I recently had an argument with a Trump supporter. The argument stemmed from a petition sent to me to support democracy in Thailand, a place I have spent a lot of time, I briefly explained their first election since the military coup d’état was corrupt.
Instead of talking about Thailand the response was, “corrupt elections happen in the US”. Not sure where that came from and while I agree, I knew we weren’t thinking of the same examples. Like, for instance, the recent court case where it was found Republicans violated North Carolina’s constitution by gerrymandering. For those unaware, the map was drawn in such a way that Democrats could win the majority of votes and Republicans would still win a super majority of seats.
I’m a bit of a masochist so I asked them to elaborate and they repeated the conspiracy theory, in the words of the occupant of the white house, there are “millions and millions” of fraudulent votes. To go a bit deeper, the watered down claim is that Democrats conspire and organize fraudulent voting by getting “illegal immigrants” and “foreigners” to vote, often multiple times, and tip elections. This is a major reason they are so concerned with immigration. A large portion of the Trump base are convinced Democrats, George Soros, and the deep state, want to encourage illegal immigration by creating a “magnet” of social welfare programs. Then the hordes will storm the border, vote Democrat because they want free stuff, and America as we know it will be destroyed.
This is a perfect example to explore the conspiracy that is essential to the ideology of Trump’s base. I want to clarify, I am talking about a specific, but significant, part of Trump’s base. There are many people who voted for Trump out of desperation in 2016. They were willing to vote for anyone but another establishment shill, most of these voters have renounced him and there are a significant amount of 2016 Trump voters who will vote Democrat no matter what to get rid of him.
On the other hand, there is Trump’s base, the people that knew they were voting Trump 2020 back in 2016. At the heart of the cultish admiration is conspiracy. Whether this is about Qanon, pizzagate, Soros, the deep state and so on, it is woven into the fabric of their ideology. Support for such a nihilistic and grotesque human being can only be maintained through conspiracy theory.
Returning to my anecdote, I asked to be provided with any data to back up this claim. The response: there can’t be data because they don’t require ID.
I then provided a resource (here) that had compiled approximately fifty instances of scholarly research, data and findings of court cases and investigations. These can be summarized as saying, voter fraud, while not non-existent, is incredibly rare. Even in Republican led investigations, that sometimes spanned decades, they were not able to find any significant evidence of this.
One case in Iowa, “A multi-year investigation into fraud led to 27 prosecutions out of 1.6 million ballots cast.” Another in Texas, “…the Texas Special Investigations Unit identified one conviction and one guilty plea regarding voter impersonation in Texas from 2002 through 2014.” Also, former Secretary of State of Kansas, Kris Kobach, was granted special powers to investigate and prosecute voter fraud; in two years they only yielded nine convictions.
I was met with the response that the data is false and it’s impossible to know without voter ID laws. Even if true (it’s not), how would you be able to claim there are “millions and millions” of fraudulent votes if there is no data (there is)? Imagine thinking that this is more serious than a confirmed instance of statewide subversion of democracy.
We see similar arguments for climate change denial. One can provide countless articles, essays, data sets and so on from every imaginable source, they are all fake, anything that contradicts this opinion that was mindlessly absorbed through right-wing media, is fake news, part of a misinformation campaign. Trump himself called climate change a “hoax” invented by China and said wind turbines cause cancer.
Another example, from a viral interview of a Trump supporter, also illustrates this mindset: The Trump supporter, is correctly explaining how Joe Biden is arrogant and has a big ego. The reporter, Emma Vigeland, points out that Trump said he could shoot someone on fifth avenue and no one would care.
“No, I don’t think so. That’s fake.”
“It’s on tape.”
“Nope, I don’t believe it, no, that’s fake.”
“I swear to god, you can watch it.”
“Fake news, fake news. Fake news. Fake news.”
What we see is an ideology that is literally dependent on denial of data, facts, evidence, and reason. It depends on a conspiracy through watch all perceived errors and faults of Trump can be filtered and dismissed as fake news or as deep state smear campaign.
Further, all definitions and all concepts become ethereal; nothing has any objective meaning. The “deep state” is completely amorphous. It’s a phantom to which anyone who dissents is part of. “Liberal” simply means any leftist and leftist is defined as anyone left of Trump. “Fascist” becomes any politics labeled as authoritarian or “un-American”, except of course the authoritarian politics of the Trump administration. “Fascist” has almost been entirely inverted. Literally, the politics farthest from fascism are what they call fascist, a true example of doublespeak. They try to re-frame fascist ideologies like Nazism as leftist. It’s as if a binary is created, one side is conservatism which represents everything good that America has ever done and the left is elevated to a delusional, almost mythical status of chaotic evil in which anything can be shoved into.
This ideology has been absorbed by the dumber right wing pundits like Ben Shapiro, who is most famous for debating college freshman and talking fast. Shapiro, recently embarrassed himself in a BBC interview with British journalist, Andrew Neil, by calling Neil a leftist and storming out of the interview for some pretty easy questions on abortion. Neil is a conservative and chairman of a group that publishes the conservative magazine, The Spectator. We see a clear exhibition of this ideology and the way it re-frames concepts into a binary. Shapiro subconsciously equates any push back, even in the form of British irony, as “leftist”.
We can examine the recent Tucker Carlson monologue regarding the departure of notorious hawk, John Bolton, from the Trump administration to see how the right uses this ideology and perpetuates it through propaganda. In the monologue, Carlson calls Bolton, “fundamentally, a man of the left” and says that he was “one of the most progressive people in the Trump administration.” We see the narrative of Bolton being shifted from right-wing neoconservative to progressive, already being accused of being in the deep state along with every other person to resign or get fired from the Trump administration.
Carlson, although an awful human being, is quite intelligent and sophisticated, unlike Shapiro who is a useful idiot. Carlson is a talented propagandist and knows he is telling blatant lie but the populist right utilizes this tactic to re-frame the narrative and dissolve the meanings of these terms and concepts. If John Bolton is a leftist, what does that make Bernie, Omar, or AOC?
We will continue to see things in this vein, especially as campaign season picks up. In the near future you will see the right continue to use identity politics and discussion of socio-economic class will become more common. This again will be to re-frame and re-define class. Carlson has already been discussing class, again, this is obfuscated and will be portrayed that all elites and the entirety of the upper classes are leftists and the right wing is trying to save you from them.
At this point there is no rational justification of the policies we see. There’s no justification for separating and detaining children in concentration camps for applying for asylum or, at worse, a misdemeanor offense. You can’t justify, making a billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia while it commits genocide in Yemen. You can’t explain Trumps delusional, nihilistic rants or his lies and smears about Rep. Ilhan Omar which, quite frankly, put her life in danger. The only way to justify any of this is through conspiracy and the creation of a vast amount of “Others”.
I’m not sure how to combat this, but one thing is clear, debate will not work. I’m of the opinion that one of the best courses of action is ridicule, these ideas should be treated as what they are, absurd; something that would be a funny joke if the consequences weren’t so horrifying. The belief in Trump and all the conspiracy theories aren’t something they will budge on. When the absence of evidence is the very thing thing that animates your belief, there is no ground to be gained.