I’ve virtually abandoned this website for a few years now. But now that I have a new book on the way, I am thinking I should revive it or replace it. The book won’t be out for a long time–probably spring, 2024–but in the meantime, here are a few paragraphs from its tentative draft conclusion:
Do mountebanks like Trump and Alex Jones, and zealots like the Mikes Flynn and Lindell create paranoia or simply harness it? It’s one of those unanswerable chicken/egg questions, but for whatever it’s worth, I tend to believe the latter. You can’t have winners without losers, and America has more than its share of both. The paranoid style has something for everyone who feels looked down upon or marginalized or cheated out of what they believe should be theirs by right.
Paranoids who are unhappy in matters of money see bankers as the principle of evil, whether they are at the Federal Reserve, the Bank of London, or a New York investment bank with a Jewish-sounding name. Paranoids who are unhappy in love become Men’s Rightists, and theorize about the malevolent principles of misandry and gynocentrism. Paranoids who are worried about the waning of white privilege and the dilution of white sperm may become white nationalists. Paranoids who secretly fear that God hates them can find new targets for His wrath. Every one of their grievances—and there may be a lot of them, as the categories are not mutually exclusive—is personified by an elite figure they find particularly loathsome. George Soros stands in for greedy billionaire Jews, Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi for castrating feminists, Bill Gates for the ultra-wealthy technocratic knowledge class, Michelle Obama or Oprah Winfrey for the ascendant black overclass, and so on. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez neither comes from nor has a lot of money, but she is elite in a way that hits insecure conservative men with all the force of a punch in the gut: she is that beautiful, straight-A, woke high school classmate who is kind to nerds, disdainful of jocks, and who wouldn’t have dated the likes of them in a million years. Most conspiracists assume their opponents are as dogmatic and literal-minded as they are themselves, only in reverse—that they figuratively (or not so figuratively) hang their crucifixes upside down and say the Lord’s Prayer backwards.
All of this helps explain Trump’s staying power. He makes no bones about who he hates and why, whether it’s a woman accusing him of sexual assault, a business rival who bested him in a deal, a political ally who flaked when the chips were down, or an egghead who forgot that Trump also attended an Ivy League school, and that he is not just smart but a genius. He is all about himself, but at the same time, he is a mirror for all the other disappointed souls who were raised to believe they stood at the center of the universe. Look at me, he says. I am all you want to be—rich, powerful, loved by beautiful women. And see how badly I’m treated.
Trump’s true-believers have another reason to stick with him too, one that should be familiar to anyone who has been betrayed by someone they loved, or conned by someone who lied to their face, which is the sunk cost fallacy. It’s easier to throw good money after bad than admit that you’ve been had. Being played for a sucker, being laughed at, as Trump himself so often says in his monologues, is incredibly painful. If Trump isn’t who he says he is, they have to wonder, then what does that say about me?
I suspect history will come to see that this Emperor’s New Clothes dynamic provides as good an explanation as any for the incredibly destructive epoch we are living through. In their desperate need to deny that they’ve been chumps, all but a handful of Republicans have bound themselves to a Messiah that in their heart of hearts they know is false.