It's hard to be selective when considering all of the ways in which American public discourse has gotten worse on account of the 2016 election, but my vote for the worst change is the now-constant recourse to grand conspiracies to explain (across the political spectrum) failures or bad behavior.

Like many people around the world during the Cold War developed an all-encompassing worldview based on the near-omniscience of the CIA (a view that persists to this day in much of the Middle East), people now imagine dark forces on The Internet having almost limitless power. You can't fart in some parts of the world without someone blaming the CIA for it, despite the reality that the CIA couldn't even figure out that some of its own (Ames, Hanssen) were Soviet spies.

Now there is a shadowy Other – sometimes Russia or The Kremlin, sometimes Bots, sometimes merely They – capable of engineering any imaginable outcome and a few that aren't imaginable. Your candidate lost the primaries? Rigged! Rigged by powerful conspirators! You got caught writing some embarrassing shit on your old blog? Hackers! Time-traveling hackers! And most recently, did you get caught plagiarizing (an act that, thanks to easy and ubiquitous tools like TurnItIn, is now almost ludicrously simple to detect)? The people who pointed it out are part of an "oppo campaign"! Well of course.

The fact that a phrase like "oppo campaign" or the extremely popular on social media "Kremlin op" have gone mainstream is a good sign of the extent to which reality and Tom Clancy fantasies have been conflated. A couple years ago this kind of conspiratorial thinking would have resigned any public figure to the lunatic fringe. Now nobody bats an eye. Everything is a conspiracy. Everything is a product of nefarious forces. It's like the upside-down Occam's Razor; never accept the most obvious solution when a mindlessly convoluted one wherein you become a victim will do.

That last part, I think, is key. People who spout this stuff when they are caught red-handed don't even care how plausible their stories sound. It simply is a matter of reframing the story to make themselves victims. Once they construct a victimhood narrative, then supporters innately get defensive and rally. It doesn't have to be true, just plausible. And we are living in an era in which the commonly accepted definition of "plausible" is rapidly expanding.

13 thoughts on “CONSPIRACY!”

  • We also live on an era where a genuine apology is.worth nothing and the sentence for any transgression is the same; absolute shunning and removal of employment.

    Conspiracy theories seem like a great idea when a mere accusation is enough to cancel a person's life.

  • Well yeah. How else do you explain getting caught doing the thing you've clearly been doing for years. Clearly people conspired to catch you, otherwise it would just be business as usual. With as brazen as the instances are in the current book, this is clearly not Jill Abramson's first foray into ripping off other writers. To think otherwise would be like assuming horny teenagers start at fisting, and work their way down from there.

  • I remember the 50's all too well when there were commies in Hollywood and they had completely hollowed out both the Democratic Party and the liebrul eleetz!

    Using my blognomen to sign a letter to the editor would prolly have got me a "minder" or at least a thicker file…

    "Hansen was actually with the FBI.".

    A sad end for a great boybrozband! Oh, wait, differrent spelling, ,my bad!

  • We probably don't want to admit to ourselves that Hillary Clinton hired a rather bad campaign management staff, who, when faced with Donald Trump and a GOP Congress geared to stop her by amping up a ridiculous scandal, just didn't know how to deal with the problems. They also seemed to be so rigged to winning big in states that Hillary already had nailed down, they forgot to actually count electoral votes. She forgot the Dubya Doctrine – it doesn't matter if your opponent only gets 40% of the popular vote, if you can't get 50.1% of the electoral votes.

    It's not so much that Donnie was brilliant (on the contrary, he was one of the dumbest men to have ever campaigned for the office, let alone win – even Dubya or Warren Harding were fervent intellectuals compared to the Orange Menace), but that he was just so *different* (read: weirdly disconnected from reality) from any other candidate. His candidacy was based on so many lies that the truth stood out like a non-sore thumb after a hammer torture attack. His attacks were ad hominem, appealing to sexism, anger, fear of change and gross hatred, and he managed to squeak out victories in Rust Belt states that HRC's campaign seemed to take for granted. The press seemed to eat him up, because they find scandal, boorishness and controversy tasty for ratings. But the Clinton campaign seemed to be stuck campaigning in 1996, when such shenanigans might not be overlooked by a compliant and click-hungry media, not twenty years later.

    I suppose the conspiracy theories started by those narrow victories. They were, to use a time worn phrase in football, "close enough to cheat". Although I have no doubt the Russians did whatever they could to help their "boychik" win, and whatever assistance the Trump campaign got was almost surely illegal, I'm not certain that it was to such an extent that in those states where Trump won big anyway, it was any sort of a factor. However, it got people in those narrowly-lost states to almost react in a state of shock and denial that the unthinkable could happen in their state.

