How Come Alex Jones Wasn’t Onto Jeffrey Epstein?

Just read a tweet from the Miami Herald’s Julie K Brown, who knows better than anyone how lurid the Jeffrey Epstein story really is, warning people not to fall down the rabbit hole where he’s concerned. “You don’t have to believe he committed suicide,” she writes, but “be skeptical and responsible about where you get your information.”

I’m completely with her. I wrote hundreds of pages saying the same things about other targets of conspiracists. But who are you supposed to believe? The president of the United States, who hung out with Epstein back in the day, and who just in the last 24 hours or so said that Rudy is going to tell Congress about all the things he learned about Biden on his last trip to the Ukraine (and who can’t remember meeting Prince Andrew, who only spent time with Epstein in order to tell him that he couldn’t be friends with him anymore)–not to mention that “people in the White House” have to flush the toilet 15 times per crap and that there is a plague of monstrous women giving birth to babies in the ninth month? The New York Times, which kicked off the last election cycle with a first serial from Breitbart’s CLINTON CASH?

Honestly, I don’t know what it means to be a skeptic anymore. The Epstein story rubs my nose in the fact that real life Jewish billionaires, intellectuals, politicians, and self-promoting lawyers, not to mention British royals, mixed with the teenaged drug addicts that Epstein sex-trafficked, but I’m not supposed to believe that they had sex with them? Who wrote this script, anyway, Lyndon Larouche?

More and more, I think that Kathryn Olmstead got it right in REAL ENEMIES, in which she said that the government has proven itself so untrustworthy that you can’t dismiss anything out of hand. I mean, maybe the dungeon isn’t under Comet Pizza, but it could just as easily be next door.

But you know who has been talking about billionaire sex perverts for the last twenty years but didn’t have anything to say about Epstein until everyone else was talking about him? Alex Jones. Go figure.

Where we are as New Hampshire Votes

I think I understand what’s happening. On a retail level, none of the candidates seems inevitable or, polls notwithstanding, tactically, financially, and temperamentally equipped to crush Trump. The ideological and racial divisions within the Democratic party are real, if not as yawning as those between the Democrats and the Republicans. The only thing that unites us is Trump hatred, and we aren’t united in the belief that any of the candidates can beat him. That was what Biden was on paper–a champion–but clearly isn’t on the hustings. His own weakness and his son’s seeming corruption undid him. And that’s why Bloomberg is starting to surge and Buttigieg is the media darling that he is. Because it’s possible to imagine white but less-true-believing Trump voters switching their votes to them.

Bernie and Warren supporters like me would like to believe that progressive enthusiasm can save the day, but we all have PTSD from 2016. Deep down, we know that Trump’s people are more fanatical than we are and completely prepared to cheat. Even deeper down, we despair that this country is structurally so racist, patriarchal, and deferential to wealth that no black, female, or socialist candidate can ever be elected. We are so crushed that we look to the imaginary Trump voters that would switch to Bloomberg or Buttigieg to save us. It’s almost like a form of Stockholm syndrome.

Trump is weak and stupid and historically unpopular, but as they say in sports, he has really gotten into our heads. Whoever wins the nomination has to get him out of there–they have to make us believe that he is as weak as he really is.

Biden and the Mythical Middle

Oh, I’ll vote for him if I have to next November. That’s not the issue. But as I struggle to wrap my head around the notion of Biden as the Democratic nominee–a serial loser in presidential campaigns who seems much older than his 77 years, whose scandalous son has already been weaponized against him, a villain of sorts to the MeToo movement (I know he’s done good stuff, but I am old enough to remember Anita Hill), a guy who, however popular he is with older black voters, can hardly be expected to galvanize young people of any color–what baffles me the most is the idea that his supposed “moderation” is a tactical choice. First, the only radical in the campaign is Trump. Bernie and Elizabeth Warren are just FDR Democrats.

Second, while I understand that there is nostalgia for the good old days of the Cold War consensus, back before people of color and gays and women and environmentalists and woke young people started making so much noise, I can’t see what that has to do with the Democrats, who are the party of women and people of color and gays and environmentalists and woke young people today. If you think about it, that isn’t nostalgia for a lost consensus–it’s Trumpism. And the Trumpists already have their candidate.

We live in a polarized country, which means that it no longer has a middle. If you try to stake out a position in that space, your position is by definition nowhere. The only metaphor I can think of is continental drift. Once upon a time, Africa and South America were the same place, but now they are an ocean apart. Try to stake out a place in the middle and not only will you be thousands of miles away from any of your potential constituents on either continent, you’ll drown.

Are we living in a computer simulation?

Saw this article in Vox this morning, which got me thinking.

It seems to me that this is religion, or more precisely, Gnosticism, which is a belief system as opposed to a philosophical argument, and one that has bubbled up to the surface in times of stress and transition throughout history. For all we know, we COULD be living in a computer simulation, in an impostor God’s botched creation, in an alien creature’s fever dream, or in Plato’s cave. But no matter where or what we “really” are, the only reality that counts is the one that we can observe, measure, and, up to a point, infer using indirect means, like radio telescopes or mathematics. If we don’t know how to make sense of that environment, that doesn’t mean that there is another “real” environment that does make sense, where Schrodinger’s Cat, for example, is either alive or dead, and no good deed goes unrewarded. All that it means is that we haven’t been able to make adequate sense of our here and now. We still have to live here.

What disturbs me isn’t the idleness of these very smart peoples’ speculations–it’s the implication that if we ARE in a game, then some of us are supernumeraries whose sole role is to provide texture to the gamer’s experience. Some of us are designated victims (like the Red Shirts in Star Trek), some are enemies to be destroyed, and some of us are the avatars of real players, who alone have agency. That’s religion too–it’s like Protestant predestination, or worse still, Antinomianism, because it gives a person who believes they’re a “player” the license to do anything they wish in this world, no matter who it harms. More than license–if they think this is a first-person shooter game, then shooting is their sole reason for being. Of course, maybe that’s what explains the behavior of a Trump or a Barr.

