What happened to the conservative movement?
That’s the question asked in Charlie Sykes’ new book, “How the Right Lost Its Mind,” an exploration of the conservative movement’s descent into alt-right insanity and Trumpian demagoguery. On today’s show, he and Glenn talked about the real values that conservatives should return to and the questions we should be asking.
“What is it that we care about?” Sykes asked rhetorically. “It’s freedom, limited government, constitutionalism, personal responsibility, respect for the truth. … Rather than be locked into some sort of a zombie-like dogma, you know, ask, ‘What kind of a society do we want to be?’”
Listen to the full segment (above) to hear Sykes explain why we need to break out of our “tribes” to reconnect as people.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: There’s a lot going on in the news today. Robert Mueller has issued an indictment. It’s not a surprise at all. It is for Paul Manafort and his — and his business partner. Bad guy.
We’ve told you that for a long time. This is putting Donald Trump in a very bad position, and we’ll get more on that, coming up.
We also have Charlie Sykes. Charles Sykes is the author of the book, How the Right Lost Its Mind. Up until a few years ago, he was the most powerful talk show host in Wisconsin. And he just had to walk away from it because he didn’t understand the conservatives anymore.
I think now, wrongfully, he is being labeled as, you know, somebody who has just run over to the left because he’s seen on NBC and he’s read in the New York Times and everything else.
But that’s not who he is. At least that’s not who I think he is. And we welcome him now, Charlie Sykes.
Hi, Charlie, how are you?
CHARLIE: Good morning. Thank you for that, by the way, Glenn. I appreciate that.
GLENN: You’re welcome.
So are we some of those right who have lost their minds?
CHARLIE: You mean you and me?
CHARLIE: Well, I don’t know. I think there are some — some oasis of sanity. But I think we all need to look in the mirror and go, okay. Did we contribute to this? Did we help create this monster? And I know that you go to this introspection.
And part of what I did after I left my radio show was to sit back and just sort of sit for a little while, and go, how did that happen? What did we miss?
Were there things that were stewing out there that we didn’t understand? Were our allies not exactly who they were?
You mentioned the people saying, well, you obviously have defending — no. I’m actually saying exactly the same things I have been saying for a very, very long time.
CHARLIE: And I’m watching a lot of people that I I thought I understood — do 180 flips. And you really have to watch, what’s going on sneer.
GLENN: So, Charlie, it’s really difficult. Because we feel the same way, that there’s a lot of people who say, we’ve defected. Blah, blah, blah. No, we’ve stood in place. We’re not going over the cliff with the rest of the party and the rest of humanity.
And I’m more concerned — Jimmy Kimmel said this weekend, which I was glad to hear him say — I don’t know if he’s tying it to the right alone, but I said, under Barack Obama, you can’t let this kind of stuff fester, because who is going to come into office next time? And we have an answer to that.
Now, who follows Donald Trump? Now is the time to get a hold of ourselves and our principles. Or we’re in real trouble. From both sides.
CHARLIE: Oh, I completely agree. And, you know, Donald Trump — please, don’t misunderstand me when I say this, that Donald Trump doesn’t shock me or bother me. Because he is what he is. You know, he’s always been the same thing. He’s not going to change. What’s really bothering me is what’s happening to the rest of us. The damage to the culture. I think that his legacy won’t be measured simply in policy decisions, you know, including some that I would agree with.
It’s going to be measured in the coarsening of our culture, in what we Americans have decided that we are willing to accept, look the other way.
I was actually on a show yesterday morning with somebody that I had deeply admired for more than a decade. And he was suggesting that, you know, once we get tax reform through, we will no longer have to worry about the character of the president.
And I will tell you, Glenn, I was actually shocked. Because I said, you know, I’m old enough to remember when conservatives actually thought things like character and truth and decency, honestly, all of those things actually did fundamentally matter. And maybe were even more important than politics.
GLENN: Policies. Yeah. It was. To me, it still is. Character — if you don’t have character, you don’t have anything. You don’t have a chance at survival without character.
