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Reviews |  The Modern Right Snake Oil Theory

You don’t hear a lot about “economic anxiety”. Most observers agree that the rise of the Trumpist right was driven by racial and social antagonism, not economic populism.

Yet there is an economic element to political extremism, but not what you might think. Right-wing extremists, and to some extent even more mainstream conservative media, rely on financial support from companies selling nutritional supplements and miracle cures – and this financial support is arguably a major factor in pushing the right to become more extreme. . Indeed, right-wing extremism is not just an ideological movement that obtains a lot of money from the sellers of snake oil; some of his extremism can probably be seen not as a reflection of any deep conviction, but as a way to promote snake oil.

Consider where we are now in the fight against Covid-19. A few months ago, it seemed likely that the development of effective vaccines would soon end the pandemic. Instead, it continues, with hospitalizations approaching their peak last winter. This is in part due to the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant, but it also crucially reflects the refusal of many Americans to get vaccinated.

And much of this refusal is political. Granted, many people who refuse to get vaccinated are not Trumpists, but there is a strong negative correlation between Donald Trump’s share of a county vote and vaccinations. In July, 86% of self-identified Democrats said they had received a vaccine, but only 54% of Republicans did.

But vaccine refusals are not only rejecting life-saving vaccines, they are also turning to life-threatening alternatives. We are seeing increased sales – and poisoning by – of ivermectin, which is typically used to deworm livestock, but was recently featured on social media and Fox News as a cure for Covid.

OK, I didn’t see it coming. But I should have. As historian Rick Perlstein has pointed out, there is a long association between the peddlers of quack medicine and right-wing extremists. They are aimed more or less at the same audience.

That is, Americans who are willing to believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and that Italian satellites were used to pass the votes to Joe Biden are also the kind of people who are willing to believe that the medical elites are theirs. lie and that they can solve their health problems. by ignoring professional advice and buying patented drugs instead.

Once you are made aware of the connection between snake oil and right-wing politics, you realize that it is ubiquitous.

This is clearly true in the fever swamps of the Right. Alex Jones of Infowars has built a following by pushing conspiracy theories, but he makes money selling nutritional supplements.

This is also true, however, for the dominant parts of the right. For example, Ben Shapiro, considered a right-wing intellectual, peddles supplements.

See who is advertising on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News. After Fox itself, the main advertisers are My Pillow, followed by three supplement companies.

Snake oil peddlers clearly find right-wing news consumers and subject matter experts a valuable market for their wares. So it shouldn’t be surprising to find many right-wing Americans willing to see vaccination as a liberal conspiracy and turn to questionable alternatives – although, again, I didn’t see any dewormer coming for it. livestock.

The interesting question, however, is to what extent the link between right-wing politics and the commercialization of snake oil has shaped the political landscape.

In other words, extremism offers great financial rewards, because extreme politics sells patented drugs, and patented drugs are very profitable. (In 2014, Alex Jones’ operations brought in over $ 20 million in revenue a year, mostly from selling supplements.) Do these financial rewards make pundits more extreme? It would be surprising if they didn’t – as conservative economists say, incentives matter.

The extremism of media figures radicalizes their audience, prompting politicians to become more extreme.

So you can see how vaccination has become such a flash point. Getting shot is a priority for a Democratic president, which automatically generates intense hostility among people who want to see Joe Biden fail. And these people were already prepared to reject medical expertise and believe in quack cures.

Everyone on the right must have noticed that even Donald Trump was booed recently when he told attendees at a rally that they should get the shot. He probably won’t say it again, and future Trumps certainly won’t.

None of this would happen if it weren’t for a climate of anger and mistrust for unscrupulous pundits and politicians to be exploited. But the fact that extremism sells patented drugs creates a financial incentive to become more extreme.

You could argue that part of the reason America’s democracy is at risk is because the snake oil sellers – not bad political ideas, but real bad drugs – have pulled off this weird trick.

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