I keep coming back to this quote from Emerson, that I remember reading in college: “Let us treat men and women well; treat them as if they were real; perhaps they are.” It’s a tenet you could live by.

People Really Hate Trump

A lot is being made of early polling that shows Warren or Biden winning the primary despite his/her widespread unpopularity. The assumption is that all the haters will coalesce behind Trump in a replay of 2016.

But it occurs to me that the polling hasn’t captured Trump’s deep-seated unpopularity. Setting aside that basket of deplorables who genuinely like him, I suspect that a significant slice of habitual Republican voters genuinely despise him as much as all Democrats do. They hate him so much, in fact, that he’s poisoned their view of all politicians–even clean cut, unspoiled ones like Buttigieg, self-described moderates-who-share-their-heartland-values like Klobuchar, and especially sure-thing, born-to-do-this next-Obama-or-RFKs like Harris or Booker or Beto, who they see, rightly or wrongly, as media creations that are too-good-to-be-true.They hate him so much that they likely even hate the people (Biden, Warren, Bernie) that they reluctantly intend to vote for to replace him. They’ve at least been around long enough, and in Bernie and Warren’s cases, are outsiders enough that they assume they won’t be as awful as Trump..

This is more in the realm of psychoanalysis than polling, but polling normalizes things in a way that has to distort them in a time that is as out of joint as ours is. Let me put it this way. If you spend all your time looking at those deplorables or weighing the Democrats’ unfavorables, Trump seems unbeatable. His partisans would not only forgive him for shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, they would like him to build death camps for their enemies. But there is a significant majority that hates him. Trump’s strategy is not to win their votes, but to suppress them.

They’re All Criminals

When you’ve been where I’ve been for the last few weeks (grave illness, surgery, etc.–can it really just be weeks?), you hope to come out of it with a deeper, richer, fuller perspective, or at the very least, with the benefit of, as Dr. Johnson put it, a mind that has been “concentrated.”

So what do I see? I see that the human propensity for abstraction, combined with language, gives us the capability of philosophy and technology and civilization and art-making, but at the same time blinds us to the obvious and makes us stupider than our fellow non-speaking, un-contemplative mammals. Dogs and cats, for better or for worse, know who they like and who they don’t, and who is potentially threatening. They can’t tell you why, and they’re often wrong, but they react. They can’t necessarily see or name forests, but they can certainly recognize trees.

Humans vest way more credence in forests than they should. This is the essence of cognitive dissonance reduction and the engine of conspiracy theory, but it is also a factor in basic human nature.

How can I put this? If you stripped Trump of all the abstract qualities that have been attached to him (“billionaire deal maker,” “populist politician,” “master of Twitter,” “hero to forgotten working class whites,” “commander in chief,” “target of the deep state,” “racist,” “fascist”) all that would be left is a big, loud, alternatively clownish or bullying man of questionable intelligence in a loosely cut suit, incessantly bellowing about himself. From all appearances, certainly from a dog or cat’s perspective, he is entirely about appetite and self-regard, whether he is screwing a porn star without a condom while his bought-and-paid-for wife sits at home with her anchor baby, or locking up refugees’ children in cages.

If you looked at Manafort from a dog or a cat’s perspective three years ago, you saw an amoral factotum of dictators; an international criminal who was way over his head in his personal life (buying $20,000 snakeskin jackets to make his mistress think he is younger and cooler and richer than he is) and his professional life (‘borrowing’ millions from Russian gangsters and then coming up short). Clearly he grabbed hold of Trump’s campaign as an opportunity to “get whole” with the people who were threatening to murder him–we have that in his own words. If you looked at Lewandowski, you saw a nasty ex-cop with a short fuse and an eye for the easy opportunity, who couldn’t hold himself back from striking a Breitbart reporter, stealing campaign money (remember the fake advertising agency he set up? no one else seems to either), or landing a CNN deal as an official Trump apologist.

And three years later, that’s still pretty much the whole story. The Trump campaign was filled with crooks, not least the candidate himself; everyone in the Trump presidency is either a crook, a scoundrel, an enabler, or a tool. All this talk about ideology and racism, all of this hand-wringing about norms and the Constitution–but what it all comes down to, what it has ALWAYS come down to, is simple human depravity, in all its many flavors and varieties, Our problem is that we dress it up as something much grander.

The Story is Getting Away from its Would-be Authors

Re Trump’s seemingly abrupt collapse and Warren’s inexorable rise–it’s not what people believe about a political figure; it’s how they make them feel. Warren feels fresher and livelier than the people who are supposed to be more broadly appealing, just as Trump did three years ago as compared to Jeb Bush. Advertisers know this–it’s really hard to get people excited about a product that they’re not mostly sold on already. Just as Bush or Hillary Clinton did in 2015, Kamala Harris seemed market-ready on paper, but she failed to launch. Even without Trump’s international rat-fucking, Biden was already faltering. It happens.

I mean, you can say you’re strong 1000 times a day with ruthless message discipline and broadcast it in 100 well-made ads a minute and that will get you somewhere to be sure, but if you actually ARE strong, that will get you further. Trump seemed not just strong but invincible to the people who didn’t hate him three years ago. He still does to some of them, but if you weren’t all in before, you’re probably seeing him differently now that he’s acting like a loser. It’s a whole lot harder to convince people that you are winning when you are having a big tantrum.

As for the mystery of how so many people could have NOT hated him–well, that I can’t fathom, but I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with ideology, policy, or principles of any kind. As conservatives used to say, it probably has a lot to do with people’s characters.