During the Republican Party nomination process, Donald Trump infamously boasted that he could shoot somebody on New York’s Fifth Avenue and he wouldn’t lose any voters.
I was struck by shifting narratives over the past couple of days how that would play out. Imagine if Donald Trump did shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue?
The first thing you heard about it would be indistinct: “a shooting”, something about the President. Then footage from people’s phones would appear on Facebook and Twitter. There would be a kind of sick relief that the US President hadn’t been killed (with all the implications of civil conflict that carries) and a shocked realisation that he had actually shot somebody.
What happens next would be the comprehensible part. The exact events would be unclear and Trump’s motives would be unclear and the whole thing would feel unbelievable (naturally because it isn’t something likely to happen) but there wouldn’t be any moral doubt here. Clearly you can’t go around shooting people no matter who you are — least of all the President of the United States.
There would be a moment of bipartisan certainty and clarity. Trump would need to answer for what he had done. The circumstance would be surreal but the reaction would feel “normal” despite the unprecedented events.
There would be questions obviously. Some people would not unreasonably ask why the New York Police Department hadn’t immediately arrested Trump. Other would not unreasonably counter that obviously the Secret Service would have whisked him away — that’s their job regardless. It’s around this point you’d see the start of strangeness that follows. “It’s unfair to attack the police.” Somebody notable will say and briefly there will be an argument about that. Nobody will yet know the exact sequence of events yet but there will be competing scenarios appearing.
“We musn’t rush to judgement” somebody will say. They mean “we musn’t rush to judge whether the police should have immediately arrested Trump” or “we musn’t rush to judge whether the Secret Service should have stopped Trump shooting somebody”. It’s not an unreasonable point but its the start of a narrative roller coaster which will cast people as falling into two groups: those who “rush to judgement” and those who don’t. That casting into two groups will itself have little basis in fact and will ironically be its own kind of rush to judgement.
It’s around about now that we first begin to learn about the victim. This part will be heartbreaking. They’ll be a person who had a life. Briefly that moral clarity will re-assert itself as people see that it is a terrrible that a real person (made more real that they had a name) was shot. There will be more bipartisan calls that Trump answers for what he did. Somebody will point out again that the police didn’t arrest him, somebody will point out all the young black men shot by the police in the past year for far less cause. It’s a reasonable point — it is rhetorical, the implication isn’t that police should summarily execute people more consistently but that they shouldn’t do so at all. It will soon get twisted into something else. It will be called “mob justice”, even though Trump is safely in the Whitehouse under guard and there’s no actual danger of somebody from Twitter dragging him off to a kangaroo court. Supposedly wise heads will nod about “due process” even though there appears to zero danger of Trump being prosecuted too quickly. Indeed the clock is ticking for the NYPD to get forensic evidence from Trump.
A new story about the victim will suddenly appear and with it a strange set of questions. It might be a story about a crime they committed once or a leak that allegedly the police attending the scene found marijuana on them. People on Facebook will be asking why this person was even in such a dangerous neighbourhood, don’t people realise how easy it is to get shot in New York? If the victim is a child the extent to which they were nearly an adult will be exaggerated and/or people will ask why their parents let them wander about New York. If the victim is a woman, a photo from her Facebook page in which she is holding up a bottle of beer will circulate, or perhaps one where she is wearing something other than somber clothes. If the victim is a Muslim this will be underscored. If they are black, a photo intended to make them look menacing will circulate.
A section of the internet will claim that the victim is an actor. A picture of somebody who looks a bit like them will form part of a rambling account of places this ‘actor’ has appeared. Photos of somebody on an anti-Trump demonstration will be pointed at, circled in red. Is that them? “Funded by Soros” will appear on a page about the victim and by this point you’ll be unsure if the alt-right conspiracy theorists are claiming that the victim was a Muslim, a Jew or an atheist.
You’ll point to the horror of this demonisation of the victim and wise heads in the centre and moderate right will say “Like we said. Don’t rush to judgement. Look at all this social media nonsense.” When they say it they’ll point to both the rabid conspiracy theory about paid actors and that one tweet where somebody raised the issue of police shootings as if to say the two are equivalent.
