Not all conspiracy theories are equal. While those from the right are quickly challenged by the mainstream media, left-wing fantasies are often embraced and pushed by prestigious news outlets.
Risible claims that Donald Trump colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election, that Hunter Biden’s laptop was “Russian disinformation,” that white Americans fear and hate people of color, that climate change is not just a problem but an “existential threat” to life on the planet, are just a few examples of unhinged beliefs peddled as serious ideas.
For educated folks with busy lives who have long turned to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker and network newscasts to tell them what’s going on, the notion that they are being lied to routinely is too much to fathom. Instead, they embrace the bogus claims, empowering those claims, and outlets, further.
As a result, paranoid and often apocalyptic delusions are not just a bug of modern progressive thought but a feature.
An instant classic of derangement passing as wisdom is Robert Kagan’s long essay in the Washington Post, “Our constitutional crisis is already here.” While Kagan (pictured) has serious thinker credentials – he’s affiliated with the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations – his piece is a compendium of unmoored assertions supposedly showing that Trump and the GOP are planning to steal the 2024 election “by whatever means necessary.” Recall your Rachel Maddow-loving aunt holding court after too many glasses of Sancerre and you already know what he’s said.
Nevertheless, his manic display of paranoia is being lauded as “gripping,” “persuasive,” and a “must read” by the liberal intelligentsia and NeverTrump conservatives – Maddow, natch, read much of it on air.
Reasonable people would, of course, stop reading after Kagan’s ludicrously fevered opening: “The U.S. is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three or four years, of instances of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring Red and Blue state enclaves.”
Reality check: We have seen nothing close to the violence that tore apart our country during the 1960s, yet Kagan is warning of far, far worse. “The Civil War”? “Warring Red and Blue state enclaves”?
I kept reading to see how this train wreck would unfold. A part of me kept hoping Kagan would at least try to provide evidence of this imminent storm, providing details about cadres of armed Republicans preparing to instigate “mass violence.” He doesn’t – because he can’t.
But hard evidence is beside the point as Kagan is manufacturing propaganda, not analysis. For his purposes, it’s enough that his editors at the Post and his target audience accept as an article of faith that Trump supporters are violently irrational (note that the demonizing rhetoric they use is the same language Democrats deployed during Jim Crow to stoke fears about the “Negro menace”).
If Kagan were honestly trying to plumb our political divide, he would acknowledge that the past few years have provided scores of examples of left-wing mobs engaging in violent protests on the streets, and cancel culture in cyberspace. He would admit that at least since the contested 2000 election, Democrats have insistently ascribed Republican victories to thievery, fraud and voter suppression. (Instead he tries to rewrite history by claiming that Al Gore and his supporters “displayed republican virtue when they abided by the Supreme Court’s judgment in 2000 despite the partisan nature of the justices’ decision” — even though his own sentence reveals they never accepted the outcome.)
Kagan ignores these troubling developments because his sole aim is to smear Republicans. For him, the only history that matters is the Jan. 6 attack. While the FBI has determined that the unarmed, unorganized mob that pushed its way into Capitol was not part of a coordinated attack, Kagan asserts that it was in the vanguard of a “revolutionary movement” that aims to overthrow the government. “Trump” he states, “came close to bringing off a coup.” It’s hard to believe that even Kagan believes there was any scenario in which Trump would still be president, but the derangement is such that he just might.
To make this case, Kagan engages in sweeping guilt by association. In this telling, all 74 million people who voted for Trump wanted to be part of that mob. Although most every Republican leader condemned the assault, Kagan asserts that “[f]or Trump supporters, the events of Jan. 6 were not an embarrassing debacle but a patriotic effort to save the nation, by violent action if necessary.”
Unable to find any plans for violent action, Kagan focuses on the legal effort of duly elected officials in some Republican controlled states to reform election laws in the wake of the pandemic election. Although it is still easier to vote in Georgia than many Democrat strongholds, including President Biden’s home state of Delaware, Kagan casts these measures as a nefarious plot “primarily aimed at establishing the predicate to challenge future election results that do not go [Trump’s] way.”
As Kagan burrows further down the rabbit hole of mainstream Democrat thought, he describes Republicans as the party of “white supremacists” and Trump as a “fascist” and “would-be despot” (who nevertheless left office). No such essay would be complete without the requisite Hitler/Trump comparison, which Kagan uses to assert that the GOP has become a cult of personality. Trump’s hold on his voters is so strong, Kagan writes, that “millions of Trump supporters have even been willing to risk death as part of their show of solidarity: When Trump’s enemies cited his mishandling of the pandemic to discredit him, their answer was to reject the pandemic.”
Frankly, it’s hard to know how to respond to such an absurdity except to say that questioning mask mandates, massive lockdowns and other government responses to COVID-19 hardly qualifies as a rejection of the pandemic.
Kagan’s conspiracy theory takes full flight when he claims that Republicans care about just one thing – Donald Trump’s return to power. “Whatever the legitimacy of Republican critiques of Biden, there is a fundamental disingenuousness to it all. It is a dodge. Republicans focus on China and critical race theory and avoid any mention of Trump, even as the party works to fix the next election in his favor. The left hand professes to know nothing of what the right hand is doing.”
Curiously, Kagan seems to admit he’s blowing smoke at the end of his essay when he says what we should do to safeguard the republic from this nightmare scenario: pass new election legislation. “Heading into the next election, it is vital to protect election workers, same-day registration and early voting. It will also still be necessary to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which directly addresses the state legislatures’ electoral power grab. Other battles — such as making Election Day a federal holiday and banning partisan gerrymandering — might better be postponed.”
Translation: The frightening lawless mob planning “mass violence” as part of their plans to start another Civil War will be deterred by a few new voting laws.
Ironically, Kagan’s essay is, in fact, a “persuasive” “must read.” His specious arguments and the laudatory response they have received illuminate the unhinged conspiracy theories that count as wisdom among the liberal elite. That is scarier than anything he imagines.
J. Peder Zane is an editor for RealClearInvestigations and a columnist for RealClearPolitics.