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virtue/vice signaling: 1/6/2021 as the GOP LARP of the Trump era

6 min read

Democracy is an afterthought for Trumpists. Whether it’s the “sense of style” or “good men knowing their limitations” the movie character of Dirty Harry played by Clint Eastwood resembles the RWNJ fantasy of transcendent morality embodied in some westerns. Harry Callahan acts beyond a rule of law premised on liberal democracy and the administrative state. He operates above the law despite all the corruption, that continuing media trope driving so many video games.

This Trumpist heroism resembles the rationalizations of groups like the Oath Keepers. Their obedience is to a pre-modern Constitution of white privilege, supremacy, and misogyny rather than the living 2020 Constitution. The beneficiaries of this are people like Roger Stone, and whatever pranksters did in today’s GameStop exploit. Trump simply appeals to a live-action role-play (LARP) audience with his kayfabe nonsense.



— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 27, 2021


— Adam Rifkin 🐼 (@ifindkarma) January 28, 2021

What the Internet has done, among other things, is make it easy to hear from small groups of people and, at times, to elevate the voices of those small groups until they are equivalent with far larger ones. Human beings are not good at differentiating scale past a certain fairly small number, and hundreds can quickly seem like millions. A small group focused on something discrete can suddenly appear to be very large. Getting yelled at online by a few dozen people can seem like the entire world is clamoring at you, something to which I can attest from experience.

In his 2008 book, “Here Comes Everybody,” technologist Clay Shirky predicted how the Internet could be used to organize people without formal organizations. He explored, among other things, the idea of “flash mobs,” groups of people organized to appear somewhere at the same time, usually for comic effect. Get 60 people to suddenly show up at a small store and shop for some random item and the effect is dramatic, even if the scale is modest in human terms.

— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) January 27, 2021

The reason we’re talking about GameStop is in fact not only that it reflects a particular effort to leverage an organic community to shift real-world behavior but because, for once, it’s happening at a scale that’s undeniable. It doesn’t take many people participating in something to give the impression, often incorrectly, that something major is happening. But with GameStop, something major is happening. Millions of shares of stock are being traded, and investors who bet against the company are being forced to retract those positions. GameStop is a central story of financial markets in the richest country in the world, largely because an online community focused on it.
The Internet has matured enough now that organized online actions can easily involve hundreds of thousands of participants — and real-world crowds can be generated involving thousands. The Internet’s ability to create the impression of scale has become an ability to create actual scale.…



— Nikhil Pal Singh (@nikhil_palsingh) January 27, 2021

The answer depends on which level one focuses on: the ideology, the structure of their institutions, the aesthetics, the supporters or the consequences of their actions. If we follow the Hungarian philosopher Gáspár Miklós Tamás, with his very broad definition of fascism as “a break with the enlightenment tradition of citizenship as a universal entitlement”, the similarities sharpen. A penchant for violence and machismo also points in that direction.


But categories such as petite bourgeoisie or working class are of little use when classes are disintegrating in an economy that pits permanent employees against contract workers, where an engineer at Volkswagen has more to lose than a gig driver for Uber or a woman running a boutique in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Among the crowd storming the Capitol were said to be nuns, soldiers, an Olympic swimmer, a Texas real-estate broker who flew in on a private plane and the son of a New York judge. If political attitudes themselves have always been hard to pin down, this is especially true today.…


— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) January 27, 2021

In a way, Stone had been preparing for this moment for years. In 2016, he launched a nonprofit and website under the name Stop the Steal. The group originally raised money that Stone said he would use to prevent the Republican Party from denying Trump the delegates he needed to secure the GOP presidential nomination at its July 2016 convention. In 2020, as Trump allies adopted that name for their effort to overturn Joe Biden’s victory, Stone relaunched the site, which began redirecting readers to an article on Stone’s personal webpage arguing Biden had not legitimately won. An employee at a law firm that often does work for Stone set up a new nonprofit, Committee to Stop the Steal, on October 16.

After midnight on Saturday, December 12, as Proud Boys and others right-wing activists gathered in Washington for the “Million MAGA March,” Stone addressed a large group from the steps of the JW Marriott, calling Trump the election’s rightful winner. “Nothing is over until we say it is,” Stone said. “We will fight until the bitter end for an honest count of the 2020 election. Never give up. Never quit. Never surrender and fight for America.” The next day, Trump supporters engaged in a violent rampage in downtown DC.

Stone has also claimed to have personally advised Trump against accepting the election results. In a post on the Parler social media platform that conservatives flocked to late last year, Stone said he had urged Trump in a late December meeting to “appoint a special counsel with full subpoena power to ensure those who are attempting to steal the 2020 election through voter fraud are charged and convicted and to ensure Donald Trump continues as our president.” Trump tried early this month to take such a step, but was rebuffed.

As Trump backers began planning to descend on Washington on January 6, when Congress was set to officially certify Biden’s Electoral College victory, the Stop the Steal site was updated to redirect to a fundraising page.…



— Michael Edison Hayden (@MichaelEHayden) January 27, 2021



— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) January 28, 2021


— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 27, 2021

“As much as Trump wants to have a fight, the only thing Republicans care about is winning,” said another Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the party’s approach to the midterms.



— (@MeidasTouch) January 27, 2021


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