"Hate is a more powerful motivator than love." According to the new Netflix documentary "Get Me Roger Stone," that is one of the "rules" the self-described Republican "agent provocateur" has lived by. Stone, of course, is a showman. The "evil political operator" pose is to some degree an artifice -- a brand he's selling. Still, his style of politics has now moved from the wings to center stage. We're engaged in an experiment to see how much damage we can do to our society by adopting Stone's rules.
The new Stone documentary (clearly produced by left-leaning filmmakers) forms a precise bookend to the 2016 documentary "Weiner" that followed former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner throughout his pyrotechnic downfall. Weiner's bid for the mayoralty of New York City -- for those lucky enough to have forgotten the details -- was derailed by revelations that he had not put his addiction to sexting with strangers behind him. To watch the cringe-inducing Anthony Weiner (estranged husband of Hillary Clinton's "body man" Huma Abedin) permit cameras to record not just mortifying encounters with his wife but also the candidate spinning lies for public consumption is to see the peculiarly 21st century disease of narcissism at a high water mark. Not even when the most humiliating details of his behavior were being ogled by the whole world did Weiner consider telling the trailing documentarians to turn off the cameras.
The Weiner saga bubbled back to the surface, like a herpes outbreak, in October 2016, when the FBI found that Huma Abedin had apparently forwarded emails to Weiner's laptop, thus potentially passing national secrets to an unsecure device, and James Comey announced that the investigation into the Clinton emails was back on.
Stone is the Republican y in to Weiner's yang. He proffers bits of philosophy such as "It's better to be infamous than never to be famous at all." He achieved his infamy the way Weiner did -- with a flamboyant sex scandal, when he was working on the Dole presidential campaign in 1996. Those were the days, children, when being a "swinger" was enough to discredit a Republican, and Stone was banished.
He returned, trailing sulfur as cologne, with the candidacy of Donald Trump. Stone apparently encouraged Trump to push the "birther" conspiracy. He gleefully initiated chants of "Lock her up!" at Trump rallies, threw an encouraging arm around the shoulders of InfoWars conspiracy peddler Alex Jones, called Julian Assange a "hero" and overtly warned Republican delegates who might consider voting for another candidate at the Republican Convention in Cleveland that his operatives had their "hotel room numbers."
Stone was separated from the Trump campaign at some point, though he claims to have continuing contact with the president, and he certainly set a tone.
So this is the world we inhabit now -- where pathological narcissism goes either unrecognized or at least unpunished. Stone and Weiner were not ejected from the national bloodstream. Both were/are incredibly close to the leaders of our parties. How is that possible for a healthy republic?
It isn't. We're not healthy right now. We are in a state of perpetual partisan rage; a fever stoked by interests who are making money from the clown-show ratings. CNN and MSNBC do wall-to-wall outrage, 24/7, about each and every Trump misstep (and they come thick and fast) -- keeping the needle more or less permanently dialed to 11. They perpetually label Trump a "conservative" only because they despise Trump and they loathe conservatives and assume that the two must be coterminous.
Fox News has become, with a few rare exceptions, the Trump Ministry of Information -- minimizing every mistake, justifying every outrage as a legitimate response to the "media frenzy" against him, and highlighting every hot-button news story that can enrage/frighten viewers about campus authoritarians, illegal immigrants, terrorists and Democrats.
The Trump presidency could only be possible in a country that makes few distinctions between fame and notoriety, and that has been rubbed raw by ceaseless incitement. Throughout his career, Trump did one thing extraordinarily well -- keep himself the center of attention. His talent for controversy and "trolling" kept him successful and famous. "He fights," people noted admiringly. Yes, but only for himself. As we're seeing, now that serious blunders are becoming an almost daily affair, incessant belligerence is exhausting for everyone and self-sabotaging for Trump. It turns out that swinging a mace in all directions is not "just what Washington, D.C., needed," far less the country.
But the ratings are great.