So, Charlie, how do you — how do you repair this?
CHARLIE: I don’t honestly know. That’s a really, really good question. I think it is going back to these first principles. And, you know, the — there was a time where you realized, okay. We’re going to be in the wilderness for a while.
It turns out, that the wilderness is a little bit — there are fewer of us in the wilderness than I was perhaps expecting, but the wilderness is a good place to begin rethinking these things. What is really important? What is really valuable?
I’ve lived a life, like a lot of conservative talk show hosts, where you go from one election to another. And every single election is the apocalypse. Every single election, everything is at stake. And maybe you need to step back and you realize, okay. Elections are important. There’s no question about that.
But there are some things that are more important. So let’s go back. What is it that we — that we care about? Is it — it’s freedom. Limited government. Constitutionalism. Personal responsibility.
Respect for the truth. All of those things. And also, understand that maybe we ought to look around to our fellow Americans. And rather than be locked into some sort of zombie-like dogma. You know, ask, what kind of a society do we want to be? What makes for the good life? Are we actually treating one another the way that we ought to be treating one another?
Now, in order to get back to it, I think we kind of have to break out of the chrysalis of our tribe, which may be mixing the metaphor. And maybe if you look around and go, “Okay. We’ve been engaging in these tribal politics. But look at where it led us. Look at what it’s done to us. And is this really who we want to be?
GLENN: So, Charlie, you are somebody who — I mean, I have been out to Silicon Valley and Hollywood. I have not gone to Washington and New York.
And I find at the upper echelon of both of those, I find people who are Democrats and who are now saying, I’m just afraid of my side as your side. There’s something bad happening. And we have to solve this. And they fight — I think like all people do, they fight against this feeling of ugh, you know, the other side is getting away with X, Y, and Z. But they have realized, this is what has caused the problem, is just looking at the — at the splinter in someone else’s eye. They’ve missed the beam in their own side. However, when I do talk to people in the media — and you’re probably closer to people in the media than I am, I don’t see that from them. I don’t — I don’t see a willingness to look at the — the beam in their own eye.
CHARLIE: No. But let me — let me get to a point that you made before. You know, one of the great shocks for me, has been this — this adoption of — this moral relativism, across — across the lines of American politics. That winning is so important, that, you know, if they did it, we can do it as well.
And to see conservatives adopt that, that sort of relativistic approach has been really appalling. But your point on the media is right on. One of the things that have happened — and I talk about it in my book. Is, I’ve been a long-time media critic, talking about the bias, the double standards. I think at some point, we have perhaps succeeded at delegitimizing the media in the eyes of a lot of folks, which broke down our immunity to fake information and propaganda. But having said that, I do think that everybody in American politics and the media does need to step back and have this moment of introspection. You know, the — I do have a lot of context in the media. And I don’t sense that kind of introspection, that I think is necessary. Do you understand why so many people believe that you are biased, that you do have the double standards?
Do you understand how you manage to blow all of that credibility? You created the space for, you know, the demagogues. You know, the folks like Breitbart. And Infowars. And all of those folks.
But I don’t sense that there is that sort of looking in the mirror and going on.
GLENN: Do you have time to stay with us for a little longer?
CHARLIE: Sure. Absolutely.
GLENN: Okay. Charlie Sykes. The author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. And I think — I can count them — I can count them on three fingers, I think. I think I can count them on three fingers, the people who actually stood. And Charlie was one of them. In fact, Charlie — Charlie kind of just disappeared for a while and said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
And I have profound respect for him. And I have — I have not read the book cover to cover, but I have read enough of the book to tell you that he’s right about how we — how we went awry and how we each of us have to look, on both sides of the aisle, at our own role and say, “What did I propagate?” But also, what did I accept in my own life?
And we’ll continue our conversation. And talk a little bit about Mueller and what’s going to happen next, with Charlie Sykes.
GLENN: At that point in time get Paul Manafort for here with Charlie Sykes in just a second.
