Since May 9th, the nonstop coverage of Trump—all of it extremely and damningly negative―has focused on supposed scandals that are, in Twitter’s parlance, “Big, if true.” Among the things we are asked to consider are dozens of reports from the press about how Trump fired Comey, how concerning that is, how Trump called out ex-Director Comey on Twitter regarding “tapes” of their conversations, how Comey created a memorandum detailing a problematic request from Trump regarding the Flynn investigation (“I hope you can let this go”), how Trump called Comey “a real nut job,” how Trump was indiscreet with highly classified intel during a meeting with both the Russian foreign minister and ambassador to the United States, and how Trump asked two national security officials to “publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.”
It certainly looks bad for Trump. It certainly looks like we’re watching in real-time (courtesy of social media) the execution of a “slow motion coup.” It certainly seems to be a concerted effort on the part of the legacy media and the administrative state to deny and rollback the results of a legitimate election. It certainly seems like lots of folks are treating democracy like a plaything.
Allow me to offer a theory that those relentlessly pushing these stories would rather you not entertain too seriously: You’re being had. To understand how and why, we’ll need some background and context.
Writing recently at his blog, Noahpinion, Noah Smith, an economist and Bloomberg View columnist, discusses what he calls “mud moats”: “vast literatures” that partisans of an issue insist their opponents wade through—which forces them to expend great time and energy and also distracts them from advancing their own position—before they’ll discuss the topic in question. He offers a hypothetical:
If you and your buddies have a political argument, a vast literature can help you defend your argument even if it’s filled with vague theory, sloppy bad empirics, arguments from authority, and other crap. If someone smart comes along and tries to tell you you’re wrong about something, just demand huffily that she go read the vast literature before she presumes to get involved in the debate. Chances are she’ll just quit the argument and go home, unwilling to pay the effort cost of wading through dozens of crappy papers. And if she persists in the argument without reading the vast literature, you can just denounce her as uninformed and willfully ignorant. Even if she does decide to pay the cost and read the crappy vast literature, you have extra time to make your arguments while she’s so occupied. And you can also bog her down in arguments over the minute details of this or that crappy paper while you continue to advance your overall thesis to the masses.
He also discusses what I’ll call “citation cartels”: groups of scholars, usually in bogus disciplines like “gender studies,” who cite to other like-minded scholars’ work in that field in order to self-servingly bolster the credibility of their work, even as the whole arrangement is nothing more than a confirmation bias daisy chain that never gets outside of the self-created universe of that very same bogus discipline. He writes:
Suppose you and your friends wanted to push a weak argument for political purposes. You could all write a bunch of papers about it, with abstracts and numbered sections and bibliographies and everything. You could cite each other’s papers. If you wanted to, you could even create a journal, and have a peer review system where you give positive reviews to each other’s B.S. papers. Voila—a peer-reviewed literature chock full of misinformation.
Is this not eerily similar to what we’re seeing regarding this multi-part, slow-moving Trump Administration potential implosion? Just replace “vast literature” with “dozens of media reports per day.”
Ask yourself: If the media really were trying accurately to report the goings-on in the Trump White House and on surrounding persons and activities, would they publish articles as transparently ridiculous as this article purporting to explain Comey’s own thinking by citing to … some person who isn’t him? Never mind that the article contradicts Comey’s own May 3rd testimony.
If your goal is honesty, why not ask Comey himself, or wait for him to testify before Congress, as he said he’ll do in the coming weeks, before reporting on his thoughts about why he was fired and/or the investigation?
It seems plausible that academia’s dreaded citation cartels actually do have an analogue in the real world. A mainstream, anti-Trump media outlet (but I repeat myself)—staffed by (in the words of former Vice President Spiro Agnew) “a small and unelected elite” who possess a “profound influence over public opinion” without any checks on their “vast power”—that wants a certain result (Trump’s destruction) has recourse to seemingly endless anonymous sources that conveniently—and eagerly!—say whatever is damaging to Trump, and then those leaks and quotes are approvingly duplicated by all the other major outlets who want exactly same thing, conferring upon these stories the illusion of objectivity and correctness.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence—which the media (tellingly) is not providing. It seems highly plausible that their goal is to force friends and supporters of the administration—those who doubt the chaos depicted by the prevailing narrative—to embrace a sort of epistemic nihilism by wearing them down: for folks to continue to support or at least give the benefit of the doubt to a democratically elected President Trump, they would have to (supposedly) embrace the absurd. Sayeth the anti-Trump media, bureaucracy, and pundits: Are you really going to tell us that all or most of these dozens of stories are all false or mostly puffed up? How could we all be so wrong? How could we spin such an elaborate web of falsehoods?
Those questions are immaterial. It doesn’t matter one scintilla to Trump’s enemies that there is zero evidence of anything untoward between his campaign/administration and Russia (even top Democrats like Senator Feinstein, certainly no friend to this president, admit this) or that his own officials (like H.R. McMaster) push back on media stories like the one about the inappropriately shared intel.
This is about a so-called #Resistance which—as it gleefully peddles this obscurantist propaganda campaign—reveals itself to be the real enemy both of the American Republic and of its precious constitutional norms (why else would it ignore a bona fide Obama scandal hiding in plain sight?). This is about a segment of the country that utterly loathes Trump, is simply incapable of coming to terms with the reality of a Trump presidency, and thus will do anything and everything to obliterate him—including through a death-by-a-thousand-cuts campaign. This is about anti-Trump forces’ depicting loathsome impropriety and unfitness for office with all the solidity of a paper tiger. This is about the Left’s obsession with replicating 1973—making Trump and Russia the 21st century bywords for Nixon and Watergate of the 20th.
Don’t be a sucker. Don’t let them succeed.