I think some of my friends believe I have lost my mind. I’ve always prided myself on how I use social media: engaging with everyone with charity, avoiding the hint of an ad hominem, and carefully limiting my use. I’ve violated all these principles, and more, in recent days.
The fact is, I’m angry. I’m very, very angry. I don’t believe this is healthy or right or good. I have been spending a lot more time in prayer in recent days. And yet, the anger keeps bubbling up. Yesterday, I deactivated my social media accounts. And yet, the anger is still there.
And so I am going to explain some of the reasons for my anger. You be the judge if I have lost my mind.
In 2015, I was working full-time as a conservative journalist and editor. I vividly remember the suspicion, even disgust, most social conservatives expressed at the time, when it looked like Trump might clinch the GOP nomination. How could we ever get behind, or trust such a man?
Then, in July, 2016, Trump chose Mike Pence as his running mate. That was a brilliant move. We didn’t know what to make of Trump. But we did know Pence. And Pence was committed. He was the real deal. So, we climbed aboard the Trump Train.
Anybody who’s paid attention, knows that Pence was the driving force behind the Trump admin’s social conservative agenda. Yes, Trump deserved kudos for getting behind it, but Pence was the architect. He was our main man in the White House. And for four years, he delivered.
On Tuesday, on Twitter, Trump repeatedly called for Pence to reject the certified electors in the swing states, saying that if he didn’t, Pence would be to blame for his loss. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I was literally shaking with anger as I read those Tweets. Trump was publicly setting up Pence as his fall guy, his scapegoat.
“The coward,” I thought. “The double-crossing, two-faced, lying, unscrupulous, disloyal, thankless ingrate,” I added. “This,” I thought, “this is the moment. This is the moment when social conservatives wake up, and realize that they’re in bed with a snake, a crocodile.”
Trump repeated his accusations against Pence at the rally on Wed. morning. “If Mike Pence does the right thing we win the election,” he said. He even dared to suggest that if Pence didn’t do what he said, it was because he lacked “courage”.
Pence responded with a statement explaining why he couldn’t do what Trump was demanding he do. Clearly, he was right. You’d have to be insane or delusional to think the framers of the Constitution or the 12th amendment intended to grant the vice president the authority to do what Trump was demanding Pence do. (“Hey, let’s give unilateral authority to reject legislatively-certified electoral votes to the politician whose continued position and power depend on the outcome of that vote! What a great idea! Because a little tyranny never hurt democracy, amiright?”) Which is why it has never happened in the history of the country.
According to reports (UPDATE: here’s video), during the ensuing riot some of the rioters rampaged through the Capitol looking for Pence, so they could string him up. Some of them built a gallows in front. A day later, “hang Mike Pence” trended on Twitter.
All of this was entirely foreseeable. Trump foresaw it, and yet he betrayed Pence like a coward, handing him over to the bloodlust of the followers whom he had fanned into fury.
And MAGA, including many social conservatives on my social media feeds, followed suit, kicking Pence the moment Trump whistled, choosing Trump over the man who had proven, through years of faithful service, that he is a man of integrity, conviction, authentic faith, and moral courage.
So yeah, I’m angry.
In the minutes after the Capitol riot, I watched as numerous conservative friends and acquaintances started sharing memes and images claiming that two of the most visible rioters were “Antifa” and “BLM” provocateurs.
From the moment the first of these memes crossed my social feed, to the moment my feed was flooded with them, was less than an hour. Within a couple hours, millions of people had spread them across Facebook and Twitter.
It took me less than two minutes to identify both of the men. Both of them are well-known Trump supporters. I quickly wrote an article exposing the lie. But by that time it was too late. Millions of people already believed they had “proof” that the riot was instigated by Antifa provocateurs. Nothing will ever convince them otherwise.
On Wed. evening, a Washington Times article claiming that a “facial recognition” company, XRvision, had identified “Antifa” activists in the crowd went viral. It was shared over 350,000 times on Facebook. Later that night, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz repeated the allegation on the House floor. Within hours XRVision sent a cease and desist order to the Times, noting that they had in fact identified members of neo-nazi organizations in the crowd. But, too late. Millions had already seen and believed the first version of the story.
