Trolls Are Now Running the Government, Led by Donald Trump and Republicans Like Steve King

It used to be that American political discourse involved debate, a contest of ideas refereed by reason and undertaken for the sake of civic society, to which we all presumably belong, whatever cable news network we watch. And when politicians went on television, they did so to seriously discuss serious proposals, because that’s what their constituents demanded of them.

But that was long ago. The era of American civility is as thoroughly over as the era of the fax machine. Today, when politicians talk, they troll. That is, the goal of political speech is no longer to promote argument but to incite ire, to annoy one’s opponents into fits of rage. Because the left knows it can’t convince the recalcitrant right, while the right knows the left secretly wishes it were French. “What is the use of talking!” the poet Ezra Pound once wrote. Not much, anymore. Better to troll instead.

And nobody trolls quite like six-term congressman Steve King of Iowa. His latest coup de troll came on Wednesday, during an appearance on CNN. King, a conservative who has agitated for tougher immigration laws, reaffirmed his longstanding support for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico. No surprise there. What followed, however, was a masterful act of trolling, with King explaining how he would increase funds for that wall by $5 billion.

“I would find half of a billion dollars of that right out of Planned Parenthood's budget," King explained. "And the rest of it could come out of food stamps and the entitlements that are being spread out for people that haven't worked in three generations."

The gentleman from Iowa wasn’t done, introducing what appeared to be an anti-obesity plan that dovetailed with the increased border-wall funding. “When you match up the EBT card with what the scales say on some of the folks, I think it's worth looking at. Michelle Obama looked at it, Republicans should be able to look at it too," he said.

King’s ingenuous plan stands about as much chance of being realized as California’s proposed wall against the United States. Actually, I’d put the chances of the California border wall a little higher. You never know what may catch Elon Musk’s interest next.

Then again, I doubt King seriously thinks a border wall is going to be built with Planned Parenthood funds. But where better to introduce such an incendiary idea than on CNN, where it is sure to annoy liberals? What better way to remind them that they lost the presidential election?

King is especially adept at this brand of politics, which involves little seriousness or substance. It is a brand of politics practiced by many Republicans (and a few liberal Democrats) today. None practice it quite as well as King.

Back in July 2016, he went on an even more liberal network than CNN — MSNBC — to offer his views on Western civilization, suggesting that non-whites have not contributed sufficiently to civilizational progress. “Where are these contributions that have been made by these other people that you are talking about?” he asked a fellow MSNBC guest who’d suggested “old white people” were becoming politically irrelevant. “Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

The comments, which many said endorsed white supremacy, created a predictable firestorm on Twitter. Which was precisely the point. King didn’t want to argue about the relative merits of civilizational models, to learn about the contributions of the Ottoman Empire or the Han Dynasty. He wanted to troll liberals on their own turf, to thump his chest and shout to all the world, “She should have campaigned in Wisconsin!”

Trump didn’t introduce incivility to American politics, but his ascent to the presidency has turned the problem into something grave. Bipartisanship means nothing in a political and media milieu where scoring cheap points means everything.

King has embraced this brand of politics more eagerly than most. Seemingly wanting to revisit the previous year’s controversy over his MNBC comments, King tweeted in March that we, whoever we are, cannot “restore our civilization” with “somebody else’s babies.”

“I'd like to see an America that's just so homogenous that we look a lot the same, from that perspective,” King subsequently explained on CNN, just in case the racial subtext of the tweet were unclear.

After a young undocumented immigrant was deported to Mexico in April, King celebrated the news by tweeting a picture of himself enjoying a beer.

In 2013, he said the following of young undocumented immigrants who’d been brought to the United States by their parents: “For every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

King’s trolling may be offensive, uncivil and racist, but it fits perfectly into the mission of a Republican Party under the complete thrall of Fox News. The mission of the GOP as it is constituted today has nothing to do with cultural conservatism, fiscal responsibility and America’s role as a global superpower. That was the party of Ronald Reagan. That party is dead.

Instead, the party being led by the world’s greatest Twitter troll, Donald J. Trump, is occupied solely by the desire to troll liberals, to offend their sensitivities, to mock their ideas, disparage their efforts at compromise, smear them with the darkest insinuations. It is the party of Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman who died earlier this year.

It was Ailes who gave us the nightly programs featuring “commentary” by Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Their single goal, expressed with grotesque, conspiratorial creativity on a nightly basis, was to depict liberals as enemies of the state who needed to be mocked and maligned into silence, trolled into submission and electoral irrelevance. Earlier this year, Eric Trump told Sean Hannity that Democrats “aren’t even people. ” Fox News had been working toward that point for years. How proud executives must have been to hear it voiced by the president’s own son!

In other words, while King is an acutely active troll, he is but one example of the Republicans’ unwillingness to engage in anything resembling serious thought. Liberals troll, too, of course, but not nearly as much (Kathy Griffin’s “Trump beheaded” tweet is a reminder that Republicans don’t have a monopoly on crudity). Besides, they are the minority party in Washington. All of Capitol Hill now belongs to the Republicans. They have the White House and Congress.

And what are they doing with their newfound power? Mocking liberals with “ideas” about border walls and Planned Parenthood, sending wrestling memes at CNN. Hannity must be proud. But what about their constituents back home? They were surely expecting their emboldened representatives in Washington would show themselves to be more than just Twitter trolls.

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