The Land of Make-Believe

There's always someone left to lie to

© 2016 Gage Skidmore, used under a Creative Commons license

As I mentioned yesterday at alicublog, conservatives appear to have decided the important thing about COVID-19 is not that it killed hundreds of thousands of Americans while President Trump downplayed and mishandled it, but that its origin may have been a Chinese lab rather than a Chinese bat; further, that the investigation as to whether this is so may be ongoing, but the conclusion is foregone: That the “Lab Leak” happened and it was deliberate; the Chinese meant it to kill Americans (that it killed thousands of their own citizens first means nothing, for to the heathen Chinee life is cheap) and they were assisted by the treasonous Dr. Fauci and his Democrat pals in order to sabotage Trump.

Thus, the Lab Leak story becomes yet another in a series of excuses for believing the 2020 election was stolen from Trump and therefore illegitimate. Democratic illegitimacy is in fact the ultimate meaning of all their crackpot ideas — the pedo pizza ring, the climate change hoax, Bill Gates siccing Black Lives Matter on whitey (this last one promoted by J.D. Vance, once considered by morons [though not by me] to be a moderate and sensible conservative), etc.: that Democrats by dint of their skullduggery, their foreign-exotic-socialist ideas, and their collusion with violent black people are unfit to govern, and any means used by Republicans to keep them from doing so, including blocking voters likely to cast ballots for them, is justified.

There are all kinds of depressing contingent propositions to this, but today I’ll just focus on one: That because this is what conservatives believe, and because this philosophy does not rely on getting anyone but their own rubes (and not too many of them!) to actually vote for them, it has affected their promotions and propaganda — because these are no longer meant to convince anyone who didn’t already believe the crazy things that a modern conservative must believe.

I think it’s part of the reason why pretty much all conservative argumentative writing now is even worse shit than before — they don’t even have to try to be convincing or pretend to care! And it shows itself in some interesting ways. Take the latest Wall Street Journal column by Peggy Noonan.

Now, Noonan is a made woman in the wingnut opinion business, and in the Trump era she sometimes sniffed and showed her disapproval of Tubby’s bad manners and his acolytes’ lack of respect for her own exalted position in the conservative firmament. The 2017 Pulitzer may have helped to calm her down, and sure enough, when Trump lost and Biden got into office, Noonan mostly reverted to her usual passive-aggressive form that had made her a favorite of received-wisdom junkies on both the “right” and the “left.”

But this week Noonan makes a major concession to the New Breed. It starts out predictably enough with lamentations over the crazy conspiracy theories some people now believe. This being Noonan I expected at first that she would bothsides it — you know, Republicans believe in Q and pedo pizza and Trump’s “reinstatement,” while Democrats believe that the Civil War was about slavery and that God is dead! But Noonan pulls a fast one.

“What is behind the growth of conspiracism?” she asks. “Many things.” Ha ha. She talks about the pull of secret knowledge: “In confusing times it’s good to have a Theory of Everything that explains it all to you.” Then she does a quick feint in the direction of Bothsides Conspiracism:

And we like to be divided, too. We like to be in a fight—“Albion’s Seed”—and on a side. One of the enduring and revealing songs of America asks “Which side are you on / Which side are you on? / You go to Harlan County / There is no neutral there / You’ll either be a union man / Or a thug for J.H. Blair.”

The union people had this crazy conspiracy theory that the bosses didn’t want them to have better hours and pay, see. Then Noonan heads into deeper water:

Conspiracy believers don’t believe what the mainstream media tell them. Why would they? Newsrooms are undergoing their own revolution, with woke progressives vs. journalistic traditionalists, advocacy versus old-school news values. It is ideological. “We are here to shape and encourage a new reality.” “No, we are here to find and report the news.” It is generational: The young have the upper hand and the Slack channel. The woke are winning.

Wait a minute — you mean people trusted the media before woke journalists and Slack? Even Noonan’s readers know better than that. Then:

If a year ago you thought the obvious—maybe the coronavirus that came from Wuhan leaked out of the Wuhan lab where they were studying coronaviruses—you were shut down as racist, bigoted, divisive. The progressives’ great talent is policing, and they are always on patrol. Everyone, even the most unsophisticated news consumer, can kind of tell.

I mean we unsophisticated news consumers all know that the Lab Leak is proven, right? It just stands to reason. Then:

Think of what normal human beings have been asked to absorb the past year. The whole country was shut down and everyone was told to stay in the house. They closed the churches, and the churches agreed. There was no school and everyone made believe—really, we all made believe!—screens were a replacement.

While you’re puzzling over that “really, we all made believe!” — which in context is rather like saying, “we all got into that lifeboat and acted like it was better than staying on the big, comfortable, sinking ship! What were we thinking!” — Noonan goes big:

A bunch of 13-year-old girls in the junior high decided they were boys and started getting shots, and no adults helped them by saying, “Whoa, slow down, this is a major life decision and you’re a kid.” The school board no longer argues about transgender bathrooms, they’re on to transgender boys wanting to play on the girls team. Big corporations now tell you what you should think about local questions, and if this offends you, they don’t care. There were riots and protests last summer and local government seemed overwhelmed.

Transgenders! Riots! And then: “Mobs tore down and graffitied the statues” — and, even better, “if you grieved over this and were white, if your eyes filled with tears, it was explained as white fragility..” I tell you, Lillian Gish in the finale of Birth of a Nation didn’t handle it better.

But it’s not just the rat-bag of rightwing grievances that’s wild — it’s that Noonan’s brought them up to explain the QAnon-Trumpist conspiracy theories. She’s actually saying their lunacy is the fault of liberals — with all this transing and black-lives-mattering going on, who wouldn’t follow the teachings of Q! In fact, Noonan’s about halfway there herself:

It wouldn’t have helped that one of the great crime and culture stories of the century has been quickening the past year—the story of Jeffrey Epstein and presidents and princes, and tech titans and heads of hedge funds, and the private island and the young girls. It’s the kind of story that might leave you believing young people are being trafficked by powerful men.

Wait’ll she hears about Marina Abramovic and spirit cooking! Then these Friday columns will get really wild!

Seriously, it’s not totally clear what’s driving Noonan here, but I’ll hazard an educated guess. (Is it irresponsible to speculate? It would be irresponsible not to!) It’s lonely at the top, and though Noonan could probably go on talking responsible conservatism guff till she finally keels over, she is sensitive enough to tell which way her audience is going and she wants to catch up — hence, the comforting appraisal: It’s not your fault you believe these things, I know just how you feel, the big bad “elites” made you! With this she may have lost most of her received-wisdom junkies — I mean, I can’t imagine even Donna Brazile going for this shit — but Noonan knows what side of the cocktail glass her twist is rubbed on, and anyway why would she want to go out a spoilsport when she can be surrounded by love and concurrence, as she was in the days when Reagan won 49 states — even if, this time, the actual crowds are necessarily smaller and the victory must be rigged: If it feels like a landslide, it’s landslide enough. All ya gotta do is believe.