“We don’t know what REALLY happened.” Says a wise head on the 24 Hour rolling coverage. That’s sort of true. Obviously you don’t. “Who knows what was going through his head?” The wise head says. “Nothing good” you think but you are distracted because the cable news channel you are watching needs to fill this rolling news coverage with something. All they have is past coverage about previous presidential shootings I.e. footage of past assassination attempts. Footage of Dealey Plaza and the Washington Hilton is on rotation because that’s all they have. There isn’t footage of past Presidents trying to shoot people. It’s not even an intentional attempt by the media to cast the president as a victim, it’s just one of those consequences of news coverage when people are hungry to know what has happened but there is nothing actually to report. Journalists and news anchors stand forlornly in “Live” feeds from outside the Whitehouse or from Fifth Avenue as if magically the events might repeat themselves.
“He felt threatened,” a spokesperson will say. Probably Gulliani. “His children are being very strong at this terrible time.” Says Sarah Sanders. “I can’t imagine what they are going through,” says a man with impeccable hair on the couch of Fox and Friends. Sympathetic coverage of Melania Trump will be rolling out on sympathetic media. “What about the victim’s family!” You’ll shout at the TV but the victims family have asked for privacy. They have no PR firm, no media contacts and the police have told them to say nothing. A cousin of the victim will be broadcast screaming in anger about what Trump did. He will look angry and unreasonable because he is upset and frustrated — who wouldn’t be? But a wise head will once again remind people “not to rush to judgement”.
“A man has a right to defend himself.” You will be told. There is more footage now. Leaked video from security cameras. It is circulated on social media before you see shorter versions of it on the news. In truth it tells you nothing you didn’t already know. CNN shows 3 minutes of the leaked video. “Why,” asks a viral Facebook post “did CNN edit out 1 minute of this crucial footage? What are the lying media hiding?” You’ve seen all four minutes and you know the answer is “nothing” but later on the news a Whitehouse spokesperson says the same thing.
Republicans who were vocal in that brief moment of bipartisan moral clarity are suddenly walking back their earlier comments. Everything they say now is more equivocal. “New facts have come to light,” they say but they can’t say what those new facts are. On right wing media the victim of the shooting is now routinely caricatured as demonic terrorist. Some overtly claim the victim was attempting to assassinate the President, others just imply that. More ‘moderate’ voices do not claim that the victim was definitely an assassin, just that it is important to keep your mind open and not “rush to judgement”. A mainstream news channel has two people debate the issue. “There’s NO evidence that anybody but Trump was an assassin!” Shouts one of the guest, clearly angry at the slanders against the victim. The moderate of the debate tells them to call down and that we shouldn’t rush to judgement.
The New York Times publishes a story that the victim and their family is being investigated by the FBI. In two years time you’ll read about how the story was literally true but that the investigation was a formality and arose only because Republican lawmakers had swamped the FBI with absurd claims about the victim that they had read on the internet.
You feel like you are in nightmare world now. The country is in three camps. On one side are people like yourself who think it is a simple issue: Trump shot somebody and he should be arrested. Meanwhile, Facebook and the right wing news media feels swamped with people CERTAIN that Trump bravely defended himself from a would be assassin who was a member of anti-fa and funded by George Soros. There a wise heads in the middle saying both sides need to calm down and listen to each other’s points so they can understand them better.
The victim’s family have gone into hiding and are under police protection.
The world keeps going of course. Eventually there are other events that push the story from the front pages: a hurricane, an earthquake, North Korea acting sketchy. Trump’s lawyers promise that the NYPD will get to interview him soon but they are keen to point out that due process applies to EVERYBODY.
A month later and Trump still hasn’t been interviewed. His lawyers and the DOJ are raising legal questions about the jurisdiction of the States and the separation of powers. They are making demands that the NY Attorney General can’t agree to. At the same time, Trump’s lawyers are complaining about the delays their own actions have caused, saying that the delays are preventing Trump for exonerating himself.
A month after that the shooting can only be understood on partisan lines. Trump has a fundraising letter portraying the demands he be interviewed by the NYPD as a witch-hunt and an attempt by the Deep State to undermine the democratic will of the American People.
The victim’s family are still in hiding. They are in constant fear from death threats.