STU: Charlie, Glenn and I have been talking about this for a while. And I’m sure you’ve been doing a lot of thinking of this, writing the book. I think a lot of the people in the talk radio audience want that perfect world, they want a world where there is about principles, they want a world where this is about real foundations.
But they see, with the media landscape, that if they don’t push back against every single thing and fight super hard, nobody is going to do it for them. And they’re just going to get rolled over. Do you think that’s where the audience is, and why sometimes they might embrace some of the way the media is run now?
CHARLIE: Oh, yes, I do. In fact, that was me. I felt, okay. I’m on the rampart. And my job is to push back on this. If I don’t push back on this, who will? And I do think that that contributed to it. And I think over the years, it ramped up. It ramped up in intensity, to the point where you look around you, like, okay. How did I get here? How did I come all the way this far?
GLENN: So, Charlie, I’ve never shared this on the air, but you would have the brain that could get your arms around this one, to see if you think this is valid. I think what Rush Limbaugh did was absolutely valid and accurate for 1990. What he did was say a point of view that nobody heard. And nobody had articulated. And he taught us how to articulate an argument. But then a couple of things happened.
Our friends stopped listening, as soon as they said, where did you get that? Rush Limbaugh? Well, yeah. So they stopped listening. But Rush kept giving us the argument for our friends. The friends over time disappeared. And then people like us populated radio. And we did the Rush Limbaugh model. And we weren’t saying how to talk to your friends. We were saying, this is what is right. This is where you go. And we just grew further and further apart, into our own echo chambers. And we didn’t listen to one another. We were no longer trying to make the argument to our friends, who we thought were rational, because we were really being told that our friends aren’t rational. And they became irrational, as we became irrational.
CHARLIE: I certainly was think that you followed that trajectory. And then I started in the early 1990s on radio as well. When — you know, there was a time when actually we had to formulate these arguments. When, in fact, our job was to persuade.
But I think you’re absolutely right, that as time went on. We really did separate ourselves into what I began calling the alternative reality silos, where, you know, really, we didn’t wall ourselves off.
GLENN: Wait. Wait. Wait. I don’t think we did. I mean, I think in some ways we did because we didn’t recognize it.
GLENN: But we were walled off. The left did its number on us to wall us off. Yeah.
CHARLIE: They stopped. Oh, no, no. This goes both ways. There’s no question about it. Somebody has got to write multiple volumes of how the left lost its mind. By the way, your story about the George Washington plaque would be chapter one on that. That’s somebody else’s —
CHARLIE: But we were walled off. And part of the problem that I think folks in the left and the media ought to recognize is to realize they have no idea what conservatives were thinking for many, many years. They simply — they didn’t read conservative books. They didn’t listen to conservative talk radio. They had a caricature out there. And as a result, they did not understand how they looked and how they sounded to conservatives. And they certainly do not understand what happened over the last several years.
GLENN: So let me go to Paul Manafort. What is this going to do?
CHARLIE: Well, it’s going to put a heck of a lot of pressure on the White House. I see already that there are some people trying to spin this as, this is a nothing burger because it does not relate directly to the Trump campaign and collusion.
GLENN: This is huge.
CHARLIE: But, look, let’s just take a step back here. This investigation is very much the real deal. This is just the beginning. It’s a rolling investigation. And I think the Paul Manafort — the whole Paul Manafort story for me sort of represents the worst people in the world phenomenon, which is that whatever Donald Trump’s personal flaws are, he also at various points in his campaign and administration empowered, the people have called, the worst people in the world. Drowned himself with some really skeezy folks, whether it’s Roger Stone or Paul Manafort.
GLENN: Yeah. Yeah.
CHARLIE: Here’s my other point for conservatives: Look, it is one thing to agree with the administration, support them on issues where you share their values. The right to life. Conservative judges. Small government. Regulatory reform.
But that doesn’t mean that you need to defend every single aspect, including if, in fact, the Russians did interfere in our elections, tried to hack our democracy. This is not something that we should rationalize or look the other way.
GLENN: Charlie, thank you very much. Author of the book: How the Right Lost Its Mind. Worth a read.