The Spreading, or How The Conspiracy Theories End Messily
We as a country are in for a national season of dazzling, baffling, and spreading of a big old hot political mess.
If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, goes the old adage that is misattributed often to WC Fields, blind them with bulls%^&. With the Georgia runoff, Joint Session of Congress to certify the 2020 election, and increasingly unmoored president and his die-hard supporters running out of time, and a whole bunch of folks needing to preen and position themselves for what they think is coming next, we as a country are in for a national season of dazzling, baffling, and spreading of a big old hot mess.
It was hard to tell who was more demonstrative in exhibiting their frustration Monday: Georgia Voting System Implementation Manager Gabriel Sterling at the podium or David Cowen, expressive official American Sign Language interpreter for the state of Georgia. “It’s whack-a-mole again…Groundhog Day,” an exasperated Sterling vented at the podium while Cowen gestured demonstratively for the hearing impaired. Last month, Sterling stood at that same podium alternating between anger and pleading with everyone from the president on down to stop spreading conspiracy theories about the 2020 election in Georgia. Now on the eve of the Georgia Senate Run-off here he was again, flanked by Cowen to his right and a chart of “Fact vs Fiction” to his left going over many of those same conspiracy theories again.
The event necessitating this particular adventure in Georgia electoral press conferences was the president’s weekend phone call with Sterling’s boss, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. With the Washington Post releasing the audio and transcripts of the call, attention quickly focused on the litany of allegations President Trump recited to Raffensperger on the call, while defenders of the president decried it being taped and released in the first place. Raffensperger cited President Trump’s Tweeting about their conversation as reason for him to record and release the hour plus tape.
The question of whether Raffensperger would have kept the president’s questionable behavior to himself had Trump not instigated this latest tiff between the two men will be unanswered, apparently.
Now clearly, after a month of being tweeted at, maligned, and both he and his family coming under threats of violence there is no love lost between Raffensperger and President Trump. The president’s supporters were quick to claim a grudge in trying to dismiss the recording but the president’s own words over the course of the hour-long talk, often repetitive words at that, speak for themselves. Over and over again, the president spouted of the same list of supposed election issues, and over and over again the Georgia officials told the president what he thought were facts just were not so. Which brought the exasperated Sterling back to his podium with his “Fact vs Fiction” chart to point-by-point go over the president’s accusations.
Of the 87,406 questionable votes alleged — according to Sterling’s chart, anyway — 475 are being investigated. That isn’t anywhere near the 11,780 votes the president demanded the Georgia election officials find for him. Nor does it do anything for the fact that, even if somehow Georgia moved back into the win column for President Trump, the Peach State’s 16 electoral votes would still leave him 58 short of topping President-elect Biden. But the claims will continue, and will get bigger and bigger, and depending on how the January 5th Senate Runoff goes, will probably have a few new wrinkles included in them. In other words, the siren song of conspiracy will continue, and more likely than not the volume is going to go up before the end of the track. The crescendo coming on January 20th when, one way or the other, Donald John Trump will cease to be the President of the United States.
So why the ever-increasing rain of crazy theories and inciting rhetoric? The years of book on the character and person of Trump himself answers most of that question. Some are attributing this current spreading of conspiracy theories to some kind of strategy. The old formal debate term was “spreading”, not the term for distribution but the combining of “speed” and “reading”. The idea was that throwing out so many items in a row leaves the opponent unable to answer each and every one of them and leave the judging listener with the impression of unanswerable arguments and thus winning. Others, like our friend Burt Likko, find this to be an excellent example of Brandolini’s law, the information-age adage that “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than to produce it.”
All that is probably true enough. But there is another part to this that probably explains a great deal of the current spreading of nonsense from the White House and the president’s supporters. It’s been widely reported that as the administration’s days draw short the inner circle of the president has gotten smaller, and also more insular. Despite being publicly disowned and announced to be working outside the auspices of the president, Kraken-in-Chief Sidney Powell was once again at the White House meeting the president, before again falling out with the White House the following day. Why have Powell and other known wackadoos back in? The only reason would be that she has something the president wanted to hear. When you need long-shot conspiracy theories to explain your current circumstances, one needs those who deal in such things close at hand. You are what you marinate in, and the president is down to only the die-hard supporters, sycophants, and those with a vested interest surrounding him. Thus, the president’s need to not have been fairly defeated must be fed by those that depend on the MAGA ecosystem. The president’s own, well-documented ego only greases the skids for such funneling of information.
But the clock on the conspiracy theories is ticking. It’s hard to hear the president as anything but unhinged and desperate on that call to Raffensperger. The Georgia Runoff will come and go to decide the senate. Then on Wednesday, the performative “objecting” to the electors by a dozen senators and a hundred some-odd congresscritters who will once again repeat most of the same theories and accusations President Trump posited on the recording, and his supporters echo, and that have been dismissed over 60 times in various courts of law to date. The “Rally for Trump” on the same day that is being billed as the “biggest event in Washington DC history” that probably won’t be the biggest one this year, will make noise and headlines and viral videos, while hopefully not causing too much damage and chaos. Then after all that speechifying, and all the howling, and gnashing of teeth, and crying to the heavens, and preening of well-dressed elected officials very seriously talking directly to camera, the inevitable will still happen. The Joint Session of Congress will confirm the election of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. as the 46th President of the United States, he will be inaugurated on the 20th of January, and Donald Trump will be a private citizen once again.
And no amount of spreading is going to change it.
Originally published at https://ordinary-times.com on January 5, 2021.