Friday, December 11, 2020


Jamelle Bouie offers some conventional wisdom about the Texas suit to overturn the results of the presidential election:
This sloppy, harebrained lawsuit has no serious chance of success.... That this quest is quixotic is, in all likelihood, one reason it has so much support. It is only with the knowledge of certain defeat that Republican officeholders feel comfortable plowing forward with an effort that would tear the United States apart if it succeeded. They can play politics with constitutional government ... knowing that the Supreme Court isn’t going to risk it all for Donald Trump....

With no evidence that Republicans have really thought about the implications of a victory in the courts, I think we can say that these briefs and lawsuits are part of a performance, where the game is not to break kayfabe (the conceit, in professional wrestling, that what is fake is real).
Greg Sargent disagrees with Bouie, and with others who believe it's all an act, or merely an effort to mollify the president:

As red states and Republicans in Congress sign on to this effort, I'm remembering a Malcolm Gladwell article about school shootings, in which the work of Mark Granovetter, a scholar of crowd theory, was cited. Granovetter wrote about how riots begin and are sustained:
In [Granovetter's] view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds—which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. In the elegant theoretical model Granovetter proposed, riots were started by people with a threshold of zero—instigators willing to throw a rock through a window at the slightest provocation. Then comes the person who will throw a rock if someone else goes first. He has a threshold of one. Next in is the person with the threshold of two. His qualms are overcome when he sees the instigator and the instigator’s accomplice. Next to him is someone with a threshold of three, who would never break windows and loot stores unless there were three people right in front of him who were already doing that—and so on up to the hundredth person, a righteous upstanding citizen who nonetheless could set his beliefs aside and grab a camera from the broken window of the electronics store if everyone around him was grabbing cameras from the electronics store.
Trump is, obviously, the individual with the threshold of zero -- he always has a threshold of zero when it comes to anti-social behaviors on his own behalf. But the Republican Party is full of people with thresholds of one (or zero) -- in this case, Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell, Lin Wood; media outlets such as Gateway Pundit, OANN, and Newsmax, plus Fox hosts such as Sean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo; and, of course, quite a few elected officials. Sufficiently low thresholds are necessary for all this to happen. Another observer paraphrases Granovetter:
In town A, ... a rowdy instigator with a threshold of 0 would start the riot. Then a neighbour with a threshold of 1 would decide to join in. This would prompt the next person who had a threshold of 2 to participate and so on, in a domino effect that would lead to widespread unrest.

Compare this to town B, where the thresholds of the population are the same, except that no one has a threshold of 1 — instead, 2 people have a threshold of 2. In this instance, the rowdy instigator would be a lone vandal because the domino effect would not be triggered, since no one had a threshold of 1 to follow the instigator’s lead and subsequently set off the cascade.
In a healthy country, no one of any prominence would have a threshold of one in response to Trump's threshold-zero assault on democracy. The Democratic Party is like town B -- it tends not to rally around bomb throwers like Alan Grayson. But the Republican Party is lousy with ones and zeros.

Why is that? Gladwell writes:
Granovetter was most taken by the situations in which people did things for social reasons that went against everything they believed as individuals. “Most did not think it ‘right’ to commit illegal acts or even particularly want to do so,” he wrote, about the findings of a study of delinquent boys. “But group interaction was such that none could admit this without loss of status; in our terms, their threshold for stealing cars is low because daring masculine acts bring status, and reluctance to join, once others have, carries the high cost of being labeled a sissy.”
That's the Republican Party. Contempt for the rule of law brings status; expressing a willingness to coexist with Democrats invites ostracism.

So this isn't an act. It isn't pro wrestling. It's a riot.

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