How Conservatives Pick Democracy's Pocket

The insanity is strategy.

1. Chaff

One of Donald Trump’s political innovations was overloading the body politic with inputs so that it became difficult for democracy to respond to him. People called this the “chaff” theory of politics, in reference to the anti-missile defense which scatters millions of pieces of foil to defeat radar guidance systems.

The problem with chaff as an analogy is that chaff is defensive, while this particular mode of sensory overload was used offensively. There’s a better analogy, which you can see by watching master pickpocket Apollo Robbins manipulate a mark’s attention.

That entire TED talk is worth watching. Its powerful stuff. But the key point is how Robbins treats his mark: He is constantly touching him and he almost never stops talking. He’s manipulating the mark’s attention, pushing it and pulling it. He provides so many different sensory inputs that it becomes impossible for the mark’s brain to process that his watch and wallet are being lifted.

That’s the new mode of Republican political operation. It’s very effective. I’m not sure what the counter to it is.

Or even if there is one.


It’s been interesting to watch the conservative ecosystem use this sensory-overload hack to freeze America’s response to the January 6 insurrection.

In the old days, when message discipline was the standard operating mode, partisans would come up with a single story and stick to it, no matter what, believing that if they hammered it night and day, eventually enough people would believe it.

But the conservative message on 1/6 varies widely:

  • There was no insurrection; it was a peaceful protest.

  • There was no insurrection; it was a mostly peaceful protest with a couple of well-meaning knuckleheads who are being prosecuted.

  • There was an insurrection and it was a false flag perpetrated by violent Antifa thugs.

  • There was an insurrection and it was conducted by brave patriots who righteously occupied the People’s House and were willing to die to #stopthesteal.

  • Law enforcement officers on the scene didn’t have any concerns; they opened the doors to Trump supporters and welcomed them.

  • Law enforcement officers on the scene were violent thugs who martyred Ashli Babbitt.

The new line to add to this list is:

  • There was an insurrection and it was incited by undercover FBI agents from the Deep State who were trying to embarrass Donald Trump.

Which of these is the “real” conservative explanation? None of them and all of them. The point isn’t to explain. It’s to flood the public square with so many inputs that society becomes overloaded and can’t muster a reaction.

Like, for instance, exerting enough public pressure to force Senate Republicans to go along with a nonpartisan commission that gets at the truth.

Yesterday we had two prominent Trump surrogates making mutually exclusive claims. One went with the “no insurrection; peaceful protest” line while the other introduced that “FBI provocateurs were behind all of that violence.”

You can try to knock down these various stories if you like. But it’s not even whack-a-mole. The people selling them don’t believe them. They’re just executing a strategy so that they can pick democracy’s pocket.


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2. Movie Theaters Are Dying

Back in the early days of the pandemic, I thought we had all see our last movie in theaters. Thankfully, I was wrong. COVID has fundamentally changed Hollywood—two studios basically folded up and the theatrical window has begun what will be a long shrink into nothing. But we still have movie theaters, for now.

However, Richard Rushfield is here to do the math for us.

What made me think that movie theaters were doomed was that (1) the pandemic would drive exhibitors into bankruptcy and (2) the consolidation of streaming would diminish the number of films able to support wide release to the point where total industry income would no longer be sustainable. Here’s Rushfield:

Which brings us back to the question of movie theaters. If we are going to go in a few years from six studios releasing 20 films each a year, a handful of those preordained blockbusters, to 5 (or 4, or 3) studios releasing 10 (or less) films each, with the “sure things” fewer and farther between, with a shortened window, how much is that cutting back the movie arsenal theaters have to work with? By two-thirds? That feels like a conservative guess.

How do theaters survive that?

The answer is: Most of them don’t. Unless they can become meme-stocks that do crypto arbitrage as their primary business and show movies as a hobby.


3. Short Read of the Day

The RNC put out a press release this morning criticizing Joe Biden for . . .

Wait for it . . .

Meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Totally agree that we ought to hold bad actors accountable. Starting with the sociopaths at the RNC.