You don’t know what to believe anymore. One day on a bus you see somebody in a MAGA hat and you just lose it and scream and shout at them. The video goes viral and you become the face of leftwing intolerance. The New York Times posts a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger editorial about how ugly the left has become. No wise heads say that people shouldn’t rush to judgement about you.
A year later, the shooting isn’t even the first thing people mention when they complain about Trump.
I’ve made several post now about how the evidence for wide scale voter fraud of any serious impact is rare. However, there does seem to be a serious case in North Carolina:
‘Enough confusion has clouded a North Carolina congressional race that the state’s board of elections has announced a delay in certifying that Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready in the state’s 9th District because of “claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities.”‘https://www.npr.org/2018/12/01/672531061/amid-fraud-allegations-state-election-board-wont-certify-north-carolina-house-ra
“In October, during the final stretch of the congressional election in North Carolina’s Ninth District—one of the most tightly contested House races in the nation—Datesha Montgomery opened her door, in Bladen County, to find a young woman who explained that she was collecting absentee ballots. “I filled out two names on the ballot—Hakeem Brown for Sheriff and Vince Rozier for board of education,” Montgomery wrote in an affidavit. Under North Carolina law, only voters themselves are allowed to handle or turn in their ballots, but the woman at Montgomery’s door “stated the [other races] were not important.” Montgomery added, “I gave her the ballot and she said she would finish it herself. I signed the ballot and she left. It was not sealed up at any time.”https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/allegations-of-gop-election-fraud-shake-north-carolinas-ninth-districtThere are apparently numerous anecdotes like that surrounding the Republican (surprise, surprise) candidate. However, as well as this anecdotal evidence there are numerical inconsistencies:
“In Bladen and Robeson Counties, Bitzer found that Harris won an unusually high share of mail-in absentee-ballot votes. Bladen was the only county where the Republican prevailed in the mail-in absentee vote, winning sixty-one per cent of the votes from mail-in ballots—despite registered Republicans accounting for only nineteen per cent of the county’s returned absentee ballots. To achieve that margin, Harris would have needed to win not only all of the Republican ballots, but almost every single mail-in vote from Independents, as well as a significant number of votes from crossover Democrats.”(as above)
It looks like the Republican Primary earlier in the year may have been tainted as well.
There’s an analysis of some of the numbers here that is well worth looking at: http://www.oldnorthstatepolitics.com/2018/11/ncs-closest-congressional-contest-gets.html#more
Noticeably, the many right-leaning sources of panic about voter fraud are oddly quite about this North Carolina case even though it would appear to be one of the few credible instances of large scale fraud having a significant impact on a result.
A recurring theme when looking at the media-right (and so much of the modern right is about its interaction or control of entertainment and news media) is the layers of grift, scams, self-promotion and get-rich-quick schemes.
The money fueling the right has long derived from rich donors such as the Koch brothers and the Mercer family. Added to this have been relatively wealthy children who fuel their media careers off inherited wealth — both models depend on the deep income inequalities in modern Western society and the concentration of wealth.
The third element is the attempt to pull in money from more distributed sources. YouTube advertising revenues are an obvious source but I’d add book sales and more general website advertising as well. What is not clear is how much the alt-right is fueled from above and how much from below.
With the specific focus on science-fiction media, the question has been the extent to which an outfit like Castalia House is a hobby funded out of Vox Day’s pocket versus it being a going concern pulling in cash from Vox Day’s followers. Clearly there are elements of both but at the end of the day, does one source exceed another?
I doubt we’ll know the answer to such questions anytime soon but here’s an interesting data point. Milo Yiannopolous has suffered multiple setbacks of late:
- He was ostracised by conservatives because of his stated views on under-age sex
- His book was cancelled by a major publisher (Simon & Schuster) and he had to self-publish it
- Robert Mercer family stopped funding him
- His own attempt at a Milo-branded media website flopped
- He attempted to sue Simon & Schuster because of the book cancellation and then had to drop the lawsuit
- His speaking tour of Australia got cancelled due to lack of interest leading to further legal woes
- He was banned from PayPal after using the service to send anti-semitic content to a Jewish journalist
In relation to that Australian tour, a series of Tweets appeared today purporting to have court documents about Milo’s finances. Now, the authenticity of these documents haven’t been verified but they appear to be genuine.