In the days since, MAGA fans have dug up a couple of videos that show, or appear to show, police letting rioters into the Capitol. These videos, they claim, prove that the whole riot was a “set up”, a “false flag operation”; or that the protest was a “mostly peaceful” – or even “almost entirely peaceful” – demonstration that is being overblown by the media and Democrats.
And so, bathing in the waters of absolution provided by this newest fantasy, MAGA rests with a clear conscience, convicted that it was “them,” not “us“, who is most to blame. (The first rule of political fight club: it’s always “them,” it’s never “us.”)
Fantasy, I say, because in order to believe this theory, you would have to ignore the dozens and dozens of horrifying videos showing hordes of hundreds of MAGA fans physically battling with the police inside and outside the Capitol, pushing through police lines (in one video, a young officer, bleeding from the mouth, screams in pain as he is wedged between a door and his shield, while the mob pushes on, heedless), smashing barriers and doors, dragging a fallen police officer down the steps and beating him while hundreds of rioters continue an all-out assault on officers guarding the door, interrogating and assaulting journalists, and all the while screaming “traitor!” at the policing protecting the Capitol.
You would have to ignore the fact of 60 police officers injured, one dead. Another officer took his own life days after the riot. (I remember the mockery among conservatives when UK media reported on a BLM protest this summer, in which a “mere” 27 police were injured as being “mostly peaceful.”)
You’d have to ignore all the arrest reports of known Trump supporters, including one who showed up with an M4 rifle, loaded magazines, handguns, and jars filled with homemade napalm; or the one who texted to friends, on his way to the demonstration, “Headed to DC with a shit ton of 5.56 armor-piercing ammo.” And then, “Thinking about heading over to Pelosi Cunt’s speech and putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV.”
Many of the people credulously spreading the Antifa/BLM narrative as proven fact, or downplaying the violence, or excusing or even celebrating the riot, or escaping the duty of self-reflection and self-correction with puerile, pathetic whataboutism, or excusing Trump from all blame, are social conservative activists who should know better.
So yeah, I’m angry.
Electoral Fraud and the Triumph of Fantasy
This is the point where, as a committed conservative, I’m supposed to make excuses for my ideological allies. This is where I’m supposed to explain that we only reached this point because the political establishment and the mainstream media have lied and treated us like dirt for so long; because after four years of constant attacks and demonization of our most preciously held beliefs conservatives were driven to desperation. “Maybe what happened at the Capitol isn’t excusable, but it was understandable,” I’m supposed to say. “After all, it was ‘they’ who pushed us to the breaking point,” etc. etc.
Well, I’m not going to do that.
As a friend of mind noted on Facebook the other day, there’s this old, medieval theory called “the theory of free will.” It states that we’re individually responsible for our actions, whatever the circumstances.
One thing conservatives love to do is to make fun of the “fake news media.” And one of our favorite fantasies is that our favorite alternative conservative media outlets are the place to go to get the “real truth” about what’s going on.
In reality, many alternative conservative news sites and outlets are as one-sided, biased, and full of lies and fake news as CNN and MSNBC. Often, much more so. Conservatives, as much as liberals, have lost the taste for the hard work involved in separating fact from fiction. We’ve gotten comfortable with lies. We love a good conspiracy theory. We read news agencies that tell us what we want to hear. We share juicy claims about our enemies without asking if they’re true, because it convinces us we’re on the “right side”. We believe everything our allies say, because it makes us feel good. And we never, ever admit we’ve gotten something wrong, or apologize when we’re caught sharing fake news.
A few months ago, I saw a prominent conservative leader post a “quote” by Kamala Harris on his Facebook page. The quote was horrifying. “Our soldiers have become nothing more than a collection of evil sadistic monsters whose sole purpose of existence is to maim and slaughter,” Harris reportedly said. I knew the quote was fake the moment I clapped eyes on it. So I tracked the source down. It was from a satirical website. There was also a Snopes fact-check. I posted the link to the fact-check below the post on the conservative leader’s page.
