Surreal Caturday Reads: Insane Conspiracy Theories and CatsPosted: May 16, 2020
Our so-called “president” is a malignant narcissist with rapidly advancing dementia and we’re in a losing battle with a pandemic that the “president” has decided not to deal with at all. Instead he has been trying gin up outrage among his cult followers by claiming a vast conspiracy against him led by former president Obama. He began his morning by rage-tweeting about another supposed conspiracy against him by multiple social media sites–based on claims by right wing nut Michelle Malkin.
I highly recommend exploring The Atlantic magazine’s “Shadowland” project, which explores current and past conspiracy theories and their impact on American and world history. I’ve posted a couple their articles recently. We are going to need to understand this kind of conspiracy thinking as we get closer to the 2020 presidential election. Some background: “Shadowland”: A New Project From The Atlantic on the Power and Danger of Conspiracy.
Conspiracy thinking has shaped the world for centuries, destroying great institutions, eradicating knowledge, endangering democracies, and ending lives. These theories threaten not just individual facts, but the idea that empirical truth exists at all. And now, with a president of the United States who advances conspiracy thinking about a pandemic that has led to 82,000 reported deaths in America, it becomes an existential threat.
In an effort to better understand how we got here, and how we might find a way out, The Atlantic today launches “Shadowland,” an exploration of how conspiracy theories have shaped America, and why they are more powerful, and dangerous, now than ever.
Shadowland takes you down the rabbit hole through an interactive project portal, built with the mobile reader in mind; the product and visuals are central to the storytelling. It represents some of the most ambitious work of the year, even as The Atlantic continues to apply the full weight of its newsroom to cover the biggest stories of our age: the global pandemic, the Trump presidency, and the spread of illiberalism across the planet.
The project debuts with “The Prophecies of Q,” executive editor Adrienne LaFrance’s cover story on QAnon for The Atlantic’s June issue. With its legions of followers, fabrications about the coronavirus, and dark predictions about the “deep state,” QAnon’s power—and the rejection of reality it represents—only grows. LaFrance warns that QAnon “is a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values. And we are likely closer to the beginning of its story than the end … To look at QAnon is to see not just a conspiracy theory but the birth of a new religion.”
Read the rest at The Atlantic link.
Susan Glasser on “Obamagate”: “Obamagate” Is Niche Programming for Trump Superfans.
Donald Trump will not shut up about Barack Obama—not now, not ever. On Thursday morning, amid the gravest economic crisis in a century and a deadly pandemic that will have killed more than a hundred thousand Americans by the end of this month, Trump yet again accused his predecessor of culpability in “the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA.” Obama, he said, should be hauled before the Senate to testify. “He knew EVERYTHING,” Trump added in his tweet, one of dozens of attacks in the past few days in which he has targeted “Obamagate.” What crime, exactly, was Trump accusing Obama of? What should he testify about? Trump never said, and it’s a safe bet that he never will.
On Monday afternoon, at a press conference on the White House lawn, Trump made that clear, in a memorable exchange with Phil Rucker, of the Washington Post, that echoed the paranoid fulminations of Trump’s hero Joseph McCarthy at his worst. “What crime, exactly, are you accusing President Obama of committing?” Rucker asked. “Obamagate,” Trump replied. “It’s been going on for a long time,” he added, without offering specifics. “What is the crime, exactly, that you’re accusing him of?” Rucker asked again. “You know what the crime is,” Trump answered. “The crime is very obvious to everybody.” Days later, that is still where we are: Trump is accusing Obama of a grave crime but refusing even to say what Obama allegedly did, while repeating over and over that the former President is guilty of something, a technique of political agitprop that recalls not only McCarthy but every wannabe dictator for whom the rule of law has little or nothing to do with accusations of illegality.
Perhaps, to Trump and his defenders, “Obamagate” really is such a known commodity that defining it is superfluous, even if it is not at all obvious to those who don’t populate Trump’s alternate reality of conspiracy theories and outright lies, a world in which Obama figures as a regular and sinister presence. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that the gap between partisan truths in Washington is so wide it’s practically a vortex. In many ways, the “Obamagate” exchange on Monday reminded me of the first day of the public impeachment hearings last fall in the House Intelligence Committee, in which Democrats spent hours outlining what they knew of the Trump Ukraine-shakedown scheme that had triggered the impeachment proceedings, while Devin Nunes, the Republican ranking member, offered up an array of little-known intrigues that seemed entirely unrelated to the matter at hand, including an alleged plot to “obtain nude pictures of Trump,” which, he said, was part of a “three-year-long operation” by Democrats, “the corrupt media,” and “partisan bureaucrats to overturn the results of the 2016 election.” I remember thinking: Naked pictures? What was he even talking about? It appeared to have something to do with a 2017 phone call to Representative Adam Schiff from two Russian pranksters claiming to represent the Ukrainian government and offering nude pictures of Trump with a Russian celebrity. Or something. If you had been following along with Fox News and the darker corners of the right, you knew exactly what Nunes was talking about.