The ‘running debt’ spreadsheet has some familiar names on it:
The debts all appear to be money owed from columns on Milo’s “Dangerous.com” website (e.g. John senior wrote about four columns and Jon junior wrote some columns and some news articles) It’s small sums of money that most of these names are owed but collectively it looks like Milo has lots of debts and very little income.
Although this sheds some light on the inner finances of one “alt-lite” media figure, the core questions remain. What has hit Milo hardest? The loss of patronage from the Mercers or the loss of the more distributed income due to PayPal closing access?
For the time being, we can all appreciate that somebody who set out to ruin many people’s lives is having a hard time paying their bills.
When P.Z. Myers is cited positively and unironically by Vox Day, you know there’s something amiss with the universe. There’s heresy in the air and right-on-right attacks going down.
On the one hand, we have Jordan Peterson: transphobic right-wing purveyor of semi-coherent self-help books for people frightened by women going to university. On the other hand, we have Vox Day: a man who regards the terrorist child-murder Anders Brevik as a hero and who pushes a violent nationalism based on pseudo-scientific race theories. While we could see Peterson as at least being more moderate than Day, we can’t ignore that Peterson is a kind of gateway drug into the morass of confused thinking based on male resentment at a changing society. What Vox has in toxicity, Peterson has twice as much in reach.
Who is the more appalling of the two? Perhaps we need another candidate…
[more appalling people after the fold]
There’s an on-going discussion among the opinion columns of America’s centre about directions for the Democratic Party. The choice isn’t simply binary (head left or head right) because, in principle and in past practice, US political political parties have had the capacity to head off in multiple directions at the same time. However, with congress increasingly voting along party lines and an apparently more entrenched electorate, the binary choice is worth looking at.
Obviously, I’d rather the Democratic Pary headed left: I’m a leftist, I’m biased that way. Even so, there’s more going on here and I’d like to suggest that centrists should want the Democratic Party to head left also.
To start with a key assumption is that the US is not going to stop being dominated electorally by two parties. Yes, other countries have more but to have n>2 requires parliamentary government for starters and more convivial voting systems. The UK has effectively 2.5 political parties (two big ones plus the Lib Dems and nationalist parties). Australia has, say 2.8 with Labour versus the Liberal+National coalition, plus The Greens, plus sundry others. It’s hard even with the kind of positive electoral conditions to get a genuine three party democracy (i.e. three roughly equal players) – perhaps impossible. It’s either less than 3 or lots and lots (and even then two main sets of coalitions). I could imagine the US have strong regional parties but this is not something that appears to be happening.
A second key aspect follows on from the two party dominance. US elections are as much about turnout as about shifting voters from one party to another.
A last aspect is that the Republican Party is the political equivalent of a landfill site full of car tires on fire. Whatever it may have been in the past, since at least the Nixon era it has been sliding into a political position that is actively harmful to its own country and harmful to electoral process.
So either you are or you can imagine being somebody who wants nice, stable centrist politics that are nice for capitalism but not too horrible to poor people and not too many taxes etc etc. What should you want? The Republican Party isn’t moving and try to coax it leftwards is rather like trying to reason with the aforementioned burning landfill. So it is tempting to imagine that the Democrats should hold the centre. This is an error, not just because actually you shouldn’t be a centrist but because it doesn’t get you what you want.
Let me use some non-scientific but conceptual schematics. Here is what a centrist should want or might believe was the case in the past.
That nominal centre moves over time but two major parties fight over it but from different directions. There are (in this imagined world) Republicans who more closely resemble Democrats (and vice versa) both as voters and in legislatures. Further to the left and to the right are people with political views who may be active in some ways but are not engaged electorally. Whether this has ever really been the case is an open question but it is safe to say that it doesn’t resemble the current situation and that the current situation is, if anything, moving further from this scenario.
Here’s what I think the current situation looks like (again not scientific or actually quantified and with all the flaws in scrunching complex ideologies into a single axis).
The Republicans have engaged the disengaged right. The rise of Trump has (to varying degrees) helped engage the disengaged left. However, the GOP is pretty much under the control of ideas much further to the right, whereas the Democratic Party is still pretty much what is was anyway – a centrist party.