Then I turned to my wife, who was sitting across the table, and quipped wryly, “How long until someone reams me out for relying on Snopes?” I laughed when, a minute or two later, an employee from another conservative organization dismissed my post, denouncing Snopes as “leftist propaganda.”
A few years ago, I started tracking instances of fake news shared by conservatives in my news feed. But I gave it up. There was just too damn much of it. But whenever I point out that fake news is a problem on the right as much as on the left, I’m accused of being overly scrupulous. “Why are you wasting your time criticizing conservatives, when the liberals are destroying the country?”
Well, because without truth, we’re screwed. That’s one huge reason why I think we’re screwed right now. We’re unmoored from reality, floating in a soothing bath of fake or biased news and outright fantasy.
Many of my conservative acquaintances are flabbergasted that I do not believe that the 2020 election was stolen. They cannot imagine how an honest person faced with the sheer volume of fraud allegations, affidavits, and videos, and the obvious malice of the left towards the President, can remain unconvinced that the whole thing stank to high heaven.
I won’t say that the election was not stolen. I don’t know that, if only because I can’t claim to have evaluated every allegation – an impossible task. However, what I do know for certain, is that a staggering number of the fraud allegations that people think prove the election was stolen are demonstrably false, and that the people most responsible for pushing the fraud narrative are completely unworthy of our trust.
I spent weeks poring over the allegations. More often than not, there came a moment when it became clear that the allegation I was investigating was based upon a basic misunderstanding or misreading of the data, relevant law or electoral procedures, or that the “evidence” offered to support the allegation was erroneous, incomplete, circumstantial, cherry-picked, or dishonest.
Let me put it this way: Ten thousand grainy, 30-second, carefully clipped CCTV videos of election officials doing something that The Gateway Pundit assures you is shady or fraudulent does not a single provable case of election fraud make.
The fact is, most people who are absolutely convinced that the election was stolen, have never once, since Nov. 2, seriously considered the possibility that it wasn’t. From the moment those first videos began to circulate of Arizona Republicans falsely claiming that election workers had deliberately invalidated their votes by making them fill out the ballots with Sharpies, they never looked back. They knew the election was stolen. If it wasn’t Sharpiegate, it was something else.
Maybe not all the allegations were true. But some of them must be! If not this one, than the next one. Every day, Trump and his lawyers and allies made new allegations. It was impossible to keep up. There was a tsunami of fraud. We were buried in fraud. Trump must be right. He won by a “landslide”. By “millions” of votes!
If one allegation fell apart, no worries, there was always another twenty to take its place. And besides, Trumpists could always just move the goalpost. “The Georgia recount will expose massive fraud, will prove that Dominion machines algorithmically switched votes!” When the recount showed that, in fact, the hand count matched the Dominion count, then it was, “We need a second recount. That will expose the fraud”. When the second recount also validated the result, then it was, “Audit the signatures! That’s where the fraud really took place!” When a signature matching audit in Cobb county found no fraud, then it was, “Audit the signature matches in Fulton county. That’s where the fraud is to be found!”
When a judge rejected a lawsuit, it was because he was an “Obama appointee.” When the judge was a Trump appointee, it was because he was a “traitor.”
I could go on like this for a long time, but I won’t. If you believe the election was stolen, I’m probably not going change your mind. Frankly, at this point, I’m not even sure it even matters.
Even if the election was stolen, by now we should all be able to agree that Trump and his lawyers were so catastrophically incompetent in how they set about “proving” their case, that they bear a huge portion of the blame for where we find ourselves now. If Trump can’t manage to get a single judge to rule his way, or if he can’t convince even the pro-Trump Republican governor and secretary of state of Georgia that he’s right, maybe he’s not the brilliant operator we’re supposed to believe he is.
