My favorite radio station, since my years as a teenager growing up in Central Wisconsin, has been WGN from Chicago. It mostly remains the prime example of classic talk that many of us knew before angry politics started to dominate some AM stations. Except for late-night/early morning, a wide array of hosts bring their neighborhood feel to the WGN broadcasting studio and share quality time over the airwaves.
For about the past two years a couple hours of the Jim Bohannon national radio show are simulcast on AM 720, and if there is a better example of airing grievance politics in the nation I am not aware of what it is as of this writing. I rarely listen to that show, given the time it airs, but I recently tuned in thanks to finely ground coffee keeping me too-percolated past bedtime.
While listening to the callers from coast to coast I was reminded that just about anyone at that hour can get on the air. For example, are you aware that all the jobs in our nation are being taken from white citizens by immigrants? Are you aware that socialists want to take away “what makes a man a man” or that gentrification is also a socialist plan for neighborhoods?
Considering what gets on the air one does have to ask what did not make it past the screener?
What I find to be rather sad is what Bohannon now stands for, given he was once the replacement for the famed Larry King on the former Mutual Broadcasting System. He has a super-fine broadcasting voice, the first thing that I noticed, of course, decades ago. But now he calls himself Jimbo….yeah.
But what strikes the listener to such conservative shows is the level of perceived grievances that some people carry with them, almost seemingly, as a badge of honor. They cling to their false narratives and standard rhetoric about conspiracy theories and fear of ‘the other’. Over the years their rhetoric has mostly remained the same, while facts are not to be entertained.
The reason this type of grievance has grown is not surprising. The exploitation of this element of the GOP by those who desired elective office, and helped stir the Tea Party types, and praised the severely dim-witted ones like Sarah Palin are now reaping what they sowed. In one way, the Republican Party can be rightfully smirked at for what they created and now must address. But the smirks can only go so far, as this is our nation we are talking about, and we simply can not function as a healthy democracy with such baggage. Something has to give.
Conservative columnist Michael Gerson wrote a powerful read about this many-year growing grievance trend among the base of the Republican Party.
The party has been swiftly repositioned as an instrument of white grievance. It refuses to condemn racists within its congressional ranks. Its main national legislative agenda seems to be the suppression of minority voting. Trumpism is defined by the belief that real Americans are beset by internal threats from migrants, Muslims, multiculturalists, Black Lives Matter activists, antifa militants and various thugs, gangbangers and whiners.
In a separate column, Gerson states the obvious by writing, “It is absurd to talk about white grievance politics as the wave of the political future……….as “the direction of American society toward greater diversity is not in doubt.”
Then Gerson offers a recollection of the past as to how the GOP can leave their current ‘woe is me’ political lifestyle for something that once worked in America.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ronald Reagan reorganized the GOP message around the principle of economic opportunity, arguing for the moral achievements of democratic capitalism. Reagan disciples such as Jack Kemp turned a message of economic empowerment into an instrument of outreach.
Nothing in politics moves quickly, and the turning of the grievance mindset which now makes up the GOP will require efforts at strong and persistent messaging from within the party. Will there be a courageous national Republican candidate who will talk of optimism rather than anger and resentment, speak of the diverse array of Americans rather than of travel bans and border walls, and construct a message of economic uplift and truly conservative principles? I fear not for the 2024 presidential election.
But when the GOP is ready for their long-overdue facelift and massive swing away from grievances our democracy is ready to invite them again to the grownup table of politics.
I have to trust that a turn in our politics takes place sooner rather than later.