We are well into October, and as the shadow of the U.S. presidential election looms ever larger and darker, I once again feel the possibly irrational urge to inject some politix into this normally non-political blog. For those of you who are sick of my lame punditry because you prefer pure Scamworld topics (or even because you have a long memory and are nostalgic for the carefree snark-fests that were once the foundation of this Whirled), I apologize. For those of you who are sick of the politicking because you are Trump supporters and don't like what I have written about him... well, goodness, it seems that I'm all out of apologies.
The Faux-hio voter fraud scandal
Several factors have drawn me back into this black hole of off-my-normal-beat bloggery, and some of them are related to my normal beat after all. For instance, the stupidest and most evil man in Scamworld, Leonard Coldwell, used his social media soapbox the other day to share a hoax story from the fake news site, Christian Times. And he wasn't the only one who shared it in all apparent seriousness. The phony story describes "hundreds of thousands" of fraudulent sealed ballots for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that were supposedly found by a Columbus, Ohio electrical worker. On October 1 the Franklin County Board of Elections issued a press release stating that the story was fake and even providing a link to the UK web site from which the Christian Times stole the photo used in the fake story.
Snopes debunked it as well. So did The Columbus Dispatch. Even Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (a Republican) slammed it.
But the story has continued to spread via social media and it is still up, with no retractions or corrections, on some clickbait sites that try to look legitimate, as well as overtly nutcake ones. Coldwell may be the dimmest and most loathsome entity to share the meme, but as I noted he's far from the only one. And the reason is obvious: it fits in with the wingnutty, Trumped-up "Crooked Hillary" narrative. By extension it validates Trump's own claims (and those of his most passionate fans) that the election is "rigged" against him.
It also feeds into the persistent myth of voter fraud committed by minority or liberal-leaning voters, a myth that has given rise to stringent voter I.D. laws which seem to have served mainly as a tool to disenfranchise those very minority and liberal-leaning voters. Though there have been investigations into possible voter fraud in states such as Indiana (some have called the investigations "partisan harassment"), it is for the most part not really a thing. And those who are throwing hysterical fits about suspected fraud might do well to keep in mind that some apparent fraud is simply human error. (More on that below.)
Most of the folks I've seen sharing the fake Ohio voter-fraud story are Donald Trump supporters, Hillary haters, chronic conspiracy addicts, or a combination thereof. And most are also -- and not by coincidence -- dedicated Snopesophobes, smugly claiming that anyone who cites Snopes is lazy, gullible, a "Libtard," a mainstream sheeple, or a combination thereof. To these folks, the mere mention of Snopes in a positive light during a conversation is a signal for automatic and immediate dismissal and derision of the person who brought it up. They won't even bother to follow the link and actually read the article. Mention Snopes on a certain type of thread, and prepare to be met with a string of rote accusations against Snopes and oneself that some of us can practically recite in our sleep.
As you may know if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, my opinion about Snopes is considerably more positive, and my opinion about some of the robotic Snopes-haters... um, not so positive. But I have also learned that it does no good to try to argue folks out of their "Snopes-is-a-liberal-tool" dogma. You can try, but don't be surprised if you get nowhere. As Jef Rouner wrote in 2014:
The first thing to do with a Snopes denier is... nothing. Do not continue the initial conversation. You have already lost your stand, and can do nothing more here. Ultimately, you are having a different interaction from the one you think you are. You thought you were helpfully informing, but they think you're part of a misled general populace that just can't see the monsters in the shadows.
But I never learn. I continue to engage 'em.
The fact is that Snopes has also been accused of having a conservative/right-wing bias, though I don't believe that accusation any more than I believe the site has a deep liberal bias. And particularly during this contentious U.S. presidential election cycle, Snopes writers have also been busily debunking leftist memes, such as this one about Donald Trump and his remarks about military veterans with PTSD... or this one about his running mate Mike Pence and his supposed remarks about abortion and rape... or this one about the Libertarian VP supposedly giving up the ghost and becoming a Hillary supporter. Snopes has also soundly condemned the clickbait site that spread the loathsome fake news of Trump's death from a heart attack.
But it simply does not matter to some folks.
Some of the Snopes-haters and anti-Hillary meme sharers with whom I have conversed about Trump are good people who were burned in some way by serial scammer Kevin Trudeau in his mega-scam the Global Information Network, or GIN, which were, of course, hot topics on this blog even back in the day when some of them were still partying it up on GIN cruises, hoping to get rich or change the world. Maybe it's obnoxious of me to keep bringing that up. But I will keep bringing it up anyway.
