In the past few weeks Glenn Beck has spoken about the coming caliphate that he believes is about to envelope most of the world. He then dilated on the anti-Christ with a man who says he has “new prophetic understanding into the end times.” In 2009, this self-proclaimed prophet wrote a column titled “What Obama and the Anti-Christ Have in Common.” Then, on a recent show, the discussion focused on the coming Islamic anti-Christ. And earlier this week, an irate, bellicose Beck spoke about the “perfect storm” America faces. “I can’t honestly believe we’re finally here,” he said in praising his own prescience. In his version of events, Beck is the solitary Voice of Truth willing to expose the New World Order (complete with references to Van Jones and Code Pink).
It’s hard to tell how much of what Beck says is sincere and how much is for show. Whatever the case, and even taking into account the entire MSNBC lineup, Glenn Beck has become the most disturbing personality on cable television. One cannot watch him for any length of time without being struck by his affinity for conspiracies and for portraying himself as the great decoder of events. Political movements are not just wrong; they are infiltrated by a web of malevolent forces. Others see the shadows on the wall; Beck alone sees the men casting them. The danger when one paints the world in such conspiratorial terms is that it devalues the rational side of politics. It encourages a cast of mind that looks to expose enemies rather than to engage in arguments. Few things, after all, are as they appear.
Beyond that, of course, is the sense of impending doom, of the coming Apocalypse, of our world being on the edge of calamity. If taken seriously, this has the effect of creating fear, hopelessness, and feelings of helplessness.
All this is quite troublesome in its own right. But what ought to worry conservatives in particular is that Beck not only has the unusual capacity to discredit virtually every cause he takes up; he also confirms the worst caricatures of the right. What was true before is doubly true today. It looks to me like it’s only a matter of time — and I suspect not much time — until he blows apart professionally. If and when that happens, one can only hope that conservatism as a movement will have created enough distance from Beck to mitigate the damage.