Happy Monday. We’re eight days away from Election Day. Making the click-through worthwhile: why we need to push back against conspiracy theories; anti-individualism, and the troubled minds attracted to those ideas; the youth aren’t interested in voting early so far this year; and why the GOP could have a good Election Day but not quite live up to the “red wave” claims.
Take This Conspiracy Theory and Shove It
What do the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, the Florida mail-bomber, the angry young man who drove a van into a crowd on a Toronto street in April, and last year’s shooter at the congressional baseball field have in common?
Based on what we know at this time, they all subscribed to a worldview where the problems in the world stemmed from a particular group of people they deemed sinister and powerful. The Pittsburgh synagogue shooter believed it was a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. The Florida mail-bomber believed that it was George Soros and prominent Democrats. The Toronto van driver believed that it was a vast, coordinated effort of the world’s women to keep him and other “incels” from relationships and happiness. The shooter at the congressional baseball field believed that President Trump and Republicans had “destroyed our democracy” and that they were the “Taliban of the USA.”
At some point, all of these men became fixated on “them” — some sort of group that they could blame for all of the problems in their lives. The baseball-field shooter was married and had his own business once, but he had been arrested for domestic battery towards a foster daughter; another foster daughter killed herself. The baseball-field shooter eventually dissolved his business and became increasingly obsessed with politics. The Florida mail-bomber had declared bankruptcy, had been arrested nine times, and was living in his van. The Toronto van driver was nearly friendless, awkward, technically proficient, but had difficulty with social skills.
We’re still learning details about the synagogue shooter, but by Sunday, the familiar portrait was coming into focus: “an isolated, awkward man who lived alone and struggled with basic human interactions, neighbors and others who knew him said on Sunday.”
It’s almost always the same, isn’t it? Few or no friends, no relationships, estranged from family, difficulty holding down a job, and a lot of time spent online on chat boards and sites that reinforce growing paranoia, scapegoating, and hatred. It’s safe to assume this shooter’s life, like the others, did not turn out the way that he had hoped.
All of these men shared an inability to face the possibility that the problems in their life were a result of their own decisions and actions. They retreated to the flattering conclusion that only a vast conspiracy of powerful forces could possibly have brought them to this state of perpetual disappointment.
The good news is that very few of us walk around thinking like this. If all it took to turn someone into a homicidal maniac was a Donald Trump speech, or a Bernie Sanders speech, or an anti-Semitic website, or a rant against women, then the world would be nonstop massacres.
To blame Trump or Sanders or anyone else in our political realm for the actions of the homicidal is as arbitrary as blaming video games, heavy-metal music, rap music, violent movies, or Dungeons and Dragons for youth crime.
But if one of the preeminent arguments in our society about the power of the individual — whether we are the captains of our fate and masters of our soul, or whether the quality of our lives is heavily determined by broader societal factors outside of our individual ability to control, influence, or overcome — then the conspiracy theorists are just a more extreme form of a pretty widespread anti-individualist philosophy.
The average progressive activist may or may not be much of a conspiracy theorist in terms of chemtrails, Area 51, the Roswell crash, the JFK assassination, and so on. But they’re likely to believe that the Kochs; Sheldon Adelson; big businesses; top-level Republicans; some of the Supreme Court justices; and variously, “the military-industrial complex;” Diebold voting machines; the Saudis; the Russians; and various other malevolent forces are working in concert to take America towards a dark future.
And Trump-era conservative activists may buy into farfetched notions of secret sinister plots uniting George Soros, illegal immigrants, Silicon Valley moguls, climate-change scientists working together to con the public, “crisis actors,” the Clinton “Arkancide” list, the killing of Seth Rich, Pizzagate, the “deep state,” and so on.
A 2012 poll found that roughly one-third of Democrats believed that the 2004 election was stolen, and one-third of Republicans believed that the 2012 election was stolen, and research in 2009 found that about 40 percent of Republicans believed that President Obama was born abroad, and about 40 percent of Democrats thought that 9/11 was an inside job.
