David Roberts @drvox Seattleite transplanted from Tennessee; now blogging for vox.com/ about energy politics. Climate hawk, deficit dove. Not a doctor. Nov. 01, 2018 4 min read

1. I got a little ranty today about this caravan business. A thread, for those who don't want the 3K-word version.  https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/11/1/18041710/migrant-caravan-america-trump-epistemic-crisis-democracy 

2. First, let's all just acknowledge what is obvious: this is a group of poor refugees, families fleeing hardship. They are on foot, weeks from the border. Their numbers are already dwindling. Calling this a "national emergency," as Trump did, is ludicrous.

3. Ludicrous is nothing new in the RW swamps, of course, but this episode strikes me as ominously different in a few ways. For one thing, it is so *obviously* ludicrous -- almost theatrically ridiculous, as though some hack writer were charged w/ writing a xenophobic panic.

4. It is so ludicrous that believing it together -- or performing belief in it, which ends up becoming the same thing -- creates an intense tribal solidarity. You must defy the lib media, common sense, your own eyes. The more ludicrous it is, the more solidarity it creates.

5. This is a well-known dynamic in cult situations -- the absurdity of what members must believe is, in and of itself, a way of affirming & deepening their loyalty. The absurdity becomes the point. Suffice to say, if that dynamic takes hold in 1 of 2 major US parties ... eek. 😬

6. Second, RW conspiracy theories are different these days for the simple reason that they are not confined to the swamps of RW media. Now a member of that conspiratorial white-nationalist fringe is, uh, US president. Members of the fringe staff the gov't. They run shit.

7. It's one thing for Fox commentators to believe crazy shit; it's cosplay, a kind of perpetual ComiCon for lunatics. It's another for the US federal gov't to believe it. Trump now has control of an actual government with an actual military -- his cosplay now involves real guns.

8. So actual US troops are going to the actual border. It's all just an exciting episode of TV for Fox viewers, but those troops are real; they won't be able to be serve elsewhere. The money to deploy them is real. The precedent this is setting is real.

9. And let's not forget: the refugees are real people with real families. They are not the ridiculous caricatures you see on Fox -- "thugs" & "criminals" & "gang members" & "unknown Middle Easterners" as Trump says. This is not an episode of TV for them.

10. And finally, it's just so f'ing racist. Racist appeals are also not new on the right, especially when the GOP is trying to boost turnout. But establishing grotesque, *explicit* racism as a winning electoral tool on the right is ... not good.

11. Anyway, that's the significance of the caravan story to me: A conspiratorial RW nutjob has become president, he's gleefully spreading absurd xenophobic fantasies, he's using the Army in service of the fantasies, and it's all explicitly done to raise turnout among racists.

12. No element of this toxic stew is new. (Please, luvagod, spare me the "you're just now getting this?" tweets.) But the stew itself seems new, or at least newly toxic, in this situation. We have thousands of US troops being used in a transparent electoral stunt!

13. It's another grievous blow to the basic unwritten norms of conduct that hold our political life together. The thin institutional bonds still restraining Trump are snapping. How long until he gins up a similar boogeyman domestically? How long until Antifa is the new caravan?

14. Trump could invent similarly ludicrous fantasies about his domestic opponents. His lib-hating base would absolutely believe them. He could declare martial law or otherwise deploy troops stateside. What element of the RW coalition would push back or resist?

15. Trump deploying US troops against domestic opponents may sound implausible to you. "Asylum-seeking children sent to detention camps" used to sound pretty implausible to me. But we are heading down a singular path, gaining speed, and that's where the path leads.

16. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of all this is that I'm about 90% convinced it will WORK. Trump is betting that the GOP middterm voting population contains a high percentage of ignorant xenophobes eager for violence & he's probably right. RW enthusiasm & turnout will rise.

17. As Voltaire said, "Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices." We are watching the process unfold right before our eyes, as Trump invents new absurdities & the base leaps, eagerly, to believe them.

18. The injustices will inevitably follow. In this case the only victims will be poor refugees, but if you think it will stop there, you haven't been paying attention. We're heading down a well-worn path with a well-understood destination, traveled by many nations before us.

19. Unless something changes, pretty dramatically, we're likely to arrive there! The caravan story just strikes me as another lurch forward. I'm sure there will be worse to discuss soon. Happy November! 🌞 </fin>


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