Political Identity and the Therapeutic Work of U.S. Conservative Media
This essay contends that much of the emotional energy of contemporary U.S. conservatism comes from attachments to conservatism as a social identity. Drawing on observations from years of studying conservative news texts and interviewing conservative news consumers, I argue that today’s most popular, secular conservative media tell an overarching story of conservatism as an identity facing the threat of stigma from liberal elites, liberal cultural institutions, and allied left agitators. These narratives reinforce a sense among audiences that liberals are intent on shaming conservatives and relegating them to a category of morally-flawed persons unfit to participate in public life. Conservative media serves as a resource for therapeutic support once such a threat has been invoked—providing positive affirmations of conservative identity, defenses against liberal attacks, and discrediting the threatening outgroup. I discuss implications that this approach to political identity and media narratives has for analyzing cultural processes sustaining conservative populist mobilization.