Monday, November 30, 2020


Bloomberg opinion writer Noah Smith has a theory about way Republicans are behaving the way they are these days:
Why have so many Republicans and right-wing media figures embraced Donald Trump’s obviously made-up claims of voter fraud? ...

The obvious reason would be to curry favor with right-wing voters and audiences....

But if this were all that was happening, one might expect people to find some less expensive fiction. Pushing an obviously false claim of a stolen election is probably a doomed cause....

Instead, I offer another possibility — that lies of this sort are uttered precisely because they come with costs. I propose that political lies are a costly signal of tribal loyalty.

Remember, in economics, “signaling” means much more than just “trying to prove something”. Signaling in econ is basically when people jump through hoops in order to prove themselves.... you might get a tattoo to prove your loyalty to a yakuza gang, even though the tattoo would make it harder to get into a Japanese public bath or get a normal job. The fact that the signal comes with a cost is essential to separating the dedicated people from the posers.
The problem with this theory is that Smith struggles when he tries to explain what costs the right is paying.
Pushing an obviously false claim of a stolen election is probably a doomed cause — and even if Trump succeeded in holding onto power, that would require these same right-wing figures to tie themselves to an autocratic regime that would have a reasonable likelihood of being violently overthrown, and its apparatchiks punished.
Really? We had a hard enough time defeating Trump in an election. His party-mates still control the Supreme Court, the Senate (at least for now), and most state governments. Many liberals and leftists would rather attack one another than fight the right. Is it really plausible that we could overthrow an illegally installed Trump regime, much less punish not only those responsible for the coup but those who were its cheerleaders?

Did we punish the congressional supporters of Richard Nixon? Or Ollie North? Was a price ever paid by those who advocated torture in the Bush years?

It might just be that Smith has a peculiar idea of what constitutes punishment -- after all, he writes:
Political lies could function similarly to the gang tattoos. By going on record as saying that we should seriously consider the possibility that climate change might not be real, you exposure yourself to a lifetime of ridicule. But that very exposure might prove that you’re the real thing, hardcore, really on the team, to a partisan audience who might otherwise be inclined to question your conservative bona fides. After all, if you were really a cuckservative or RINO, would you really have been willing to risk your reputation in the media world or in East Coast intellectual circles just to spread some FUD [fear, uncertainty, and doubt] about climate change?
Do you really think climate change deniers regard this as a risk? They boast about being mocked by the media and by East Coast intellectuals. And they risk nothing -- they're still invited back on Sunday morning talk shows despite their denialism.

If we want to see how defending Trump's fraud narrative works in the real world, let's turn to Ben Smith's media column in The New York Times.
[Christopher] Ruddy, a Long Island-born 55-year-old, has emerged as the most audacious media entrepreneur of the Trump election fantasy. The chief executive of Newsmax and part of President Trump’s South Florida social circle, Mr. Ruddy has capitalized on the anger of Mr. Trump’s supporters at Fox News for delivering the unwelcome news ... that Mr. Trump had lost his re-election campaign. On Newsmax, however, the fight is still on....

Newsmax’s prime-time ratings, which averaged 58,000 before Election Day, soared to 1.1 million afterward for its top shows....
Ruddy has been a Trump cheerleader for years. Does that mean he's been disdained and mocked by the East Coast media elite? Hardly:
... 62 quotes in The New York Times in the last four years, 61 in The Washington Post and 51 appearances on CNN — deliver what journalists crave: up-close insights about the president.
And he's regularly sought out by the mainstream media even though he's been peddling conspiracy theories for a quarter of a century:
He was ... best known as “the Inspector Clouseau” of the Vince Foster case — a New York Post reporter who had popularized the baseless theory that Mrs. Clinton’s friend, who committed suicide in 1993, had been murdered.
But he gives good quote, so he's in demand as a Trump whisperer. And he's kept Newsmax going since the Clinton days, to the point where it's now starting to thrive. If that's paying a price for tribal loyalty, I'm struggling to discern the "price" part.

Noah Smith is wrong: Defenders of Trump's efforts to steal the election will pay no price. They'll still be as welcome in mainstream political circles as they want to be. We'll never punish them. We'll never ban them. We'll never do any harm to their careers, even though we should.

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