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How did a completely open grifter get elected president of the United States?

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This, I suspect, is the single most crucial question that historians will grapple with when they try to interpret the Trump era in American politics:

Consider that the National Review — the closest thing there is to an official house organ of “respectable” right wing opinion in this country — ran a piece in February of 2016 describing Trump University as “a massive scam,” and making clear that this description was meant to be understood in the most literal way. (In other words, Trump University was a scam in the way Bernie Madoff’s investment funds were scams rather than in the way the Western Michigan Thomas M. Cooley Law School is a scam).

And of course the Trump University saga is merely of a piece with the rest of Donald Trump’s career.

Basically, the United States’s political system made Bernie Madoff president after Madoff had been exposed — many, many times. This would seem to require some explanation. How, for example, did it come to be that Hillary Clinton’s less than optimal email security practices somehow ended up getting much more elite media attention than the fact — the literal, unambiguous, unchallenged fact — that the Republican party had nominated a career grifter and scam artist to be president of the United States?

The answer is no doubt very complicated, and will end up generating an enormous scholarly and popular literature over the next few centuries, assuming the continuance of a literate species, but one clue can be found here:

Local television stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group are set to air a conspiracy theory over the weekend that suggests Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, was responsible for the creation of the coronavirus.

The baseless conspiracy theory is set to air on stations across the country in a segment during the program “America This Week” hosted by Eric Bolling. The show, which is posted online before it is broadcast over the weekend, is distributed to Sinclair Broadcast Group’s network of local television stations, one of the largest in the country. A survey by Pew Research Group earlier this year showed that local news was a vital source of information on the coronavirus for many Americans, and more trusted than the media overall.

In this week’s episode of the show, Bolling spoke with Judy Mikovits, the medical researcher featured in the discredited “Plandemic” video that went viral earlier this year and which was banned from platforms such as Facebook and YouTube. Throughout the segment, the on-screen graphic read, “DID DR. FAUCI CREATE COVID-19?” Bolling also spoke with Mikovits’ attorney, Larry Klayman, a right-wing lawyer who also has a history of pushing misinformation and representing conspiracy theorists.

Sinclair owns or operates 294 television stations across the United States. It essentially controls how huge numbers of people in an enormous percentage of the nation get their news.

Sinclair, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Zuckerberg, and increasingly, QAnon and its ilk — not the New York Times, or NPR, or even the deplorable National Review — determines what is “true” in this country, or in enough of this country to get someone like Donald Trump into the presidency.

Or at least that is a big part of the increasingly nightmarish story we are now living every day.

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