Read the rest at The New Yorker
The New York Times on Trump’s latest crazy obsessions: A Sitting President, Riling the Nation During a Crisis.
Even by President Trump’s standards, it was a rampage: He attacked a government whistle-blower who was telling Congress that the coronavirus pandemic had been mismanaged. He criticized the governor of Pennsylvania, who has resisted reopening businesses. He railed against former President Barack Obama, linking him to a conspiracy theory and demanding he answer questions before the Senate about the federal investigation of Michael T. Flynn.
And Mr. Trump lashed out at Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Democratic challenger. In an interview with a sympathetic columnist, Mr. Trump smeared him as a doddering candidate who “doesn’t know he’s alive.” The caustic attack coincided with a barrage of digital ads from Mr. Trump’s campaign mocking Mr. Biden for verbal miscues and implying that he is in mental decline.
That was all on Thursday.
Far from a one-day onslaught, it was a climactic moment in a weeklong lurch by Mr. Trump back to the darkest tactics that defined his rise to political power. Even those who have grown used to Mr. Trump’s conduct in office may have found themselves newly alarmed by the grim spectacle of a sitting president deliberately stoking the country’s divisions and pursuing personal vendettas in the midst of a crisis that has Americans fearing for their lives and livelihoods.
A bit more:
Since well before he became president, Mr. Trump’s appetite for conflict has defined him as a public figure. But in recent days he has practiced that approach with new intensity, signaling both the depths of his election-year distress and his determination to blast open a path to a second term, even at the cost of further riling a country in deep anguish.
His electoral path has narrowed rapidly since the onset of the pandemic, as the growth-and-prosperity theme of his campaign disintegrated. In private, Mr. Trump has been plainly aggrieved at the loss of his central argument for re-election. “They wiped out my economy!” he has said to aides, according to people briefed on the remarks.
It is unclear whether he has been referring to China, where the virus originated, or health experts who have urged widespread lockdowns, but his frustration and determination to place blame elsewhere have been emphatic.
Ken Goldstein, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, said that Mr. Trump and his campaign were going on the offensive in nasty ways in an attempt to shift the attention of the public away from him and onto other targets, and ultimately onto Mr. Biden.
“If this election is about Trump, he probably loses,” Mr. Goldstein said. “Trump’s only hope is to make the election about Biden.”
Jack Shafer argues at Politico that we should ignore the idiot “president”: How Not to Listen to Donald Trump.
It turns out President Donald Trump’s status as the most accessible person to ever hold the office is more a curse than a blessing. Day after day, he fills the air with the ack-ack of disinformation and misdirection, needlessly alarming the public and sending reporters on wild goose chases to either confirm or disprove his allegations. On Thursday, in an interview with Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo, Trump repeated his newest figment that Joe Biden and Barack Obama are guilty of some unnamed crimes for which they are deserving of “50-year sentences.”
Strong meat! The heinous crimes—to which he has applied the “Obamagate” moniker and calls “the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA, by FAR”—is a relatively new creation of the Trump Disinformation Laboratory. He only started talking about it on May 10 and has yet to specify exactly what Obamagate is aside from telling reporters in a press conference that it’s “obvious” and that he wants Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to investigate it.
Despite a lack of interest from his minions in Congress (Graham has said he has no plans to grill Obama), Trump’s foggy demagoguery has mobilized the entire press corps to determine what the hell Trump is talking about. Explainers from Reuters, the Washington Post, the Guardian, CNN, and elsewhere struggle to decipher Trump’s vague but strident accusations with little success. We can say this much with certainty. It appears linked to the counterintelligence operation against Gen. Michael Flynn in late 2016, and the requests from Obama administration officials that his identity be “unmasked” from intelligence reports so they could understand who, exactly, was talking to the Russian ambassador. Flynn lied to the FBI about speaking to the ambassador about sanctions and later pled guilty to lying to the FBI about those conversations. (Unmasking, by the way, is a routine, not nefarious thing, which the Trump administration has requested thousands of times.) But until Trump uses his words to make his charges about Obama more specific, we can only guess at what the actual crime might be.
Why must we fetch every bone that Trump hurls into the high, prickly brush? Well, he’s the president, and he wouldn’t make such an extreme charge if it weren’t true, would he? But he does, and he does all the time. This tidy list from Business Insider demonstrates his historic capacity for making baseless but grotesque claims of criminality and deception: implicating Ted Cruz’s father in the Kennedy assassination; claiming that Obama wasn’t born in the United States; surmising that Justice Antonin Scalia did not die of natural causes; accusing Joe Scarborough of complicity in the death of an intern; asserting massive voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election; saying windmills cause cancer; connecting the Clintons to Jeffrey Epstein’s death; and the Bidens-in-Ukraine baloney.
I’m not sure ignoring Trump’s insanity will work as long as he has rabid support from around 40 percent of the electorate (who knew there were so many idiots in the U.S.?). I tend to agree with The Atlantic’s point of view–we need to become more aware of the programming these Americans are receiving from Trump and his friends in the media and on-line forums.
What do you think? What other stories are you following today?