At least all of these folks can come together and unite by refusing to vaccinate their children.
What we need is a broad, society-wide push to hammer hard truths into people’s heads.
If you’re having problems with your career, it’s your own damn fault. If you’re having problems in your relationships, it’s your own damn fault. It’s not because of the Illuminati, or the Trilateral Commission, or the Bilderbergers, or the Stonecutters.
If your life has not turned out the way you wanted it to, do something about it — stop sitting in front of a computer screen, reading a site that is assuring you that it’s because of government false-flag operations, or that the elections are rigged, or they’re putting stuff in the water, or that natural-cause deaths of famous figures were disguised assassinations, or that the weather is being controlled, and that secret government agencies are behind every major news event. You’re not important enough for the world’s rich, powerful, and/or sinister to get together and seek to undermine you. They don’t need to hold you back; you’re doing that job just fine on your own.
(You’ll notice that shooters and bombers don’t get named in my columns. If part of their motivation is the appetite for fame and recognition, let their names be forgotten.)
Maybe Young People Just Aren’t Interested in Voting Early
Young voters may still turn out in big numbers in 2018, but so far they’re not voting early. In Nevada, only 12 percent of early voters are under age 40, as of Saturday. A full half of the early voters are between the ages of 59 and 80 years old.
Politico looks at the numbers in Florida, where one-fifth of all the active registered voters have voted already:
Voters between the ages of 18-29 are 17 percent of the registered voters in Florida but have only cast 5 percent of the ballots so far. They tend to vote more Democratic. Meanwhile, voters 65 and older are 18.4 percent of the electorate but have cast 51.4 percent of the ballots. And older voters tend to vote more Republican.
Republicans Might Have an Okay 2018, But It’s Not a ‘Red Wave’
While I’m mildly bullish on Republican chances in the midterms, the “red wave” talk was always unrealistic. The Democratic base is fired up, and there’s not much that President Trump or the GOP can do about that. They can fire up their own base, and they have. The president has maintained a marathon schedule of rallies in corners of key states where he can do the most good. They can mitigate and attempt to equal the “blue wave,” but they can’t get Democrats to lose interest in voting in the midterms.
Trump and Republicans could take a certain pride in Democratic enthusiasm; the opposition gets fired up when the party in power actually does something consequential. But we saw the consequence of that highly motivated Democratic base in Virginia in 2017, and a whole bunch of states are tough for a Republican to win if the Democratic base shows up in force.
In Michigan, John James is a great candidate who’s closed the gap against Debbie Stabenow by a lot. But she’s still the favorite, and in the governor’s race, Republican Bill Schuette has consistently trailed Democrat Gretchen Whitmer. In Ohio, Jim Renacci never really put incumbent Democratic senator Sherrod Brown in danger, and in the governor’s race, Mike DeWine is no better than neck-and-neck with Richard Cordray. In Wisconsin, Leah Vukmir is a good candidate running in a tough year, and while Governor Scott Walker has overcome doubters many times before, this year looks particularly tough. In Pennsylvania, Congressman Lou Barletta represents a blue-collar district in the northeastern corner of the state, and he looked like the perfect challenger against incumbent Senator Bob Casey, but so far the race looks like a blowout. And Scott Wagner has failed to make his bid against incumbent Democratic governor Tom Wolf competitive.
There are nine big statewide gubernatorial or Senate races in those five Rust Belt/Upper Midwest states that were key to the 2016 election — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Democrats are on pace to win about six of those nine races, which should make the GOP at least a little nervous about Trump’s ability to keep them red in 2020.
ADDENDUM: (Sigh) Well, congratulations to Greg Corombos and Chicago Bears fans everywhere. After the game, New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles said he was “very proud of the way they fought and stayed together.” When you’re praising your team for not retiring or running away from the stadium before the final whistle, you’ve really set the bar low.