Liberals keep underestimating right-wing politics because they ignore the vast, influential propaganda machine driving popular conservative ideology

Liberals keep underestimating right-wing politics because they ignore the vast, influential propaganda machine driving popular conservative ideology
Conservative radio show host Mark Levin speaks during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) 2016 at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, outside Washington, March 4, 2016. Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto/Getty Images
  • Conservative radio host Mark Levin's "American Marxism" has been the #1 non-fiction bestseller for 6 weeks.
  • Books like this might seem laughable to those on the left, but we need to pay attention.
  • There's a massive and growing conservative culture industry that has a significant impact.
  • P.E. Moskowitz is an author, runs Mental Hellth, a newsletter about capitalism and psychology, and is a contributing opinion writer for Insider.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

Currently, five of the top ten nonfiction best sellers in the United States are right-wing screeds about dire threats to our country: the internet and new media companies are destroying the American family, COVID is a conspiracy to take away your civil liberties, "the left" is imposing authoritarianism, and a lack of patriotism threatens to divide us to the core. And, most popular and worrisome, in the number one spot for six weeks in a row, is "American Marxism," a new book by the conservative radio host Mark Levin that posits Marxist theory has infected every facet of American life.

Levin's book has sold more than 700,000 copies since being released in late July, according to Publisher's Weekly. That's more than the next nine books on the bestseller list combined.

There's nothing particularly unique about "American Marxism." For decades, conservatives have sold millions of books by penning fear-mongering diatribes about an impending or in-progress anti-conservative revolution that threatens to destroy the very fabric of the US.


But this conservative publishing apparatus has become increasingly effective at winning the minds of conservative Americans and creating a completely separate ecosystem of information that rivals the mainstream media, providing the right with alternative views of the world that are mostly detached from reality.

Though many Americans are probably aware of the fear-mongering of much conservative media, most don't understand just how powerful this media landscape has become, and just how dangerous it is. What we see as sudden debates over disparate political controversies like Critical Race Theory, anti-trans sports bills, anti-mask and anti-COVID restriction laws, and laws and crackdowns targeting Black Lives Matter protesters, start as fodder in books like "American Marxism."

Because our media landscape is so bifurcated, by the time progressives, leftists, and others opposed to draconian conservative policies hear of these controversies, it's too late - tens of millions of Americans have already made up their minds after reading conservative bestsellers, being bombarded with stories from outlets ever farther to the right than Fox News (like OAN), and listening to some of the most popular podcasts in the country - and thus any attempt at reaching across the aisle or having a rational discussion becomes impossible.


If we have any hope of challenging this conservative media dominance, we must become aware that conservatives don't simply see things differently than the rest of the country - they're operating on a completely different set of information.

American misinformation

"Once a mostly unrelatable, fringe, and subterranean movement, it is here - [Marxism] is everywhere," Levin writes in his first chapter. "You, your children, and your grandchildren are now immersed in it, and it threatens to destroy the greatest nation ever established, along with your freedom, family, and security."

"American Marxism" starts off crazy, and gets increasingly unhinged. According to Levin, nearly everything is a front for Marxist revolution: Black Lives Matter, antifa, Joe Biden and the Democrats writ large, all schooling from grade school to university, the very concepts of racial and gender equality, environmentalism, and unions. Even the existence of cities is a Marxist plot.


Levin spends much of the book incorrectly summarizing the theories of Marx and some of his adherents. The book is so sloppily written that Levin calls the Frankfurt School "the Franklin School" several times.

Levin's book is a Greatest Hits of conservative paranoia. Many right-wing books have been written about antifa, Black Lives Matter, the supposed communist agenda of the Democrats, and why schools are liberal indoctrination machines, but few have posited that they're all part of the same machine designed by Karl Marx over 150 years ago.

What's interesting about Levin's book is that it takes a page from Marxist analysis itself - it views the world systemically, seeing our culture as a product of institutions and power structures not individuals. In that way, it's slightly smarter than many similar right-wing manifestos. But Levin's analysis of who is actually in power is completely fabricated - it's hard to take seriously the idea that Democrats love Marxism when they criminalize homelessness. It's hard to take seriously that academia is a communist plot when administrators make millions a year, faculty are paid poverty wages, and schools routinely fire professors for espousing leftist beliefs.


Ultimately, what Levin's book is best at is convincing conservatives that everyone who is in reality a victim of the systems he criticizes - women, trans people, people of color, poor people - is actually an oppressor. The "true" victims are the conservatives reading his book.

After hammering home this false victimhood, Levin suggests that "patriots" fight back, and gets terrifyingly close to suggesting violent revolt against everything from colleges to protesters. (Levin doesn't directly call for violence, but instead hints that people should feel inspired by soldiers of various American wars, especially the American Revolution, and take the country back from their oppressors.)

Turning information into action

The publication of a book filled with lies is perhaps not in itself worrying, but "American Marxism" has become the crown jewel of an ever-growing media ecosystem that has an increasing impact on politics. The book is a sign of a much larger phenomenon that most Americans probably haven't grasped the scale of.


Over the last few years, mainstream publishing houses have started several conservative imprints that publish wildly popular books that are meant to counter mainstream conversations about race, class, gender, capitalism, and the role of politics in our lives. Though these books often sell hundreds of thousands of copies, they are, like "American Marxism," largely ignored by the mainstream press and by Americans not predisposed to agree with their authors. Conservative imprints publish them, the conservative media hypes them up, and conservatives buy them - all while the rest of us get to ignore just how large an impact they're having.

Though it makes sense that liberals, progressives, and leftists wouldn't want to read these books, it also comes at a cost: We don't see how successfully conservatives have been fed misinformation that then turns into action. We've failed to grasp how large and powerful the conservative propaganda apparatus is. We write off the vaccine conspiracy theorists, the election conspiracy theorists, the anti-trans obsessives as irrational actors who we can largely ignore, instead of grappling with the fact that they're part of an incredibly effective and well-funded machine that successfully implements ultra-conservative policy.

Currently, 28 states are attempting to restrict or have already restricted what students learn in public schools about race and racism, with some states going so far as banning teachers from suggesting that the United States is culpable in racism. The GOP is hoping to win the midterm elections by focusing on the same issues brought up by "American Marxism," like race and immigration, sexual orientation, and gender.


This conservative information ecosystem is why one-third of Americans believe the last presidential election was stolen, and partly why so many Americans are skeptical of COVID vaccines.

There's no simple solution to this dangerous information-to-action pipeline because it's already so large and powerful. Instead, we must take small actions to counter it - protests against publishers for publishing racist, misinformation-filled books are a start.

But we also must rethink how we deal with conservatives in our families, our communities, and at the organizing level. When we're operating on completely different sets of information, it's impossible to have rational conversations. Until we realize just how deeply affected much of the country has become by this ecosystem of lies and fear-mongering, we'll be unprepared to fight the policies it produces.