February 19, 2020

Former Rep. David Jolly (R-FL), now an MSNBC commentator, told host Joy Reid Monday that Donald Trump is intentionally sowing chaos:

“Garry Kasparov, the Russian freedom activist, has said the point of disinformation isn’t to manipulate the truth, it’s to exhaust your critical thinking,” Jolly explained. “To exhaust your critical thinking, that’s what we’re experiencing as voters.”

“I had a colleague that was in a meeting in the Roosevelt Room and he said he heard Trump say, ‘Have you ever seen the nation so divided?’ My colleagues and others said, ‘No, we haven’t.’ Trump said, ‘I love it that way.’ This is the currency that he’s peddling as political strategy, but it’s not one we have to accept,” Jolly explained.

Sowing chaos strengthens Trump’s genetically weak hand. One hesitates to call anything Trump does a strategy. Sowing chaos — mated with bullying — is more a reflex the trust-fund “king of debt” has employed for decades to dominate more intelligent and capable people around him. This is perhaps an element of Trump’s kinship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a much craftier and more strategic authoritarian.

“He is escalating and sending our nation into chaos. I know this man,” Tony Schwartz tweeted in October 2017. Schwartz, who ghost-wrote Trump’s “The Art of the Deal,” added a dire warning: “Republicans and Democrats alike must find a way to remove Trump from office as soon as possible. I can’t overstate the mortal danger he poses.”

Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin ponders how “Ivy League-educated, formerly sane politicians” can regurgitate Trump’s conspiracy theories, patent falsehoods, anti-science, and other “unadulterated nonsense.” Rubin writes:

It is not as if anti-intellectualism suddenly appeared with the election of President Trump. The habitual rejection of expertise on everything from climate change to the economic impact of immigration has been rampant in the Republican Party for some time. It is part and parcel of the invented victimization of mostly white, non-college-educated men who attribute their loss of prestige and status to “elites,” especially those in colleges and the media. Even right-wingers who should know better have felt compelled to pander to audiences that wear ignorance and anti-intellectualism as a badge of honor.

Political sentiments do not exist on a linear spectrum, but on a circle. Travel too far left or right and extremists meet each other. It is why authoritarians exist on the left as well as on the right. (I often use “left-wing fundamentalists” to drive home the point.)

To answer Rubin’s query about how smart, college-educated people can spew nonsense, consider the New Age movement that saw its apogee in the 1990s. This post is from 2015:

The irony about evidence falling on hard times is that when I arrived here in the 1990s, the New Age was in full flower-power. As Larry Massett observed in “A Night on Mt. Shasta” (recorded during the Harmonic Convergence), “I met a lot of people I liked and almost no one I believed.” People following their spiritual journeys seemed alienated by modernity, and suckers for whatever snake oil came peddled by people who seemed genuine enough.

Massett noticed how many New Agers he met began sentences with “for me.” He began to think of it as a “universal prepositional solvent, making conflict impossible, dissolving external reality.” The movement did not represent spiritual evolution so much as a return to medieval pre-science and mystery religion adorned in contemporary vestments and speaking in a vocabulary lifted from Star Trek and particle physics. People I met who spoke with aliens, channeled spirits, and sold snake oil at spirituality trade shows seemed nice, intelligent, and as lost as Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and others in the Donald Trump fan club.

The New Age was a reaction to the coldness of modernity and the loss of community the same way Trump’s followers feel displaced by change. I wrote at the time (1995):

People are desperate for something in which they can believe. Communities have disappeared, replaced by subdivisions and condominiums. Terrorism and human rights abuses are more visible than ever. Anything you eat, drink or breathe might produce cancer. Science has reduced life to a cold set of mechanistic principles, demythologizing the world and stripping life of the meaning our myths once conveyed. The world seems to be coming apart and we are powerless to stop it. Nothing feels right anymore.

The New Age was an attempt to find meaning amidst the chaos of the modern world by scavenging from the ancients an ecumenical mythology to replace that lost to scientific rationalism. Trump’s MAGA faithful simply want to stand athwart history, yelling Stop — if not sometime during the Medieval period, then seventy-five years ago before political reforms of the 1960s upended their comfortable, white Christian patriarchy. So long as they can bring Fox News back in time with them.

Decades after the New Age got old, it is the right’s turn to dissolve external reality, only this time making conflict inevitable in its pursuit of a security blanket of the familiar. Disinformation sows chaos. Trump thrives in it, as do his autocrat friends. We need to steel ourselves for more of it. Rather than expending energy refuting the flood of lies, we need to drown them as much as possible in truth.

In a land where objective truth escapes the bounds of gravity and the president rejects the laws of men, darker forces see opportunity for exploitation. Putin is patiently waiting as Europe shakes its head at Trumpism. The MAGA faithful will find Trump’s New Age less cozy than they imagine.

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Published with permission of Hullabaloo

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