When It Comes To Politics, All That Seems To Matter Is What Team You've Chosen To Identify With
I’m not a sports fan, never have been. As president of Reprise, I had great seats for basketball and baseball and I would use them either for business purposes— inviting people out to sit in the best sets in the house for a Lakers game or a Dodgers game so that they might look favorably on one of our new artists foir example— or to help me seduce someone. Eventually I actually started liking the Lakers games, but the baseball games… ugghhh-- what a drag. The food in the boxes was good and I managed to make my own good time, for example, fantasizing about the hottest player on the team, at the time Shawn Green. But all that mania of rooting for a team… it was hard for me to ever get into that— and certainly not to the point of the kind of passion leading to violence you see at sporting events (particularly in Europe). I can’t believe sports fans get so wrapped up in violence over the team they're rooting for. I mean it isn’t over the skill of a player or anything rational; it’s just some tribal thing.
Like politics— some tribal thing. People don’t even vote their own interests or even the country's interests. They vote for their tribe… and get their “information” about that tribe from tribal communications networks.
Philip Bump touched on this in two essays yesterday. The second of the two was The Rights Loudest Voices Have Shaken Off The Burden Of Being Responsible, noting that “An underrated component of Donald Trump’s success in the 2016 Republican primary was that he acted as a megaphone for the fringier elements of conservative media. Sites like Stephen Bannon’s Breitbart were elevating various far-right theories and stories, scooping up an audience that Fox News, then more constrained, was leaving on the table. Trump was a Breitbart reader and looped the site’s claims into his speeches and interviews. The right-wing fringe of the party— who also read Breitbart— responded by blanketing him with support. Why? In part because they were frustrated that sitting elected officials and more mainstream outlets like Fox weren’t saying the things Breitbart was. There was an obvious reason for that: Much of what Breitbart offered was false or overheated or otherwise dishonest. And in the Republican establishment of 2015, when Trump announced, there was still a lingering belief that elected officials shouldn’t simply peddle conspiracy theories or misrepresent reality. That belief had eroded in the post-tea-party era, certainly, but it lingered. Until Trump showed that abandoning it entirely offered a different set of rewards. In the same way that Breitbart and even fringier sites like Infowars gobbled up attention by appealing to people’s anti-institutional and conspiratorial sensibilities, candidates for office began doing the same. The nonsense trickled up and is now pervasive.”
He uses crackpot MAGAt Kari Lake, pictured here on the right and likely to be Arizona’s next governor, as an example and specifically pointed to a conversation she had with fascist propaganda agent, Tucker Carlson. Bump explained that what Lake was doing in her attacks on Nancy Pelosi and Liz Cheney was “conflating criticism of speech, a central part of democracy, with restriction on speech. That’s in part because she experiences more firsthand criticism than other candidates thanks to doing something a lot of candidates (like Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano) don’t do: engaging with the mainstream, objective media. She has contentious exchanges because she at least subjects herself to some scrutiny (in part because she’s an old hand at television news). But her framing— These things are banned! There’s no First Amendment!— is obviously false. I mean, Carlson elevates this nonsense every night and thrives."
Again, though, consider why Lake and Carlson think it’s important or useful to elevate these claims. In the days of yore— a decade ago, though it seems longer— each would have faced opprobrium for, say, riffing on unfounded claims about a hammer attack on the 82-year-old spouse of the House speaker. But neither they nor their supporters think any such boundaries do or should still exist. No one in the Republican establishment is spending a lot of time speaking out against Carlson’s repeated dishonesties because 1) it’s not worth incurring his wrath and 2) it’s not worth incurring the wrath of the audience.
Thanks in part to the fragmentation of communications systems, there’s been an arms race— particularly but not exclusively on the right— toward outrageous assertions and conspiracy theories. Outlets like Fox News or CNN or The Washington Post still have reach that random Twitter accounts or fake-news blogs don’t, but each of us nonetheless is in competition against anyone who says anything anywhere that it can be read.
The theory a decade ago (or a bit further back, really) was that this would be democratizing. Instead, it’s proved to generally yield a massive toxic cesspool that consistently disadvantages those who are cautious about drawing conclusions. It’s driven people who once may have operated from a sense of responsibility about what they were saying to their large audiences to compete for attention without vetting what they’re saying — or without even worrying about vetting it.