What looks tempting is the electoral space being created by this heavy rightward shift of the GOP as well as its policy incompetence. I’ve described before the typology of voters in the US and there’s an increasingly clear gap between how the GOP projects itself and more socially-progressive but fiscally conservative sections of the population. Those business conservatives may still vote with their pockets for the GOP to get their tax cuts.
Put another way, there is a space for a political party in my schematics, shown with a red dotted outline. The GOP isn’t going to fill that space and so, a pundit at say the New York Times etc might look at that space and see electoral gold.
If it exists, then the choice seems obvious. The Democrats could ditch the left, head a bit (but not to far) right and pull in votes from the GOP, who will end up banished to the outer darkness. Like so:
What it would do in practice is to leave the GOP as it is (landfill full of tires etc see above) and lose the Democrats votes on the left. Yes, obviously the left aren’t going to vote GOP but they become less likely to vote all round or campaign electorally.
Worse, a centrist should want a PLURALIST system. This model has a reasonable but right-of-centre party versus a party that is actively dangerous to democracy and national stability. Either you’d have to hope for one party to be in power for ever or the GOP to fix itself. However, the capacity for the GOP to fix itself is actively undermined by this model because the moderate right has been poached by the Democrats. In effects, it makes the trashfire element of the GOP stronger.
Heading left has advantages for the Democrats by engaging voters on the left without abandoning the centre completely. In doing so it creates electoral and policy space in the centre right. Could a new party emerge there? Probably not based on past US history but even the threat of a centre right party that pulls votes from the GOP could help pull the GOP leftwards.
I’ve semi-seriously discussed quasi–pseudo-academic debate of monopuppyist versus duopuppyists i.e. was science fictions attempted right-wing coup in 2015 one movement (with internal differences) or two movements (with some shared features). One reason I keep looking at those events (and those distinctions) is the way they were a microcosm of broader ideological movements among the right.
Taking stock of those broader movements, similar issues arise. How are things different and how are things the same? There is scope for error in lumping diverse beliefs together and in becoming too focused on points of difference to see the commonalities. I spend a lot of time reading rightwing websites and comment sections (not just former Sad Puppy related ones) and two things stand out as commonalities:
- Unmoored anti-leftism. ‘Unmoored’ because while the anti-leftism is common the rationalisations offered are not. For example, left opposition to the Bush Jr. Iraq war remains a sore point for many on the right (who ignore Democrat support for the war) but is ignored by the section of the right who also opposed the war (who don’t ignore Democrat support for the war but do ignore left opposition to it).
- Common mythology. By this, I mean a set of beliefs about the world that are quasi-factual in nature.
The common mythology is a social glue and also a medium of cultural exchange. These are beliefs about how the world is that are:
- Very specific, i.e. more specific than economic or social models that may be more ideological in nature.
- By their nature beliefs that can be examined critically against facts but…
- …which are either NOT examined critically against facts or more often run counter to established facts.
That such mythological-like beliefs exist among the right isn’t a new observation. However, many which we might associate with the right lack this common currency aspect. For example, many people in this broader right I’m discussing are not creationists (although most creationists are of the right), likewise Holocaust denial is still regarded as objectionable by many on the right. Anti-vaxxer beliefs are drifting more rightwards but still cross ideological boundaries. However, a broad habit of believing things that just aren’t so has become entrenched on the right.
I’d like to suggest the following as a core-common shared set of mythologies that act as a means of group identity. These ideas are shared uncritically in diverse parts of the US/Anglosphere right and questioning them too much leads to social ostracisation.
- Global warming data and theories have been corrupted by politically active scientists. Note this isn’t quite the same as denial of global warming but obviously works very closely with it. The belief that temperature records and other aspects of global warming have been meddled with allows discussion of the reality of global warming to be avoided.
- Universities and colleges routinely indoctrinate students with Marxist social theories. This belief over-extrapolates the existence of actual courses (perhaps a course somewhere on queer theory) and asserts that this is the norm for all students. The belief has a bedrock of fears by evangelical Christians about their children becoming less religious at college or exposed to things like evolution but in the form, I am describing is more general and less tied to religion.
