The new right wants division, cruelty, TV ratings

The new American right is a far cry from the things that once informed and animated the American experiment: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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Trump 2020 Campaign Manager Brad Parscale Speaks With Jesse Watters

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale speaks with Jesse Watters at Fox News Channel Studios on March 28, 2019 in New York City.

Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Edmund Burke. Russell Kirk. And… Jesse Watters?

One of the hosts of Fox’s “The Five,” Watters said the quiet part out loud Monday evening, when discussing President Joe Biden’s agenda and pushback he’s getting from progressives in his party.

“[D]o I feel sorry for Joe Biden? No. I work at Fox. I wanna see disarray on the left. It’s good for America. It’s good for our ratings.”

In those eight seconds of television, Watters may have unknowingly articulated the entire philosophy of the new American right, adding to the canon of philosophical giants before him. I kid, of course. The leaders of the modern conservative movement, from Burke to Kirk, F.A. Hayek to William F. Buckley, Ayn Rand to Ronald Reagan, likely wouldn’t recognize today’s American right wing.

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Co-opted entirely by Donald Trump in 2016, it’s now sufficiently aligned with whatever he just said, rather than the centuries of principles and philosophy that conservative thought leaders once espoused. It’s led this arm of American politics, both in the Republican Party and in right-wing media, to forget about the things that used to animate it: things like fiscal responsibility, anti-protectionism, family values, lowering the debt and deficit, national security, law and order, and, you know, preserving democracy.

Now, the American right is off wasting taxpayer dollars chasing phony election audits to soothe the fragile ego of a guy who lost everything for the Republican Party in four short years.

It decries common-sense safety precautions like masks and vaccines — during a global pandemic that just set a global daily record for the most confirmed cases in a single day in the U.S. — as “medical tyranny” and an assault on freedom.

It coddles and caters to conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, supremacists and xenophobes, empowering lunatics, bigots and fame-addicts to seek elected office.

And it led to one of the darkest days in modern American history: An insurrection at the U.S. Capitol where Trump supporters tried to overturn a democratic election, in some cases criminally, violently and fatally. A year later, rather than being the slightest bit chastened, those responsible for that ignominy are now emboldened. Trump was getting ready to commemorate the riot with another media spectacle until he cancelled a planned press conference.

This is the new American right, and in the rancid bouillabaisse of patriot porn that’s regularly dished out by right-wing leaders and media, it’s all part of a “cause,” one that’s righteous, justified, and most perversely, conservative.

In this context, Watters’ comments make perfect sense.

In fact, they spell out the Three Pillars of the New American Right:

1. There are two Americas, not one.

When Watters says, “I wanna see disarray on the left. It’s good for America,” he’s admitting that he doesn’t consider “the left” to be part of America. There’s his America — the one that’s righteous and good — and the other America, which must be excised. The United States as a concept is effectively dead in the new American right. No wonder there are some on the right openly aching for secession or civil war.

2. The cruelty is the point.

The new American right is here for the pain, as Adam Serwer explained in The Atlantic in 2018. It’s not here to change hearts and minds with a competition of ideas and arguments. It wants to see liberals in tears. Whether it’s Speaker Nancy Pelosi, AOC, Ilhan Omar, Joe Biden, it’s not enough to just disagree with their ideas — a perfectly reasonable thing to do fairly often. No, you must “Lock her up,” “Send her back,” “F—k Joe Biden” — even “Hang Mike Pence.” The pain Watters wants to see is the point.

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3. Ratings, above all else.

As journalism in right-wing media has fallen by the wayside, kooks, quacks, cranks and snake-oil salesmen have taken over, pushing lies and conspiracy theories to keep their audiences foaming at the mouths. Getting eyeballs has superseded things like public health and safety and truth and facts, as media stars have glorified willful ignorance. But it’s not just in media. Trump turned the right wing into an attention economy, where folks like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and the My Pillow guy just want to be famous, not serious. Attention is the only thing that matters now.

These new pillars don’t belong in conservative orthodoxy. They belong in movies like “Idiocracy” and “Don’t Look Up,” which satirize the persistent celebration of willful ignorance in America.

And yet, these are the only things that seem to consistently motivate the new American right: division, cruelty and ratings. It’s a far cry from the things that once informed and animated the American experiment: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN. Follow her on Twitter @secupp

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