On the other hand, maybe – just maybe – the whole thing was another giant, convenient fantasy, like the fantasy that the riots on Wed. were perpetrated by Antifa. Maybe we should have listened to Sen. Ben Sasse – that “traitor” (who isn’t a traitor these days?) – who said a few days ago that all his colleagues admit in private conversation that they don’t actually believe the election was stolen. Really, they’re just terrified of the MAGA fans who do believe it. And hell, if they had reason to be terrified before Wednesday, they sure have reasons to be terrified now.
Maybe we’re all just suckers. Maybe we were all played by Trump. And why should we be surprised? We knew all along that he was a compulsive liar. But somewhere along the line, for some reason, we started believing his lies. Because, I suppose, his lies sounded so much better than the truth. But that’s no excuse.
So yeah, I’m angry.
The king crocodile of the swamp
Roger Stone had something to say a couple days ago. “The @AmericaFirstProject are building a database liof (sic) Republicans who opposed the president,” he wrote on Parler. “We will be able to tell exactly where they are and we will hold them responsible for their actions. Hey Stuart Stevens go fuck yourself you talentless piece of human garbage. Why does your breath smell like Mitt Romney’s cock.”
Stone, recently pardoned by Trump, arguably has the distinction of being the man, other than Trump, most responsible for Trump’s presidency. He is allegedly the one who convinced Trump to run. As president, Trump put into practice Stone’s Machiavellian political strategies, outlined in the book Stone’s Rules.
After Trump commuted Stone’s prison sentence, Stone claimed he was “born again”. He was reading the Bible every day, he said. He started making the rounds of Sunday pulpits, giving his “testimony.” I watched several of these “testimonies.” They were indistinguishable from pro-Trump stump speeches, except that every now and then, like a good prosperity preacher, Stone would drop some reference to “the Lord.”
I’m Catholic, and so I was stunned when Catholic media figures Patrick Coffin and Michael Voris gave fawning interviews to Stone. Eric Metaxas had Stone on his show. All three of them treated Stone as a hero and a martyr, and accepted his conversion story at face value. Stone recently told my good friend Jonathon van Maren that he believes that there is a “prophesy” that says that he will save the country. (What isn’t there a prophesy about these days?)
A few weeks ago, I was discussing Lin Wood, Sidney Powell’s right-hand man, with a pro-life activist. I expressed my view, after watching him at the Stop the Steal rally in Georgia, that Wood was smarmy and untrustworthy, and that he was putting on an act for religious MAGA fans. Like Stone, Wood made sure to drop plentiful references to “the Lord” and Biblical stories during the Georgia rally. But the whole time watching him, I felt like I was bathing in grease.
My interlocutor assured me that I just didn’t get it, and that Wood was a “big deal” to conservatives in the States. He was a hero. Within days, Wood was on Twitter alleging that Chief Justice John Roberts is a pedophile (that’s one way of convincing SCOTUS to hear your election fraud lawsuit!) and repeatedly calling for Pence to be executed by firing squad. Wood is one of those responsible for spreading the Antifa rumors after the riot, deceptively posting a photo of one of the rioters taken from an Antifa website, without disclosing that the photo was from an article exposing the rioter for being a white supremacist.
A couple weeks ago, Michael Flynn publicly called for Trump to institute martial law and administer another election using the military. (This was another moment when I thought to myself: “This is the moment. This is when MAGA-supporting social conservatives will realize that the Trump Train has completely jumped the tracks!” Nope. Instead, martial law became the cool, hip and totally reasonable thing to do.) Recently Flynn has begun to sell QAnon merchandise.
In November, Sidney Powell burst onto the scene, claiming to have proved, in the space of two weeks, a vast, international conspiracy involving multiple multi-national corporations, dead dictators, Cuba, Venezuela, China, Germany, and more. As a longtime journalist, it boggled my mind even to consider the number of facts Powell would have had to establish in just two weeks to prove her case. None of it added up. None of it has withstood scrutiny. But she did have an affidavit from an anonymous Venezualan official. Oh, and another by a “military intelligence expert” with the James Bondish codename “Spyder”, who turned out to be a former mechanic with no intelligence experience. Oh, and another by “private contractor with experience gathering and analyzing foreign intelligence” who turned out to be a pro-Trump podcaster with a nasty habit of claiming to have advanced degrees and credentials that she doesn’t in fact have. Powell, too, has repeatedly signaled her support for QAnon. Now, she is being sued by Dominion for $1.3 billion in damages.