This is how you get Elon Musk, enormously wealthy and the new owner of a massive social media platform, sharing obviously unreliable claims on Twitter without a second thought. Allies rushed to defend his First Amendment rights, as though he bears no more responsibility for sharing accurate information than user @conspiracy2930204, who has two followers. The assumption that he should have more responsibility — that a host of a cable news show or a gubernatorial candidate should — seems hopelessly archaic.
My writing this will be dismissed as ignorant of my own biases or as ignoring that, in their view, The Post similarly elevates false claims. But this simply isn’t true. The Post and other mainstream outlets hold ourselves to account for mistakes and strive to present information fairly and responsibly. The effect of this is often simply to expose ourselves to more criticism. The media is judged on the rare occasions when it gets something partially wrong. The conspiracy theorists insist on being judged on the rare occasions when they get something partially right.
…“When you question, say, covid protocols or drag queen story hour or the war against Russia, you are effectively smashing an 82-year-old man in the head with a hammer,” Carlson said after he’d raced a bit further down that path. “They’re”— the left, the elites, etc.— “making that argument.”
No shame, no qualms, no expectation of anything better.
Earlier, Bump had written about something more specific and even more troubling: Political Appeals To White Insecurity Are Now Explicit. “The story of racial politics in the United States over the last half-century isn’t complicated. The passage of the Voting Rights Act helped solidify African American support for Democrats— and provided an opportunity for Republicans in areas hostile to the expansion of voting rights for Blacks. That primarily meant the South, where partisan differences on race and generational change contributed to a deep-blue region becoming a dark-red one. At the same time, though, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s aspirational declaration that the arc of history bent toward justice seemed accurate: America was becoming more open to Black voices and leadership. Appeals to racial hostility were still valuable to the GOP politically, so the “Southern strategy” emerged. Instead of talking specifically about limiting the power of Black Americans (as was common in the Jim Crow era), Republican candidates talked about issues with obvious racial subtexts: integration efforts, states’ rights, support for social services. Richard M. Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign focused on crime— very much with the understanding of how that focus would be interpreted by White Americans.”
But, as we already know, “In recent years, the facade has slipped. Trump’s appeals to White insecurity were far more explicit than those of prior political candidates. That was in part because he shared that insecurity and saw how it played in conservative media. But it was also timing: A surge in immigration in 2014 and the emergence of Black Lives Matter that same year heightened the concerns of heavily White older Americans. This was measurable and measured.”
Still, though, the appeals were usually subtextual. Trump ran close to the line, suggesting that he was being targeted by New York’s attorney general because she, a Black woman, was racist. With a new radio ad from a Trump-allied group, though, the appeal is explicit.
Politico obtained a copy of the ad.
“When did racism against White people become OK?” it begins. The spot then rehashes news stories elevated in conservative media that cast efforts to ensure equal access for non-Whites to things like medical care with limits on access for Whites. “Progressive corporations, airlines, universities: All openly discriminate against White Americans. Racism is always wrong. The left’s anti-White bigotry must stop.”
The ad was paid for by “America First Legal,” an organization founded by former Trump aide Stephen Miller. Miller was best-known during his tenure in the administration for his hard-line anti-immigration position. Since leaving government, he’s mostly dedicated his time to railing against the supposed dangers of the political left and making broad claims of how President Biden has undercut America.
Politico reports that the ads are running in Georgia— the only state in the Deep South to swing back to the left after the Civil Rights-era backlash. The New York Times reports that America First Legal is spending $5 million on radio advertising, though it’s not clear if all of that is going toward this particular ad. Regardless, it is a non-insignificant effort to make a very specific, unsubtle appeal to the concerns of White Americans.
Again: Those concerns exist. White Republicans commonly tell pollsters that they view Whites as targets of discrimination to the same extent as other groups, including Blacks and Hispanics. Polling released last week from PRRI, in fact, found that Republicans see discrimination against Whites as a problem just as big as discrimination against Blacks— and that Republicans are less likely to think that Black people still face systemic disadvantages. Like ones that would warrant ensuring that they have equal access to medical care.
