The final debate between Trump and Biden was revealing — but first a PSA.
This is a long post that is a bit link heavy, so the tl:dr summary is this: The Republicans have no ideas, no governing ability, and nothing but the desire to hang onto power. They do it by convincing voters Democrats are worse than they are. No lie is too big to use — the bigger (and worse) the better. They are launching a huge barrage and they won’t stop however the election turns out. Unless you hang out in the dark corners of the internet, you have no idea how disgusting and how extensive the attacks are. Their base will never accept a Democratic administration and the GOP will obstruct in every way possible. It’s not going to be over any time soon. Be prepared to play the long game.
Thank you for your attention; regular blogging resumes.
While Trump was able to restrain himself somewhat at the debate, that’s the only place where he is doing so. There were clear indications how he and the GOP intend to run out the campaign. Observations from the debate show that Trump is deeply into Fox News bubble CT; he was trying to roll them out in the debate.
To sum up what the Trump campaign appears to be attempting to do, it’s to paint Joe Biden and the Biden family, targeting Hunter Biden in particular, as totally corrupt. This goes all the way back to Trump’s attempts to blackmail Ukraine into smearing Biden through his son. He perceived Biden as his strongest opponent back then and was trying to take him out pre-emptively. He’s returned to that strategy.
These are standard tactics for Republicans. Character assassination is how they delegitimize Democratic candidates – and immunize themselves against comparable counter attacks, especially when justified. (Trump talking about corruption is a case in point.) Trump is also trying to replay his 2016 campaign which built on years of GOP smears against Hillary Clinton, including multiple fake scandals.
And if it isn’t fake scandals, it’s scare talk about what Democrats will do. They’ll destroy jobs. They’ll bankrupt the country. They’ll impose Sharia law. They’ll turn the country into a socialist hell hole, take away guns, let dogs have same sex marriage with cats, shut down churches, open the borders, turn black criminals loose in the burning cities, erase the suburbs – and get rid of all the cows.
Sound crazy? The crazy has no bottom on the right wing. Anything except running on their actual record — Trump’s constant bragging/lying about what he’s never done and will never do is a case in point. That’s why they keep throwing out distractions and changing the subject.
And that sets us up for Operation Sh*t Storm.
Trump and his surrogates are going full throttle with a smear campaign based on Giuliani’s disinformation from the alleged Hunter Biden hard drive. There have been reports that the Trump Campaign is cutting spending on TV ads and other expenses — but they are going heavy on social media- especially Facebook. Speaking of which, Facebook has already been aiding and abetting the spread of disinformation and right wing CT for some time now.
Some of the same people who pushed a false conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton that first emerged in 2016 are now targeting Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, with similar falsehoods. Their online posts are garnering astronomical numbers of shares on social media.
The fantastical rumors, which NBC News is declining to repeat verbatim, echo specific plot points central to “pizzagate,” a viral disinformation campaign that predates QAnon but also falsely alleges a vast conspiracy of child abuse.
There is an important difference, however. The pizzagate-style rumors in 2016 were largely confined to far-right message boards like 4chan and parts of Reddit. But the Hunter Biden iteration of the same conspiracy theory took off last weekend with the help of speculation from conservative TV hosts and members of Congress. Their theorizing can be traced back to a new website that has been promoted by President Donald Trump and his surrogates.
The path of the conspiracy theory highlights how once-obscure and fringe claims are now able to reach mainstream conservative media and even elected officials in the run-up to the 2020 election.
The lies Trump used the debate to mainstream are now showing up in the Trump TV ads that are running. Beyond that, the NBC analysis shows how they’ve been expanded and include more than just bribery allegations; there’s some really nasty stuff too evil for TV that is perfect for the fever swamp of social media. The hard drive supposedly from Hunter Biden was turned up by Giuliani and Steve Bannon, and Bannon is a real piece of work. Remember the Pizzagate allegations against Hillary Clinton?
Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor of communications and rhetoric at Syracuse University, said that pro-Trump trolls are “playing the hits from 2016” and hoping they stick with voters who didn’t hear the first iteration of the rumor four years ago.
She noted that pushing child abuse conspiracy theories echoes what Bannon has publicly advocated in an effort to alter how voters feel.
“This is gaslighting of the highest order,” Phillips said. “This has been the Steve Bannon playbook this entire time. He has celebrated the strategy of ‘flooding the zone with s—‘ — when you confuse people, when you make them angry, when you just sort of throw too many things at them for them to process.”