- The Democratic Party routinely engages in mass voter fraud at a highly organised level. The belief is very pertinent today given the headlines but the work on this idea is constant and on-going. US conservatives are primed to believe this idea against any facts to the contrary.
- Mass illegal immigration is an intentional policy of leftists and foreign governments. This deeply disturbing myth and surrounding rhetoric about ‘invasion’ is widely believed and extends beyond the alt-right & more overtly ideologically racist parts of the right.
- Europe is on the verge of (or already is) being controlled by or dominated by Islam. There’s a vagueness here as to what the actual proposition is. Partly this is due to the age of the claims. 10 years ago, claims about an imminent Islamic take over of Europe were very common on the right and 10 years later the claims are similar. In the face of ridicule of some claims (e.g. ‘no-go’ zones in places that aren’t ‘no go’ zones), the broader beliefs have become vaguer and less open to immediate refutation.
- Cities are places of rising violent crime. At some point, of course, this idea gets to be true. Crime stats go up and down but what is remembered is the ‘ups’ and what is ignored is the ‘downs’ as well as general trends. What marks this belief as mythology is that it remains unchanged over decades: violent crime is always rising but somehow the point where violent crime was low shifts around.
- Home invasions and violent attacks on middle-class suburbs or rural areas are common and imminent. These two form a pair and of course relate closely to gun ownership and NRA propaganda.
There are other beliefs that I could list but which I feel are more clearly ideological. For example beliefs around public healthcare relate to specific policy positions overtly advanced by conservatives for decades. Similarly, beliefs around affirmative action or even ‘PC culture’ have a closer connection with ideology. There is a common thread of seeking to avoid facts or to examine these ideas critically that gives them a similar quality of belief that would only be true in a parallel universe.
A relevant question is whether these beliefs are sincere. Salon writer Amanda Marcotte had a recent Twitter thread where she examined some of the anti-factual claims of the right and argues that they are insincere i.e. overtly lies:
Her argument is a strong one and there’s a longer analysis in this 2016 piece she wrote: https://www.salon.com/2016/09/26/its-science-stupid-why-do-trump-supporters-believe-so-many-things-that-are-crazy-and-wrong/
Clearly, some of these viral claims are trolling. The argument that ‘birtherism’ was insincere holds water. However, I think the ones above are held with sincerity of a kind. There is a lot of advocation of beliefs that don’t stand up to critical scrutiny going on that CAN’T be primarily about trolling people on the left. I can be confident of that because these are often beliefs that people on the right do not wish to discuss with the left or raise with the left. To point out factual or logical errors in particular beliefs is seen as trolling BY the left rather than the left being trolled. Readers familiar with the Sad Puppy debarkle will have many ready examples to hand.
Marcotte also raises the group identity aspect as part of the issue i.e. that asserting false or dubious beliefs ties people together, as they act as a marker of loyalty. However, in addition, the soup of false beliefs fostered by creationism on one hand and corporate propaganda on issues such as pesticides, smoking, guns and global warming has entrenched confused thinking as a habit among the right. These poor cognitive habits encourage the ‘grift’ culture I’ve talked about before within the right, that often makes them prone to both perpetuate and be victims of scams and dubious money-making schemes. Marcotte points out Trumps willingness to say what he is thinking is often mistaken for honesty and forthrightness by his supporters. This kind of uncalculated, unhedged speech without weasel words can be refreshing in a world where many people try to avoid being caught in a literal lie. Meanwhile, the new acting Attorney General of the USA was himself part of a company that deliberately targetted military veterans in a scam https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/09/matthew-whitaker-acting-attorney-general-wpm-scam
What’s trolling, what’s an Emperor’s New Clothes kind of public misbelief, what’s a scam and what’s people being scammed and what is just the inevitable confused belief of poor thinking habits is hard to disentangle. What the shared mythology has in common is that I think these are largely internally believed and which act as defence mechanisms for other beliefs or expressions of fears. In particular fears about race and social change among conservatives who see themselves as ‘libertarian’ and ‘not-racist’ require hoop jumping rationalisations that they can express by changing classifications (racial fears changed to fears about violent people in cities or rule-breaking immigrants). The ‘scam’ part here is that more openly racist parts of the right (i.e. the parts that are more willing to own the label ‘racist’) can control those fears via propaganda.