Conservative Make-Believe

The president who sells it, the media who push it, and the voters who want it.

1. The Pretend President

So this happened over the weekend:

I can’t believe we still have to play these games but could we define “soon”?

As of today, the Customs and Border Patrol is claiming that 360 miles of The Wall have been built. The vast majority of this construction has merely replaced existing barriers. (As of early August, 275 miles had been built—of which only 5 miles were new construction.)

That’s after four years of effort from Trump. The length of the U.S.-Mexico border is 1,954 miles.

So no, The Wall isn’t going to be finished “soon” any more than a COVID-19 vaccine is “weeks” away.

And also—I’m sorry to have to say this, again—Mexico is not paying for The Wall that’s not being built. The money which is actually paying for what construction has begun was siphoned out of the Defense Department’s budget.

None of this is real. The president of the United States is conjuring a fantasy.


Because his people like it.

And what is going to happen if Donald Trump loses the election two weeks from now? He will pretend that he didn’t lose.


Again: Because his people will like it.

You may not remember it, but after Election Day in 2016, Trump had an official-looking logo designed for something he made up. It was called “The Office of the President Elect.”

There is no “Office of the President Elect.” That’s not actually a thing in our constitutional system. But even so, Trump slapped this logo on every podium he stepped behind.

And once he’s gone, he’ll come up with some way to brand himself as the real winner. Maybe he’ll call himself “the people’s champ.” Maybe his logo will have a picture of the White House and say “President Trump.” He’ll keep selling giant Trump flags and his people will keep flying them.

What percentage of the Republican party will follow Trump into this alternate reality? I’d guess somewhere between 15 percent and 40 percent.

In other words: Enough to keep just about every establishment Republican politician on side while Trump tweets and holds his rallies and calls into the shows.

2. The Pretend Polls

Over at National Review, Rich Lowry is doing fan service with a piece that suggests: Ackshually, Trump is ahead.

Rich isn’t saying this himself, of course. He’s trying to keep Victor Davis Hanson and the NR board members at bay, but he doesn’t want to look that stupid. So instead, he invited Robert Cahaly, who runs the Trafalgar poll, onto his podcast to make the case for him.

And how does Cahaly see the race, right now?

The likeliest Trump electoral path to victory involves winning the battlegrounds of North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and either Michigan or Pennsylvania among the former Blue Wall states (assuming he doesn’t lose states such as Iowa or Ohio).

This is Cahaly’s breakdown: He believes Trump will win North Carolina and Florida and discounts Biden’s chances in Georgia . . .

As for Arizona, “I think Trump has the lead,” Cahaly says. . . .

Trump isn’t there yet in Pennsylvania, according to Cahaly. “Right now, we’ve got him down in Pennsylvania,” he says, “I think if it were held today, the undecided would break toward Trump and there’d be some hidden vote. He’d probably win Pennsylvania. . . .”

In Michigan, Trafalgar has Trump ahead. “I think he will win Michigan,” Cahaly says. . . .

Overall, Cahaly sees another Trump win. “If it all happened right now,” he maintains, “my best guess would be an Electoral College victory in the high to 270s, low 280s.”

The entire Lowry piece is amazing. We get all the hits from Facebook Land: “skewed” polls; “hidden” Trump voters; dastardly “Never Trump” respondents who mess up samples; illegal immigrant voting, and even the possibility of Trump’s victory in Pennsylvania being “stolen” due to “voter fraud.”

Lowry’s podcast with Cahaly is even better. You should always be wary of pollsters who speak in absolutes rather than probabilities and Cahaly talks about election outcomes in almost total absolutes: “I don’t see [Trump] losing North Carolina” (at the 39:40 mark) “There is no way Biden is going to win Georgia or Texas. I mean, I literally would prescribe rehab for anyone who thinks that” (at the 48:00 mark).

A serious person might say, Biden remains highly unlikely to win either North Carolina, Georgia, or Texas for reasons X, Y, and Z.

But Cahaly is not a serious person.

Here is Cahaly’s analysis of the state of play in Florida:

Cahaly: I’ve never thought he was going to lose Florida.

Lowry: Why not?

Cahaly: He’s just not. I mean, Florida is literally, Florida, everything has gone the right direction for Trump in Florida.

Well okay?

Among Cahaly’s everythings— “literally” “everything”—that are going right for Trump in Florida are the collapse of the Venezuelan government and the large population of Jewish retirees who will, he says, be voting for Trump because Jared and Ivanka are Jewish.

That’s it. That’s the analysis.

Here’s some more of Cahaly’s analysis:

In many ways this Trump economy was chocolate for people who’d never tasted chocolate. And they really liked it. And then all of a sudden, this virus came and they can’t have their chocolate anymore. And they want a way to get back to that chocolate.

And they see Trump as the way. (44:55)

What’s really striking is that through it all, Lowry pushes back on none of this nonsense. Not a single contrary word.

So don’t worry, National Review readers. This one pollster is right. All the other polls are wrong. Everything is going exactly according to plan and you’ll be able to get a vaccine for the virus that went away last spring—like a miracle—in just a couple weeks.

Right after The Wall is finished and Mexico’s check clears.

If you ever wondered how Conservatism Inc. became susceptible to the conspiracy theorizing of a con man and how “normal” conservatives would up believing in QAnon, this podcast is your answer.

Cahaly says, “I believe Pennsylvania to be the number one state that Trump could win and have stolen from him through voter fraud.” (This is at 49:47.)

What does National Review editor Rich Lowry say about this pretty alarming prediction from his guest?

Nothing. Not one blesssed word.

Lowry is also silent after Cahaly says, “You and I both know there are states that let non-citizens vote.” (That’s at the 37:56 mark.)

Both of these statements go completely unchallenged. No pushback. At all.

Trump’s people want to believe. Trump’s enablers are happy to help them.

And there is no reason to believe that either of these facts will change, whatever the outcome of the election.

3. Clocks

This isn’t going to be for everyone, but if you’ve ever considered building your own pendulum clock, do I have an essay for you!

I now get why it’s tick-tock as the onomatopoeic phrase for the sound of a mechanical clock, rather than tick-tick. There really is a difference in the sound the pendulum makes on the forward versus reverse swing arcs, because different things are happening. There is an irreversibility linked to friction at the very heart of pendulum clocks. The tick is an edge sliding against a surface. The tock is the sudden impact of an edge landing on a surface. Mechanically, a tick is an escape event, while a tock is a capture event. This will make sense later when I explain the idea of an escapement, the core a mechanical clock.

I just want to flag the word here since I get a real kick out of the idea that a tiny little “escape” is built into the very deepest structure of our experience of time, and the broader philosophy of time I’m working on has escape as a central notion.

Building the clock and getting it running took more time, attention, and careful effort than I thought it would. And was more philosophically illuminating than I expected it to be.

Read the whole thing.