The Scamworld angle
It appears to me that these good ex-GINfolk simply cannot see that Donald J. Trump is an even worse -- and potentially more dangerous -- scammer than Trudeau ever could be (although granted, Trump and Trudeau have a few things in common). Though a few people have acknowledged that Trump is far from an ideal candidate, they insist that all of his shortcomings, wrongdoings, and deep character flaws pale in comparison to Clinton's alleged "life of crime."
This is not just about Snopes, of course. There is a deeper problem here, and it has to do with both Scamworld and with politics. The Scamworld angle centers on the fact that some of the Snopes-hating people who were burned by GIN, and insist that they have learned their lesson about scams and scammers, continue to embrace pretty much any conspiracy story that pops up on social media. I would suggest that this enthusiasm for conspiracies indicates they have not really taken their hard-learned lessons to heart after all, and possibly retain a core gullibility that is only thinly disguised by their oft-expressed distrust of the mainstream media and other institutions.
(It isn't that I am always enamored of the mainstream media myself. And believe it or not I am skeptical about government, and am no big fan of big business, and so on. I just don't take an extreme position of automatically rejecting everything simply because it is "mainstream.")
While the nouveau anti-establishmentarians imperiously point fingers at anyone who cites Snopes or other popular fact-checking/debunking sites -- and insist that their contempt for Snopes et al. demonstrates that they are the ones who are awake and aware, and the rest of us are either impaired thinkers or are crooked ourselves -- many are in fact advertising their own credulity to the world. They are showing that while they are willing to automatically reject "mainstream" narratives, they are all too willing to believe any wild-eyed tale spewed out by the "alternative" media.
More to the point here: these conspiracy fans are painting targets on themselves for any potential huckster with a knack for packaging "information" that "They" (i.e. the corrupt establishment/New World Order/Illuminutty etc.) "don't want you to know about."
The forbidden-information, faux-rebel-against-the-establishment shtick worked well for Kevin Trudeau for many years, and arguably still continues to work for him even though he is currently locked up in a minimum security prison. It has worked well for Trudeau's buddy "Mark Hamilton" (or Mark Scamilton as he is known on this blog), and before that for Scamilton's late daddy "Frank Wallace," and that whole Neo-stink scampire. And it is working very well indeed for career conspiracy mongers such as Alex Jones and Mike "the Health Ranger" Adams, as well as a number of other hucksters and scammers who are also exploiting the secret-info-that-the-lamestream-media-won't-tell-you motif.
None of this is really surprising, though. As my pal Salty Droid has both documented on his blog and has mentioned in private correspondence, quitting one manipulative scam or scammer doesn't cure one of the thinking pattern errors that got them sucked in in the first place. "Manipulation causes susceptibility to manipulation as a side effect," sez Salty. I know he's right, but I am still capable of being surprised by the phenomenon, especially when it occurs among folks whom I'd thought were friends, or at least allies.
The greater danger
If this were just a matter of personal Facebook battles it would be no big deal, even though, to my deep disappointment, I have seen what I thought were solid friendships collapsing in the face of increasingly heated political conversations. And if it were simply an indication of job security for scammers and hucksters that would be bad, but still not necessarily a catastrophe-in-waiting. But it seems pretty clear that the essential political battle is going to continue all the way to the ballots. Though some of Clinton's most virulent haters are not in fact eligible to vote in the U.S., there are many who are. And they could very well be responsible for propelling a dangerously volatile blowhard into the most powerful position in the world.
But it may be that America is screwed either way, as more than one non-U.S. citizen recently told me. For even if the Trumpians are unable to elect their candidate, it is very likely that millions of them will not accept the results of the election. How they will express that lack of acceptance is a matter of legitimate concern.
Accordingly the growing penchant for conspiracy tall tales -- of which Donald Trump is the current "theorist in chief" -- is more than just snarkworthy blog fodder, though I certainly have been snarking about conspiracies for years. While the Clinton campaign and Clinton herself have made references to various right-wing conspiracies, the conspiracy meme is simply not an integral part of that campaign, and that is in marked contrast to her opponent. Clinton has not been playing the "rigged election" card nearly to the extent that Trump has. (Her concerns about possible Russian involvement in hacking and leaking her emails, in order to influence the election, may be valid, but the jury is still out on that.)
