On Friday, Tom Gilson, a senior editor at The Stream, posted “An Open Letter to Right Wing Watch: Do You Even Believe What You’re Saying?” The Stream is a website founded by evangelist James Robison. Gilson was responding to a recent Right Wing Watch post, “For Trump, Racism is an Election Strategy. For the Republican Right, it’s a Path to Power.” Here is our response:
I’m taking you up on your invitation to let you know the thinking behind my recent Right Wing Watch post that bothered you so much, and to answer a few of the questions you posed.
For the record, I do value openness and honesty and trying to understand those who view the world differently. I spend a lot of time at conservative conferences, reading conservative authors and consuming right-wing media. I sit at lunch with people who, I recognize, believe that their activism is for the good of their loved ones and the future of our country. It is true that Right Wing Watch reports critically on the goals, actions and tactics of right-wing organizations and leaders. It is also true that we strive for accuracy and fairness in that reporting. I don’t believe that we dehumanize our opponents and I’m always willing to hear criticism of my work and correct mistakes.
I’ll take your specific arguments and questions in the order you presented them.
You suggest that it’s both dishonest and dehumanizing that I wrote that “the right-wing political machine” wants federal judges who will “gut the federal government’s constitutional authority to act on behalf of the common good.” You ask, “Has any conservative ever said that that’s what he wants?”
Here’s what many right-wing activists and conservative leaders have said: they believe much of what the federal government now does is unconstitutional and that there’s no legitimate federal role in addressing education, poverty, or health care; they want to reverse 80 years of federal court rulings in order to do away with a constitutional justification for New Deal and Great Society programs; some say explicitly that they want to turn the clock back even further to undo progressive reforms of the early 20th Century; they want to dismantle the “administrative state” and revert to a view of the Commerce Clause that would further restrict the government’s power to regulate corporate behavior; and they believe that filling the courts with Federalist Society-approved judges will allow them to begin doing all these things, in addition to reversing Roe, Obergefell, and decades of rulings on church-state separation. The Supreme Court’s conservatives have already gutted campaign finance laws and the Voting Rights Act and given Republican-dominated state legislatures free rein to engage in the most aggressively unfair partisan gerrymandering.
You may disagree that, taken together, this litany adds up to gutting the federal government’s ability to act on behalf of the common good, but I’d say it’s a fair summary.
My post did not fault Trump for wanting to win elections. Clearly, that’s what politics is about. My piece addressed what the president and his supporters want to do with that power, and which principles they’re willing to sacrifice in order to achieve those goals. There’s no contradiction whatsoever in saying that Trump and his supporters want to build their own power by cutting back on the federal government’s authority. Millionaires like Trump and billionaires like the Koch brothers maximize their own political and economic power by electing politicians who enact laws and bring us judges who undermine unions and weaken government regulation and oversight of corporate wrongdoing.
You suggest that our very name, Right Wing Watch, unfairly makes conservatives the “other” and “undifferentiated enemies of all that’s good.” I disagree. We are a project of a progressive advocacy organization, People For the American Way, that is committed to promoting a set of values that we believe represent the best of American ideals. Part of that mission is to understand, expose, and challenge threats to those values, threats that come from overlapping portions of the broader right-wing movement: the Religious Right, the Tea Party right, the corporate right. We understand the differences within that broad spectrum; while we report on extremists who want gay people to be executed, for example, we don’t suggest it’s a goal shared by others we follow who would deny equality and legal protections to same-sex couples and their families. But we see both as contrary to the values of fairness and equality.
It’s not unfair to spell out what kind of impact it could have on American society were the proponents of a return to a pre-New Deal or pre-progressive-era constitutional order to succeed in that endeavor. And it’s not dehumanizing to note that Religious Right leaders spent decades telling Americans that the moral character of their leaders matters, but that those same leaders, as part of their mutually beneficial deal with Trump, have largely abandoned that principle in favor of citing biblical examples about God using flawed people as his agents, as assertion often shored up by the quotation of passages prescribing submission to those whom God has anointed and given authority—not verses I often heard quoted by conservative Christians during the Obama years.
I grant that the tone of this particular post was harsh, but many of us who watch in dismay as Trump’s allies and enablers support, justify, or explain away his divisive rhetoric and harmful policies believe that some sharp criticism is well deserved.