Charlie Sykes on Trump and the decay of the conservative moment.
The #NeverTrump bandwagon has added quite a few passengers in the past week or so.
Charlie Sykes has been a leading conservative in Wisconsin for nearly three decades. The host of a mid-day show on WTMJ in Milwaukee, Sykes has amassed a large audience with his aggressive but thoughtful style. This year, however, he has found himself standing athwart a wave of conservative hysteria. A vocal critic of Trump, Sykes has strained his relationship with his listeners, many of whom are irked by his refusal to hop aboard the Trump train.
I spoke with Sykes last week about his decision to leave radio. I wanted to know if he believes right-wing media is responsible for Trump’s ascendance and, perhaps more importantly, if he thinks there will be a reckoning in the Republican Party after this election.
Our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows.
How long have you been doing your conservative radio show in Wisconsin?
About 25 years.
And how would you characterize your brand of conservatism?
I would describe myself as a conservative in the mold of William Buckley, someone who during the 1980s followed people Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett, or who today falls in line with people like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan.
I’m the kind of person that actually bought the Weekly Standard and thought the National Review defined what the conservative movement was, at least until earlier this year.
In that case, I assume this election has been utterly disorienting for you.
It’s extremely disorienting and disillusioning and I haven’t made any secret of that. To realize, first of all, that you’re part of a movement that was not the movement you thought it was, that you’re aligned with people that you didn’t really understand you’re aligned with, and to realize that everything that you thought about the conservative intellectual infrastructure was really piecrust thin.
You thought you had this big principled movement and then suddenly along comes Donald Trump and you realize that it was just was just the pastry on top. So I think disorienting is a great term. Disillusioning is not too strong either.
You’ve said your decision to step away from radio wasn’t driven by this year’s political season, but that’s not really true is it?
Well, it made it a lot easier. You basically feel the world kind of shifting under your feet and you look around and say, okay, I’m a conservative talk radio host in a world in which the conservative media is basically setting itself on fire. Do I really want to still be part of this?
This has been in the back of my mind all year long and I needed to be able to step back and ask what the hell just happened. How could we have misunderstood this so much?
When you find out so many of the people that you had relied upon and trusted were in fact phonies, then you have to step back and ask: What is my standard of credibility?What do I believe? What information sources are reliable?
You can read the rest of that if you like. Here are my direct responses.
First, conservatism itself has never been an honest, ethical, or productive ideology. All Donald Trump really did was tear off the phony rhetoric and show the people what is at the actual core of right-wing political ideas. To be a conservative in the USA, you must believe at least one of the following:
1. That whites deserve more social power than non-whites.
2. That men deserve more social power than women.
3. That Christians deserve more social power than non-Christians.
4. That straights deserve more social power than gays/lesbians.
5. That cis-gendered people deserve more social power than trans-gendered people.
6. That the rich deserve more social power than the poor.
That’s it. If you truly believe in “liberty and justice for ALL”, then you CANNOT be a conservative!
Second, the degeneration of talk radio and TV in general seems to be a direct result of the removal of the Fairness Doctrine by the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. It’s the idea that with controversial topics, a media outlet should have representatives of both sides speaking directly on the issue. With that doctrine gone, radio and TV stations could allow right-wing demagogues to rant endlessly without anyone calling them out on their lies. Especially with most of those stations owned by a half dozen giant corporations! Freedom of speech and the press has become meaningless as a result. Only when the Fairness Doctrine is fully restored and enforced by the federal government will the First Amendment of the U S Constitution be useful as a matter of rule of law.