The disastrous political illiteracy of the large majority of the American commentariat, from journalists to opinion writers and “analysts,” has been justly and much lamented from the left in the last few years — but there its effects have been at least as risible as they’ve been directly damaging. A few years’ ardent attempts haven’t yet produced a “Bro”-style pejorative that has any chance of mattering, or even muddying the ideological waters for, any audience beyond a core group of the gormless online columnists themselves. Even the middlebrow “literate” commentator’s latest version of this analysis, charging Chapo Trap House with inventing the left critique of liberalism, is mostly good for a laugh, not an occasion for any kind of serious political concern. The leftward ideological bound of what columnists find imaginable may no longer extend as far as FDR, but we’ve learned recently that such misperceptions and mischaracterizations aren’t really all that consequential.

But the same commentariat’s inability to perceive, much less understand, the political ideologies of the far right has lately become much more disturbing. Even in feature articles specifically about figures and movements of the far right, more often than not journalists display a bizarre reluctance or inability to name the ideologies in question explicitly, a seeming blindness to their signature elements that treats them as oddball quirks or “surprising” idiosyncrasies or just ignores them altogether. And this is true of reporting on every part of the far right, from Christian fundamentalists to white supremacists to Straussian intellectuals to out-and-out neo-Nazis.

A couple of examples just from recent memory — not even bothering to mention, for instance, the spate of nototriously whitewashed treatments of Richard Spencer or Stephen Bannon.

An article on the Hobby Lobby founders’ campaign to pillage historical artifacts treats their obvious fundamentalist ideology with kid gloves, soft-pedaling every time they obviously intend to push a historically incoherent “literalism” behind the thinnest camouflage of scholarship or public education.

A profile of a reactionary opportunist drawn to the Bannonite clash-of-civilizations axis of the Trump administration offers nothing but baffled head-scratching at its subject’s utterly typical rich-rightist life path and intellectual formation — as if dutifully parroting some theory while enrolled at the University of Chicago had ever entailed non-reactionary ideological commitments (or anything but pure climbing opportunism).

Journalists seem to have very little ability even to recognize these ideologies by their typical features, much less willingness to identify them by name in print. And this has allowed the far right, often enough extremely well-funded and willing to organize for the long term, to wage covert ideological campaigns — saying one thing in private, among insiders and funders and committed long-march ideologues, while remaining unchallenged in its construction of an entirely different, sanitized and liberal-palatable public face. And from the Hayek-and-Huntington intellectual front to the Dominionist churches to the neo-Nazis, this has allowed them far too much freedom of maneuver and room to organize for power. The American commentariat’s incredibly narrow political blinders will continue to bear fruit for the right.

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