One recent morning, after the release of Donald Trump’s Tic Tac tape and his subsequent mansplanation about locker-room talk, Glenn Beck clicked on a video of Michelle Obama campaigning for Hillary Clinton in a New Hampshire gymnasium.
From The New Yorker
The First Lady ripped into Trump’s comments, calling them “disgraceful” and “intolerable,” and adding, “It doesn’t matter what party you belong to—Democrat, Republican, Independent—no woman deserves to be treated this way.” Beck was mesmerized. On his radio program that day, he heralded Obama’s remarks as “the most effective political speech I have heard since Ronald Reagan.”
“Those words hit me where I live,” Beck said the other day. He was speedwalking up Eighth Avenue with his wife, son, and daughter, all in from Toronto. “If you’re a decent human being, those words were dead on.”
Decency is a fresh palette for Beck, who, at Fox, used to scribble on a chalkboard while launching into conspiratorial rants about looming Weimar-esque hyperinflation, Barack Obama’s ties to radicals with population-cleansing schemes, and a Marxist-Islamist cabal itching to take over America. He once described Clinton as “a stereotypical bitch” and accused Obama of being a racist with a “deep-seated hatred for white people.”
That was the old Beck, he insists: “I did a lot of freaking out about Barack Obama.” But, he said, “Obama made me a better man.” He regrets calling the President a racist and counts himself a Black Lives Matter supporter. “There are things unique to the African-American experience that I cannot relate to,” he said. “I had to listen to them.”
Beck’s interactions with Donald Trump helped, too. He told a story of Trump summoning him to a guest room at Mar-a-Lago; Trump then telephoned him from an adjacent room. “We had this weird, almost Howard Hughes-like conversation,” Beck said. He left convinced that Trump was nuts. “This guy is dangerously unhinged,” he said. “And, for all the things people have said about me over the years, I should be able to spot Dangerously Unhinged.”
Beck went on, “What’s most tragic about this is us. We have, as a culture, embraced the bad guys. I love Tony Soprano. But, when a Tony Soprano shows up in your life, you don’t love him so much.
“We’ve made everything into a game show,” he said, “and now we’re reaping the consequences of it.” Some of this may be Beck’s own doing. Trump’s conspiracy-peddling and doomsaying? That’s vintage Beck, who said that the Fourth of July used to move him to tears. But now, he said, our politicians and bankers have become crooks, our wars meaningless, and our values lost. “I’m at a Dadaist time in my life,” he said. “So much of what I used to believe was either always a sham or has been made into a sham. There’s nothing deep.”
Beck, who was wearing a cardigan, a cream-colored scarf, and green pants, was flanked by two bodyguards. The alt-right sees him as a turncoat. He receives death threats. “These people scare the hell out of me,” he said. Some of them are his former followers, perhaps angry at him for disowning their beliefs while continuing to cash in on their insecurities. (Beck’s Web site still runs ads for goods favored by survivalists—gold ingots, concealed-gun harnesses, and food kits called My Patriot Supply.)
At Fifty-fourth Street, he came upon the Hilton, where, in 1979, his idol, Ronald Reagan, announced his Presidential bid. (The Gipper was unimpressed by the “pigeon-crap-encrusted metropolis.”) “Reagan didn’t believe in the government,” Beck said. “He didn’t believe in the party. He believed in the people.”
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