The latter claim from the ad is worth separating out. To the extent that it is meant as anything other than a wave of the hand at perceived “wokeness,” it appears to loop in White backlash against affirmative action policies. Such policies have gotten renewed attention in recent weeks, thanks to the Supreme Court’s consideration of a challenge to them. Recent polling from The Washington Post and George Mason University’s Schar School found that most Americans, including most White Americans, think universities shouldn’t consider race for admissions policies. There’s robust opposition to perceived systemic disadvantages to a racial group— at least when that group includes Whites.
…[I]n the context of politics, the line between tacit and explicit support for diversity erodes. The right’s backlash against this vague thing called “woke” is largely a function of treating individual calls for respecting minority voices as somehow being a systemic call to do so. It is the idea that there is a hierarchy of power that exerts itself outside of the law and forces compliance through shaming and compliance. So some professor at San Diego State who puts “she/her” in her Twitter bio becomes part of the vanguard of organized oppression against real America.
This idea that Whites are disadvantaged is cultural and generational and amplified repeatedly in an increasingly unconstrained right-wing media. Miller’s unsubtle intertwining of hostility to immigration and race manifests in this ad that specifically asserts that White America is on the decline.
The appeals used to be coded, quiet. Present and identifiable, but shying away from specific “they’re coming for you” language. The coding is gone. The elevation of racial fear is explicit. The Southern strategy is gone; the Jim Crow appeals to Blacks usurping power are back.
The GOP messaging— and therefor the ads that spawns— are rooted in purposeful deceptions. Ali Paybarah collected some outstanding example. He wrote that Virginia conservative Blue Dog Abigail Spanberger “voted to send pandemic relief checks to Americans. Nearly $1 million worth of ads from the National Republican Congressional Committee described it as putting money into the pockets of criminals, including the Boston Marathon bomber.” Katie Porter is a progressive from Orange County. She “voted for a sweeping health-care, climate and deficit-cutting law. In September, Scott Baugh, her opponent, began running digital ads saying the congresswoman voted to hire “87,000 new IRS agents to audit middle-income families and small businesses. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee for governor, secured the endorsement of Planned Parenthood. Kari Lake, the Republican nominee, and the Yuma County Republican Party spun that into ads dubiously claiming that Hobbs was ‘endorsed by radical groups that want to defund our police.’ Hobbs has said the exact opposite, with calls for ‘boosting funding for sheriffs and local law enforcement.’”
Campaign ads have always had a loose association with the nuances of governance. But as the midterm elections tighten into dozens of battlegrounds across the country, a number of GOP ads are showing a breathtaking disregard for accuracy and clarity, with Republican candidates and their allies twisting tangential elements into baseless or misleading claims.
Trump’s candidacy and presidency erased many of the traditional campaign guardrails in the GOP as Republicans adopted his approach of pushing fact-free arguments.
…Jason Reifler, a political science professor who taught in Georgia and Illinois before joining the faculty at the University of Exeter in Britain, said Trump introduced a whole new level of lying in politics.
The Comms director for the NRCC defended the false ads claiming they are “100 percent and indisputably accurate.” These 4 are some of the examples Paybarah came up with. They are all standard GOP one-size-fits-all propaganda and none of them are true— on top of which, all the targeted candidates are conservatives.
Yesterday, Trump was on the air with neo-fascist radio host Chris Stigall pushing the baseless, gossipy right wing bullshit about the attack on Pelosi’s husband, claiming there was no break-in at all and that Paul Pelosi knew the attacker, both patently false but part of American far right canon now.
Think that’s bad? Trump’s deeply flawed MAGA crackpot candidate for Michigan secretary of state, Kristina Karamo, once claimed that elites drink the blood of children and “sell baby body parts” after abortions.” According to the latest statewide polling from Cygnal, fully 40% of Michigan voters plan to cast their ballots for Karamo. Do they believe. Like she said on the air that “If you go to the Satanic temple website, they have an entire five-minute video explaining why abortion is a religious ritual. They literally say that it is a sacrifice, it is a religious ritual for them to have an abortion, it is sick. And as you mentioned, the baby body parts… they sell the organs. There’s a ton of money involved in freshly harvested organs. There’s so much evidence out there.” Or are they just not paying much more attention than knowing who’s on their “team.”