These are MAGA’s heroes. These are the people I’ve been told over and over again in recent weeks will “save” the Republic, the people to whom I owed unquestioning loyalty, whom I was denounced for doubting or criticizing.
Grifters. Con artists. Conspiracy theorists.
Meanwhile, these are the people who MAGA has now labelled “traitors”: Mike Pence, Bill Bar, Betsy Devos, Amy Coney Barrett (all of Trump’s SCOTUS nominees, in fact) Brad Raffensperger, Brian Kemp…in fact, anybody and everybody who has ever dared ever breathe a word of criticism of Trump.
For the past four years, Trump hasn’t been draining the swamp. He is the swamp. Or rather, the king crocodile of the swamp.
But any time I, or others, have raised these concerns in public, we’ve been told that we’ve lost the plot, that we’re turncoats, that we’re not really “on side.” That we’re Never Trumpers (even if we weren’t). That we’re weak, and cowardly. Cucks. That we just don’t “like” Trump because he’s not “nice” enough. That we’re suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome.
So yeah, I’m angry.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, has disturbed me more over the past four years, than the weird misuse of Christian religious language, spirituality and mysticism in service of the Trumpist political agenda. I’ve written about this elsewhere, and so I won’t repeat myself here.
However, I will add that I hope the day will come when I will see other alleged Trumpist “prophets,” or the people who spread their prophesies, apologizing for misleading the faithful, as Christian leader Jeremiah Johnson recently did (And has since received death threats for so doing.)
The effect of these alleged prophesies has been to endow political loyalties with a degree of religious fervor and conviction that rightly belong only to God. Clad in the certitude of total faith, Trumpist true believers have breezily rejected every inconvenient fact or event or piece of evidence as a diabolical deception. After all, what do your “facts” matter, when God Himself has told us the truth? Eric Metaxas even stated that he didn’t need evidence that the election had been stolen; he knew that Trump had been re-elected, because God was on Trump’s side.
In reality, this was the diabolical deception: the complete confusion of spiritual and political loyalties; the rejection of reason and fact in favor of credulous belief in unproven and untested “prophesies” that amounted to little more than wish fulfillment fantasies rubberstamped with divine endorsement.
In the world of Trumpism, religious principles were rewritten to accommodate Trump, rather than Trump being measured according to religious principles. The mere fact that Trump openly used religious language and imagery and made overt gestures to a religious demographic was taken as a de facto triumph, indisputable evidence that the President was bringing the United States back to God, that his faith was sincere, that he was God’s instrument doing God’s work.
And if you doubted this, it was because you lacked faith.
The result was a weird, perverse form of Christian nationalism. As Russell Moore wrote this week:
The sight of “Jesus Saves” and “God Bless America” signs by those violently storming the Capitol is about more than just inconsistency. It is about a picture of Jesus Christ and of his gospel that is satanic. The mixing of the Christian religion with crazed and counter-biblical cults such as Q-Anon is telling the outside world that this is what the gospel is. That’s a lie, and it is blasphemous against a holy God.
Trump has not brought the country back to God. He and his grifter friends have infiltrated and perverted the Church, exploiting Christians’ spiritual loyalties to serve his personal ambitions, recreating the church in MAGA’s image, and luring us away from our core religious, ethical and political principles.
So yeah, I’m angry.
Escaping the cult
Right now, the tech companies are reacting to the riot with a massive crackdown on conservative viewpoints and personalities. This must be opposed fiercely. The monopoly of the tech giants is, hands down, the greatest threat to freedom right now.
However, I will say this: This was foreseeable. And it was preventable.
And it is this, above everything, that makes me angry.
I have said since the first day of Trump’s presidency, that the primary result of his presidency would be to foment a backlash from the left that would not only erase whatever conservative gains he pursued in the meantime, but would ensure that conservatives were ultimately far worse off than if he had never been president.
