people's business -- and the pro-life stance, by definition, means you are sticking your nose into someone else's business.
When I noted that my wife, Carol, and I were pro choice, it drew the kind of ugly, race-tinged language that I had never heard in my family home growing up. I wasn't quite sure what was happening with my family -- and I'm still not -- but I suspected I didn't want to be a part of it. Carol and I started keeping a distance from the Missouri side of our family around 1992, and that became pretty much a total blackout (with a few exceptions) around 2000.
Speaking of 2000, that's roughly when "diseased conservative thinking" hit us smack in the face. Our troubled and troubling neighbor Mike McGarity, who somehow managed to get a job at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama despite his extensive criminal record, filed a lawsuit against me that grew from his efforts to steal our land -- and our efforts to resist. Shelby County judges J. Michael Joiner and Dan Reeves repeatedly ruled contrary to black-letter law, and this is a classic example of diseased thinking. In fact, it is un-American thinking, showing utter disregard for foundational concepts of due process and equal protection.
All of the bogus rulings from Joiner and Reeves benefited Bill Swatek, who was McGarity's attorney. Swatek has been disciplined at least three times by the Alabama State Bar, including a suspension of his license and a criminal trial for perjury, so he is among the lowest of the low in the state's legal community. But his son, Dax Swatek, is a noted GOP political consultant with ties to former governor Bob Riley, Business Council of Alabama chieftain Bill Canary, and (via Canary) to "Bush's Brain," Karl Rove. So that gives the senior Swatek a certain pull among judges in central Alabama, and we learned it is common for them to rule in his favor, no matter what the relevant facts and law say.
Swatek, Joiner, and Reeves represent what we called "The New Confederacy," in a post from July 2016. We submit that the New Confederacy has its roots in the Old Confederacy and the Dixiecrat movement of the Old South. But it has spread to other parts of the United States, especially to Great Plains states such as Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. From our earlier post, which focused on the trial of former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard:
"The New Confederacy" includes individuals who tend to self-identify as "patriots," even though they reject fundamental tenets of the U.S. Constitution. These modern-day confederates tend to especially reject the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection, which became part of America's constitutional landscape after the Civil War.
From 1866 to 1868, Southern states bitterly opposed ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Hubbard trial showed that many Southerners, especially elites, still despise the principles of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The McGarity lawsuit helped teach us that the Fourteenth Amendment, when butchered by corrupt "New Confederacy" judges, has no meaning in postmodern America.
That brings us back to Michael Gerson, and his flawed notion that Donald Trump has ushered in an era of "diseased conservative thinking." Trump certainly is doing his best to add to such "thinking," but he hardly invented it.
When did it start? I submit it started with the GOP's use of race-based fears as a political weapon. Richard Nixon rode his "Southern Strategy" into the White House in 1968 and 1972. Watergate slowed the GOP advance in the mid 1970s, but Ronald Reagan stoked the flames anew by using coded race-based language to kick off his 1980 general-election campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Once the white middle class was sufficiently distracted by race-based fears, the GOP turned to criminal enterprises, under Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the 1980s and early '90s. Those included the Savings and Loan Scandal, Iran-Contra, and CIA gun- and drug-running operations that likely led to the assassination of federal judge Robert Vance Sr., via a mail bomb sent to his home in the Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook.
Michael Gerson goes off the tracks by ignoring these realities. From his opinion piece, which originated in The Washington Post and drew major attention late last week:
To many observers on the left, the initial embrace of Seth Rich conspiracy theories by conservative media figures was merely a confirmation of the right's deformed soul. But for those of us who remember that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity were once relatively mainstream Reaganites, their extended vacation in the fever swamps is even more disturbing. If once you knew better, the indictment is deeper.
The cruel exploitation of the memory of Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer who was murdered last summer, was horrifying and clarifying. The Hannity right, without evidence, accused Rich rather than the Russians of leaking damaging DNC emails. In doing so, it has proved its willingness to credit anything — no matter how obviously deceptive or toxic — to defend Donald Trump and harm his opponents. Even if it means becoming a megaphone for Russian influence.
The basic, human questions are simple. How could conservative media figures not have felt — felt in their hearts and bones — the God-awful ickiness of it? How did the genes of generosity and simple humanity get turned off? Is this insensibility the risk of prolonged exposure to our radioactive political culture? If so, all of us should stand back a moment and tend to the health of our revulsion.
Gerson is missing the big picture. The problem of diseased conservative thinking goes way beyond conspiracy theories about Seth Rich, or anyone else. It goes to very real and damaging actions, including those in the George W. Bush administration -- of which Gerson was part. Consider just a few of the "icky" events that happened on Bush's watch:
* Likely theft of the 2000 presidential election in Florida, ruled by Gov. Jeb Bush, with an infected U.S. Supreme Court sweeping out the apparent winner, Al Gore, and sweeping in the outrageously unqualified George W. Bush.
* The attacks of 9/11, of which the Bush administration had advanced warnings, but failed to take any actions to stop them.
* Use of political prosecutions to ruin Democratic foes, most famously being the Don Siegelman case in Alabama.
* The firings of U.S. attorneys, who refused to carry out prosecutions for political reasons.
* The instigation of a war in Iraq, based on flawed intelligence information.
* The outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
If we still have a semi-functional justice apparatus, Trump and dozens of his comrades should be indicted in the next year or so. If that happens, it will be the ultimate illustration of diseased conservative thinking. But that sort of thinking hardly began with Donald Trump.
It's been going on for roughly 50 years, at least.