In contrast to Clinton, Trump and his supporters appear to be full-on advocates of the conspiracy scenario. And I don't think Politico was exaggerating when they called the rigged-election narrative "the most dangerous conspiracy theory of 2016." It is a narrative driven by an almost rabid irrationality, the likes of which we've never really seen in a presidential election in the U.S. From the Politico article:
Recent surveys show Trump is in lock step with his supporters when he raises doubts that he’ll get a fair and square election. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released earlier this month found nearly half of Trump’s supporters aren’t confident the votes will be counted accurately, compared with just 18 percent of Clinton’s backers who think the totals will be illegitimate. In August, Public Policy Polling found 69 percent of Trump voters in North Carolina think Clinton would only win if the election was rigged: 40 percent actually blamed ACORN, which officially disbanded in 2010, as the reason they expected mischief.And...
... many of the moves that federal and state officials make to secure the country’s voting system are being met with skepticism and backlash, and more conspiracy theories. Alex Jones’ program, for one, has done multiple segments questioning whether Obama intends to federalize or even cancel the presidential election. Last month, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp told the Nextgov news service in an email that he worried “the federal government will subvert the Constitution to achieve the goal of federalizing elections under the guise of security.”The notion of widespread election fraud has been widely debunked both through media investigations and government watchdog reports, but there's no stopping the conspiracy-crazed Trumpsters. Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said that insinuations of rigged outcomes are...
...completely unfounded. That heated rhetoric just undermines faith in American democracy, which works because people have confidence in its legitimacy. That confidence is something that should not be casually and baselessly tossed aside.But it seems that many folks are tossing it aside, and all for the sake of an over-eagerness to embrace the false narratives and ridiculous tall tales that validate their own self-images as the most moral, the most patriotic, the most truly awakened ones.
In the end, though, and I hope you will pardon the cliche, we're all in this together. If enough people lose confidence in the legitimacy of American democracy, there's little evidence that this will lead us to a new enlightened era of transparency and fairness and liberty and justice for all. To the contrary, we risk turning the corner to chronic instability, transforming our political process into a Third-Worldish scenario of endless coups, revolutions, overt corruption, dictatorship, or any combination of the above. And that will have a devastating effect not only on the U.S. but on the rest of the world as well.
Check out this recent blog post from my husband Ron Kaye: "How Did We Come To This?"
As we near the day of the election, I cannot help but wonder what lies beyond. I sense that a cataclysmic sequence of events is all too possible, no matter which way the election goes. If a tyrant is elected, we will almost certainly lose most of our allies around the world, and will definitely lose their trust. At the same time, our enemies will be emboldened, knowing that they no longer face a united front consisting of all rational nations and their leaders. Actions once considered unthinkable are now very much a part of the debate. Torture, genocide, and nuclear holocaust are considered by the worst among us to be viable tools for achieving our goals, and the kind of rhetoric we as a country and a world rejected over 80 years ago has become mainstream and deemed worthy of consideration.What Ron said. It's all pretty scary. So much is at stake. Please get out and vote.
I think we all need to listen to our own words, and ask ourselves, Is this the kind of country and world we want to leave our children and their children? Are the lessons we are teaching them really consistent with our proclaimed values as Americans?
Addendum, 26 November 2016: Well, the election has come and gone, with deeply unfortunate results. Drumpf got the electoral votes necessary to win, but Clinton won the popular vote (by at least 2 million and counting, it appears), and it looks like it's full speed ahead for the Drumpf regime. But the media are all abuzz with accusations of funny business in at least some states, and a call for a recount in those states. Green Party candidate Jill Stein has already raised millions of dollars, some of which are presumably going to pay for recounts in some states.
So does this mean that American elections might be rigged after all and that voter fraud is indeed a thing, contrary to all of the stuff I wrote above? And if I believe that, does it make me hypocritical? Does it mean I've flip-flopped just because "my" candidate lost? In truth... I don't know what to think. And I'm not sure how much good a recount will do, even though so far it appears that there were some dodgy things going on in some precincts in Wisconsin (and possibly Pennsylvania and Michigan) in order to shuffle things in Trump's favor. (Nate Silver, however, said the accusations about Wisconsin are probably B.S.) I simply don't know. In any case, here's a Q&A on Quartz, published November 24, which attempts to clear up some of the puzzlement about the legitimacy of the election results.
And from the Washington Post today, here's a rundown on what the Clinton campaign thinks about the issue.