Burke is correct in claiming that the issues of far-right political beliefs have been an unfortunate constant in the United States for decades. Donald Trump’s presidency (and the use of the agencies granted him through such a position) was only the lamp that shed light on the dark underbelly of toxic American right-wing beliefs that has been growing in the shadows. Trump gets all the credit he deserves for facilitating the growth of far-right extremism and propaganda, but the conditions that allowed for him to popularize them so well had been set before Trump came to office. The most logical explanation comes from consistent patterns of Republican toleration for such extremist behaviors.
Yes, Qanon and other far right propaganda efforts left unchecked have been successful in deteriorating the Republican party, but they aren’t the only ones who have suffered because of unchecked popularity. American democracy in its entirety has been put at risk. The Democratic party has naturally suffered as well. Since propaganda from groups like Qanon stems from right-wing political beliefs, the Democratic party has not had the same toleration for far-right extremism, and as a whole does not fall prey to ideologies promoted by Qanon propaganda and the like. However, the steady rise in far-right extremist ideologies and political figures has led to further polarization of the right and left, stretching the moderate center of politics further apart. This can cause some voters who may have aligned only slightly more towards the left to choose to sit out on electoral processes because they view the left and right as too polarized and are not confident enough to cast a vote for some political issues.
You can make an argument that propaganda is the primary cause that has led to an increase in political radicals, since its function is to persuade people to another side or perspective, and in fulfilling that function it would mean successfully altering a previous held thought. But there is evidence that propaganda may not even have such a strong effect of persuasion as was believed. Alain Locke proposed that propaganda is not effective much in convincing people to form new opinions about matters but is instead more functional in its ability to reaffirm the beliefs of individuals who already agree with the propaganda. Therefore, propaganda may not even do anything to persuade more people to a side than were already there, it only serves to make those people more confident in their beliefs.
With that being said, propaganda may not even be inherently bad! Think of the famous army recruitment poster of Uncle Sam pointing his finger at the American People, encouraging them to join the war effort for a just cause. In this case, propaganda served as a method of stoking the patriotic flame in the hearts of Americans and instilling in them a sense of pride and duty for their nation. The purpose was not to convince people something they didn’t already believe (surely Americans wanted to defend the nation they called home), but to reinforce a sense of patriotism already existing within citizens and driving them to then act on their already held beliefs, with confidence and a sense of fulfillment.
Burke touches on the idea that the Republican party has allowed for the rise in far-right extremism, however his argument is that radical right-wing propaganda has led to the deterioration of the GOP. I believe the argument should be the other way around – it is the deterioration of the GOP that has led to an increase in the levels of right-wing extremism which has been a serious threat to democracy. If there has truly always been a level of far-right extremism present in the United States, then the institutions of government should not have been affected much by this fact if they remained consistent throughout the years. But the rise in popularity of more extreme political figures, as Burke pointed out, indicates that there has been a change in the Republican party in order to allow for their prevalence and success in congress, and in the case of Donald Trump, the Presidency of the United States. The GOP has continued to tolerate far-right positions, in the desire to appease powerful figures with growing support in order to preserve the supremacy and authority of their own party in government. Unfortunately, being single-party conscious is not very helpful to preserving the unity of democracy as a whole, so it has led to severe deterioration in democratic standards and values in America.
Far-right propaganda is deeply responsible for the growing tensions in the U.S. and heightening tensions between voters. But the GOP has not done much to condemn the rise of extreme groups which has allowed for further deterioration and distrust in the governing system Americans live under. Perhaps an alternate title to Matthew Burke’s article could be “How Qanon Propaganda has influenced the GOP to Imperil American Democracy.”