ONE of the gentler quips uttered by the writer and thinker H.L. Mencken was that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. By the same token, nobody ever went broke overestimating the anger of the American people. The country is in an unusually flammable mood. This being America, there are plenty of businesspeople around to monetise the fury—to foment it, manipulate it and spin it into profits. These are the entrepreneurs of outrage and barons of bigotry who have paved the way for Donald Trump’s rise.

The very first of them was Rush Limbaugh who, back in the 1980s, transformed himself from a disc jockey into a radio commentator. Mr Limbaugh shook up the ossified talk-show format by dispensing with the tedious call-ins and adding anarchic humour. Soon an army of “ditto-head” followers hung on his every word. He has 13m regular listeners and hundreds of imitators, ranging from national stars such as Sean Hannity to local ranters.

The second entrepreneur of outrage was Roger Ailes, a Republican operative who teamed up with Rupert Murdoch to build Fox News. Mr Ailes took talk radio and added TV...Continue reading