One of the hallmarks of the Steve Bannon era, and the Tucker Carlson era, the Rudy Giuliani era (and God help us all we could keep going with that for another hour if nobody reined us in), was the seemingly omnipresent political question: Are American voters really dim enough to fall for that? “That” has been a take-your-pick selection of some of the weirdest conspiracy theories and paranoias to ever have campaign money put behind them, but the answer has always seemed to be: Yes.
Yes, there is literally no invented paranoia too ridiculous for some segment of the jus’ folks Republican base to refuse to latch on to. You say Central American drug cartels are working with Al Qaeda to ship dangerous sex toys to Walmart store basements? This requires immediate action! Why are Democrats letting this happen? Why are our national newspapers not up in arms about this? Why yes, I will donate $20 to your campaign or interest group so that you can bring us more news about the Al Qaeda Sex Toy Caravan!
You might remember, as one example, that Texas Republicans — the sort of people who willingly elect Louie Gohmert to office, and more than once — became convinced during the Obama years that a multi-state military exercise used to test and train our large-scale military operations capabilities, dubbed by the Pentagon as Jade Helm, was secretly a plot by the federal government to take over Texas and turn it into, uh, part of America. Republicans showed up at town halls seething about these things. The state’s Republican officials put out stern warnings insisting that they were on the lookout for this sort of thing, so if any Texas law enforcement folks saw any suspicious pro-Obama annexation happening, by gum there would be trouble.
No, really. State officials had to “address” this and everything.
So yeah, something we’ve learned over the years is that the more conservative an American is, the more willing they are to believe absolutely anything you throw at them. You say caravans, they believe caravans. You say “Obama’s gonna annex Texas” they believe Obama’s gonna annex Texas. They might not know what a single damn word of it means, but they will make it a core part of their identity and howl in heavily-armed outrage at anyone who doesn’t believe it as much as they do.
Conservative dark money groups have taken to weaponizing that paranoia, and that brings us to the current moment. A Politico story reports that a dark money group calling itself Citizens for Sanity — this is a very Washington, D.C., thing, this naming convention of picking a name that openly throat-punches the premise of the underlying thing being sold — will supposedly be spending “millions of dollars” on what amounts to a trolling campaign.
A trolling campaign aimed just as much at their own base as on anyone else, mind you: The group is targeting allegedly out-of-control “wokeness” and the terrible “woke” radicals who are threatening America with it. The first John Brabender-produced ad, reports Politico, envisions a terror-filled future in which a transgender athlete wins a sporting event.
Because yes, that’s the sort of thing that will get Republican base voters worked up. Republican voters are not smart. They are extremely not smart. They are to smart what yogurt is to bridge construction. The Republican base quite literally does not care about 1 million pandemic deaths. They believe climate change is a hoax perpetrated against them by nerds. They would rather live in a post-coup fascist dystopia than pay an extra 20 cents for gas, and will tell you so to your face.
Tell them that transgender athletes are coming to win all the sporting events, thus somehow leading to America annexing Texas, you’ll have these beer-burping twits out waving guns in front of government buildings in three minutes flat. Conservative campaign groups love these voters. They can be controlled with a piece of cheese on a string. Come up with even the most bizarre scenario in which a conservative talk radio listener or Fox News watcher might be expected to show a bare amount of public decency and out come the guns. Convince them that the history book mention of Fredrick Douglass on page 174 is a conspiracy to make children “woke” and they'll be dry-humping whatever politician vows to defeat that evil scheme.
So this is how unknown rich assholes will be spending their money in the months before the midterms, and we don’t know which rich assholes because nobody wants their name attached to what amounts to a(nother) bottomlessly cynical professional hoax-producing outfit. Maybe it’s the MyPillow guy. Maybe it’s the Uline guy. Maybe it’s some stadium owner, maybe it’s that same group of half-dozen wealthy fascists that has been trying to overturn democracy ever since people started muttering that they should pay their damn taxes already. It’s purely a trolling effort, with billboards — and, if Politico is to be believed, this is actually real — with fake slogans plastered on them like “Protect Pregnant Men from Climate Discrimination,” and, “Open the jails. Open the borders. Close the schools. Vote progressive this November.”
It’s a multimillion dollar troll campaign, and the people being trolled aren’t just conservatism’s many supposed cultural enemies, but Republican voters themselves. If you want a conspiracy theory to panic over, here’s one: Republicans have spent the last five decades trying to sabotage both education and journalism, and now that a significant percentage of the U.S. population has yogurt for brains and couldn’t decipher a two-box flowchart if their lives depended on it, the party intends to capitalize on the effort by rousing the yogurt-brained as the driving force of electoral politics.
Forget about the coup attempt and the deaths in the U.S. Capitol. Forget about the Republican domestic terrorism, the new laws giving party lackeys the power to overturn election results, the million pandemic deaths, the two impeachments, the national security documents found stuffed into rooms at Mar-a-Lago. Forget about your abortion rights. If you abandon Republicanism just because of that stuff Republicans are doing, our dearly gullible Republican voters, criminals will run amuck, men will demand pregnancy rights, and children will be allowed to participate in sporting events without local party officials looking down their pants.
The premise of Citizens for Sanity: “Forget everything we’ve done, all you yogurt-brains. Instead, here are 50 new conspiracy theories. Just pick whichever one you want and go with it, we really don’t care.”
Once again: Republicanism is reliant on hoaxes. It is now how they campaign, and how they govern, and how they try to evade responsibility for even criminal acts. Not just the dark money groups, but individual campaigns are now centered around “The 2020 elections were secretly rigged against Trump,” or, “The entire American education system is actually a trick perpetrated on the country by woke anti-racist groomers.” Hoax-based gibberish is now the basis of all of Republicanism.
And we’re left once again wondering: Will it work? How much will it work? What percentage of conservative voters, after turning their own brains to absolute mush by watching pro-fascist conspiracy programs propped up by the Murdoch family for just a bit more wealth, will vote to ignore the abortion debate, Florida’s future coastlines, the future inhabitability of large parts of the Republican-held South, the return of polio, and an economy that’s no longer collapsing, because they are absolutely convinced a secret plot by “woke” people will destroy the country if they don’t keep voting for the party that turns everything it governs to crap?