  • I like the way cyber-security advisor Rudy Guiliani claimed his twitter account had been hacked when he posted a web address in tweet, someone bought the address, and created a webpage that showed him to be a fool.

  • 'Reverse Occam's Razor' – I like it.
    " … people now imagine dark forces on The Internet having almost limitless power. … shadowy Other … capable of engineering any imaginable outcome and a few that aren't imaginable."

    Twitter talk fraught with 'it's the RUSSIANS controlling everything with their unstoppable super-KGB powers' may be a dumb take when applied to everything but I think sometimes it fits. Trump's 2016 campaign, Maria Butina & the NRA/GOP, Russian oligarch's dropping big money on multiple GOP officeholders/PACs and suddenly the GOP is repealing sanctions against Russian oligarchs, abrogating treaties, tolerating annexations, deferring to Russian foreign policy actions, and allowing Trump to undermine NATO and trade arrangements with Western Europe. Is it a kooky conspiracy or an observable pattern of quid pro quo that explains those things?

    Omnipotent 'others' are meddling/fixing/changing elections via targeted propaganda campaigns on social media, the MSM, agents pretending to be 'concerned citizens' flooding online discussion with FUD, divisiveness, and exploiting/manipulating/inciting conspiracy-minded online communities of 'useful idiots' to detonate in outbursts of raving nonsense/political attacks.
    Is that paranoid lunacy or 'true' shenanigans?

    It seems like major social media platforms were weaponized to accomplish all of the above, it seems like they did so willingly and wittingly. Is that nutball crazy-crackers stuff or is that a real conspiracy?

    @jennycohn1 has been waging a crusade on Twitter for election integrity. Raising awareness of how many states have purchased and CONTINUE to buy electronic voting machines and tabulating technology that have demonstrated security vulnerabilities. These state election organizations sometimes amplify the known risks associated with their vulnerable voting technologies by not following secure IT practices or policies. My conspiracy-minded fear is that electronic voting machines have been a secret 'nuclear option' available to the GOP in many states to steal elections (when FoxNews, FaceBook, Rush, InfoWars, Reddit, 4Chan, Pepe, and Chuck Todd don't get the job done). I think the Russians are late to that party.

    I may be battered and dipped in confirmation bias to suspect rampant election fraud but I am not sure how to check the 'other side' of the argument. I looked at the 'State Election Board – Georgia Secretary of State' website trying to find any official statement regarding election integrity since that was a major issue during 2018 and I found a 'SAFE commission' link and a 'stop voter fraud' link. The SAFE commission report made sure to include the following in the first paragraph "…concerns regarding tampering with Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines … there is no evidence that Georgia’s voting machines have ever been compromised…"

    The 'Stop Voter Fraud' thing is pretty much GOP talking-point fear mongering about all those fraudulent voters threatening the economic liberty of plutocrats or some shit.

    The SAFE report eventually recommends doing most of the things Jennifer Cohn stridently advocates on Twitter to safeguard future elections but you know, these things take time and money and well … maybe they will get around to securing their elections perhaps years in the future – or not – who knows.

    I can't prove it, but maybe the GA SAFE & Voter Fraud statements might be bullshit, especially the claim about there being no evidence of voter machines being compromised (because we covered our tracks, #SuckItLibs!) oogah-boogah-boogah!

    Did Occam have the luxury of knowing if the evidence supporting competing extraordinary claims was true or not?

    Have a nice day.

  • @ BLOZAR:

    As soon as MY team of crack investigators get off the pipe–they're gonna have a look at the "kernelling" on your latest comment–just to make sure it's RILLLLLLLLLLLY you, tovarich! /s.

    I hate it when I feel like I HAVE to use "/s", but Poe's done jumped the shark.

  • @ Ekim

    I wouldn’t even put it entirely on Hillary’s campaign staff or the EC, she just made poor decisions.

    I remember ranting on this very blog when she hired Wasserman-Shultz after her DNC resignation and then had photo-ops with her. Ludicrous.

  • @ Safety Man:

    No, I agree she made bad decisions too. But her campaign staff should be excoriated for their lack of strategic sense and not acting as a brake for some of her worst decisions. The election should have never even been close. Given her limitations as a campaigner (it was why Barack Obama won the 2008 primaries, after all), you'd think they would have learned something in the intervening eight years and tried to steer her in different directions. They never seemed to have any innovative ideas for her to spring, no means to brand Trump as a bad human being. They seemed afraid to directly engage him.

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