Published September 7, 2021 in The Cause of All Mankind

"Owning the Libs"
How the Spite Right Became the Trump Right
by Barry Loberfeld

In 2006, published my “‘Sock It to the Left!’ The Rise of the Spite Right.” A few other libertarian sites picked it up, with a left-of-center mention here and there. The essay documented how most conservatives came to have no goal other than being against whatever they imagined that “the Left” was for. Their main target originally had been what they saw as pro-peace radicals (whom they reflexively countered by siding with George W. Bush’s “War on Terror,” in spite of the lack of any evidence linking Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein), but their scope steadily widened to include even the most mainstream Democrats.

Rereading it today, I’m struck by what I left out: a quotation from C. Eric Lincoln’s The Black Muslims in America that said (well, as I remember it) something to the effect that a religion needs a Devil even more than it needs a God. By 2006 the Spite Right (as I dubbed the movement) had certainly found its Devil in “the Left,” but not long thereafter the darnedest thing happened: Satan made a personal appearance.

Barack HUSSEIN Obama served perfectly as the individual focus for all Spite Right demonization. They would cast him in every guise of Antichrist: Marxist, Islamist, Liberation Theologian—anything, with no concern about even contradiction. And Spite Right logic dictated opposition to everything Obama did, even when he tried to extend an olive branch by adopting GOP positions—something he himself noted over the years.

But the apocalyptic arrival of Satan demanded the advent of a Savior. It wouldn’t be John McCain, who in a decisive moment defended Obama as a “good man.” Donald J. Trump took command of the Spite Right by obeying it. A canny businessman, he sold them what they wanted: “I have people that have been studying [Obama's birth certificate] and they cannot believe what they’re finding.” No, he didn’t, but the Spite Right didn’t want facts. Nobody nightly watches Fox News (as opposed to the “liberal media”) because they want facts. They want sermons about the evil of the Devil—and about the Messiah leading the struggle against him. (And they want those sermons from preachers who themselves are True Believers, e.g., Dan Bongino: “My entire life right now is about owning the libs. That’s it.”)

Trump used the villainizing of Obama to consolidate conservatism's sects. The Evangelical Right also didn’t love any of Obama's imputed identities, and the Racist Right’s hatred of him was, to put it mildly, a given. The latter saw Trump’s campaign comments about Muslims and Mexicans as an invite to the party (indeed, the Party), and they RSVPed with “Unite the Right.” Here, too, Spite Right logic dictated what position to take: pas d’ennemis à droite. After all, when evil is defined as only being in some sense “Left,” who emerges as the most virtuous—the most principled—but the Farthest Right?

We all know the rest of this history. What people keep asking is: Will “Trumpism” survive Trump? But as we’ve just seen, it preceded him. If the GOP didn’t feel the need to cobble together a party platform for its 2020 convention, it wasn’t because Republicans were committed to supporting whatever Trump says, but because Trump was committed to opposing whatever the “Demon-crats” are for. The Spite Right is the GOP platform.

So, it's irrelevant that Trump knew early on how dangerous COVID was—or that Fox’s Tucker Carlson initially took the pandemic quite seriously. Once “the Left” accepted the science, the Spite Right demanded total opposition to it. Why don’t so many Republicans wear masks (“face diapers”)—or champion vaccination? Because Democrats do. What happened (pre-Trump) with climate change, happened with COVID.*

It will happen again no matter what the situation. Even though Donald Trump has left the scene (or at least the White House), the Devil of “the Left” continues to haunt the Spite Right, who now see that “Left” not only in partisan politics but in everyone—journalists, scientists, doctors, teachers, law enforcement, the military (e.g., Carlson calling Gen. Mark Milley a “pig”), business leaders, entertainers, athletes—who themselves are not part of the contrary Spite Right and its cult of “alternative facts.”

“It seems to be almost a law of human nature,” observed Friedrich Hayek in The Road to Serfdom, “that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program—on the hatred of an enemy, [for example] . . . than on any positive task. The contrast between the ‘we’ and the ‘they,’ the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action.”

*Postscript: I ended the 2006 article with: “Such is the mad logic of the Spite Right that if known ‘liberals’ ever officially came out against disease, these latter-day ‘conservatives’ would unsheathe their daggers in defense of any and all diseases. The only remaining question: Would the Spite Rightists continue to practice the anti-Leftism they preach if said Left ever came out against suicide?