It is hard to deny that this is where we find ourselves now: Most of Trump’s accomplishments were accomplished through personnel changes or executive orders. All of this will be wiped out on the first day of the Biden administration. Meanwhile, MAGA has descended into a rat’s nest of violence, conspiracy theorizing, and cultish thinking, culminating in a horrific attack on the seat of democracy that has given the tech giants the excuse and public support they need to conduct a purge, silencing and marginalizing conservative voices. Meanwhile, the whole GOP is weakened by this internal civil war, the conservative movement divided and rendered ineffectual by ferocious disagreements over the personality who has dominated our every waking hour for the past five years.
The right’s response right now is to blame everything on the left. No doubt, the left bears a great deal of the blame. I can recite the litany of leftist crimes of the past four years as well as anybody else. But I have lost all patience with whataboutism. I have lost all patience with the mental habit of eschewing responsibility by responding to all criticism or internal self-doubt by reciting the litany of grievances against the left.
All we had to do, was stay true our principles: Truth matters. Character matters. Charity, decency, honesty, the rule of law, love for our enemies, humility, goodness – all of these matter.
Some conservatives have been asking me why I’m directing so much of my anger at “our side,” when the “other side” has done so many horrible things. The short answer? Because I’m not responsible for the other side. I can’t change them. I have no influence over them. I am not surprised when my enemies do things I disagree with. It doesn’t make me angry, because I never expected anything different.
But when my own side abandons its own principles willy-nilly, and then girds itself in the impregnable armour of puerile whataboutism (“Ok, so we did riot a little. But what about all those BLM riots over the summer, huh? Why didn’t the media get as angry about those!”), then I get angry.
Every day over the past four years, I’ve seen and heard things that have troubled me, things that did not jibe with anything that I’d been taught to value as a conservative, a Christian and a thinker – things that, if a Democrat president had done or said the same, I know with certitude would have provoked ferocious responses from the right.
I noted, for instance, that Trump had a distressingly tenuous relationship with truth; that he was often unaccountably cruel not only to his sworn enemies, but to anybody who questioned or criticized him; that he had an extraordinary inability to earn and to maintain trust and loyalty among his advisors, friends and family; that his White House was a dumpster fire, a sordid day-time soap opera, with a revolving door of advisors and officials, welcomed effusively one minute, and thrown under the bus (or in prison) the next, with a final kick on Twitter for good effect; that he seemed to be surrounded and supported by a cabal of common con-men, grifters and snake-oil salesmen; that he spent a bizarre amount of time in frivolous feuds on Twitter, hurling schoolyard insults, or obsessing over cable news; that his unscripted speeches and interviews were frequently garbled and nonsensical; that he often displayed a failure to grasp the details or nuances of complex situations.
None of this necessarily amounted to a deal breaker, of course, especially in light of the ways Trump was delivering on key promises to social conservatives, and especially given the alternative. Clearly, however, The Most Important Thing was to keep our wits about us, shrewdly distinguishing the pros from the cons, weighing them in the balance, and being careful…very, very careful about how we went about mixing our brand with that of America’s #1 Salesman.
Instead, however, I increasingly heard conservative and Christian figures either flat-out deny the troubling things that I saw, or spin them as net positives rather than negatives. In many cases, it’s as if the troubling things I saw had been passed through Calvin’s transmogrifier, with incompetence re-emerging as incomprehensible genius, self-inflicted political wounds as proof of the persecution of the deep state, impulsive social media posting as a form of 8-D political chess, and ego-driven brawling as righteous crusading.
At some point Trumpism went from a political movement, to a political cult. I want out. I want everybody I know and love and respect to get out. I want to get back to the time when Christians and conservatives knew what they stood for. When we didn’t bend over backward to defend the indefensible. When our heroes and allies weren’t a collection of swamp creatures. When we knew better than to give absolute loyalty to any man. When we knew that culture, and family, and faith mattered far more than politics. When we valued and recognized goodness, decency, loyalty, truth, kindness, integrity, courage. When we knew that character is destiny.
So yeah, I’m angry.