The re-run of an identical conspiracy theory from 2016, this time with Hunter Biden as the new target, gathered momentum in part because of a new disinformation pipeline promoted by high-profile conservative figures — including the president.
(This NY Times obituary for the Republican Party includes a number of examples of how they all spread CT and disinformation.)
The Cumulative Corrosion of Gaslighting
Four years of constant lying by Trump and everyone in his administration on top of the decades-long GOP mendacity has had a corrosive effect on the media and on the public. (The NY Times is trying to stay on top of it here.) For someone who thrives on chaos like Trump, the fog of uncertainty has a force multiplier effect. To quote Hannah Arendt:
In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true… The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.
It has certainly worked for Trump with his base; it doesn’t matter what he says. They lap it up even as he puts their lives at risk in a pandemic. As for the rest of us:
The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.
There’s a lot of deserved attention being given to an article in The Atlantic by Anne Applebaum: You’re not supposed to understand the rumors about Biden. Both Digby and Dartagnan have written it up. Digby has a summary that captures the gist.
I have been writing this for so long now that I’m worn out from it. The Republican game has been the same for a very long time now: gin up phony scandals, throw it all at the wall until people think there must be a fire because they’re choking on all the smoke. The confusion, chaos and resultant exhaustion are the point.
It ain’t over till it’s over — and not even then
As Applebaum points out, this is about more than the election. Republicans — with or without Trump afterwards — will continue to keep putting fake scandals out to distract away from their own total lack of ideas and inability to govern. They will use them to kneecap Democrats at every turn. It’s all they’ve got — but they’re good at it. And it’s not going to be pretty.
Even with an overwhelming vote for Biden/Harris at the polls and Democrats taking the Senate, Trump is likely to continue to attack the legitimacy of the election — and Biden. (The electoral college is still the joker in the deck too.)
Assuming Trump is finally forced to concede, his actions as lame duck are likely to be a scorched earth tantrum, aided and abetted by the GOP digging the hole as deep as they can for the incoming administration. The TV commercials now running in the last days of the campaign are pulling out all the stops — and the stops were already pretty far out after 4 years of Trump. The GOP won’t pull back after January. They’re likely to double down. What have they got to lose?
Trump’s base will not be going away. They will never be convinced that Biden isn’t as corrupt as the GOP is trying to paint him, or that the Democrats won’t turn the country into a socialist “hellhole”. The CT will only get worse; Fox and the others of the Right Wing Mighty Wurlitzer will be engaged in a continuing smear campaign. Trump has spent his presidency encouraging the most extreme elements of the right wing; violence is not out of the question.
Eric Boehlert is reporting that efforts by Fox to promote the Hunter Biden slanders are falling flat outside their bubble; for once the mainstream media is not picking up the stories and running with them, unlike what happened to Hillary Clinton in 2016. (Hopefully the MSM has learned the full lesson, although that’s yet to be seen going forward.)
— Eric Boehlert (@EricBoehlert) October 25, 2020
That still leaves the Trump cult base, the core of FOX — rightwing CT addicts who are swallowing this down whole. Charles M. Blow is worried about Trump’s Army of Angry White Men and the possibility of a soft civil war. Charlie Warzel has advice on how to talk to friends and family who share conspiracy theories. Republicans and the interests they represent are well aware they may be facing massive rejection at the polls. They and their base are not going to simply accept defeat.
Many hope this will be the election of the century, with record turn out that will totally reject Trump and the GOP. Even so, that is not going to magically erase the toxic waste Republicans have been spewing over the country for decades, repair the damage they’ve done, or put an end to the agenda they have been pursuing on behalf of the super rich and corporations. (And Vladimir Putin will still be there.) It will not make Covid 19 disappear, solve the problems of climate change, or the massive inequality that is driving so much of the division in the country.
This election is not going to ‘fix’ America. It will not make things ‘normal’ again.
At best, it will be the start of a long process of restoration and rebuilding, against the full opposition of the determined and unprincipled forces that got us to this point. That includes holding them to account and systematically prying them loose from all the ways they’ve tilted the playing field in their favor. They are not going to get better; they’ve become an open death cult under Trump. If they do not experience real consequences for those choices, they will only get worse — because it works for them.
If you’re exhausted at this point, dig deep. Exhaustion is what they’re counting on. There’s a long road ahead. We know what the stakes are, and we know what we have to do. They’ve been playing the long game. We have to outlast them — and hold ourselves on course. Eyes on the prize. Never give up, never surrender. Forward momentum.