Vox had a pretty good explainer breaking down Louis “I literally claimed to have fried my brain” Mensch, John “Srebrenica never happened BTW here’s a photo of my dick” Schindler, and some other shlub I’ve thankfully never heard of. If fate has been merciful to you and you are not familiar with these internet personalities, I’ll give you the gist. Basically ever since the election of Orange Man, certain people have made a career out of not only claiming that the Russians collude with Trump or that they interfered with the election (both claims with some evidence), but that Trump’s election was in fact the result of a secret Russian operation which, according to some “woke” Twitter pundits, may have spanned decades, all the way back to the late Soviet era.
Being Vox, they naturally had to include a large portion detailing a psychology experiment that would supposedly help explain why people, even super-smart liberals, would fall for conspiracy theories. I’m not disputing the experiment, of course, but I think there’s a much simpler explanation and it’s not one most liberals would like to admit. I strongly suspect that many liberals have long held an urge to immerse themselves in the conspiratorial thinking that was once largely the domain of the right. Maintaining the veneer of rationality is in some way discomforting to them.
I remind the reader that in a recent post, I pointed out how most people don’t have a coherent, consistent political worldview and don’t care whether or not they do. The same goes for a lot of self-identified liberals. Liberals have always had a few conspiracy theories to their name. Bring up Monsanto and you’ll often see what I mean. Bill Maher, a liberal’s liberal, is anti-vaccine because “Big Pharma!” For many liberals, I suspect that the appearance of being rational is more important, and it’s not hard to appear rational when your opponents often sound like random word generators spitting out an incoherent stream of “Where’s the birth certificate?!” and “Benghazi!!!”
But liberals have a huge problem- despite the fact that their values are largely more popular (based on surveys), the fact that their views largely dominate pop culture, and the “fact” that they are so much smarter than those hordes of ignorant rednecks who didn’t even go to college (I know, right?! LOL!), liberals have basically been losing on every front for the past eight years. As some talented observers have noted, eight years of Obama didn’t really bring much meaningful change. The most significant change was increasingly right wing Republicans virtually dominating the federal government and state governments as well. This wasn’t supposed to happen! The data failed!
Nothing serves as a premise for an overarching conspiracy theory like a good back-stab legend. When you’re too afraid to be honest with yourself and you’re convinced that you’re more intelligent and savvy yet you still lose again and again, you become vulnerable to conspiracy narratives. Losing the 2016 election to an elderly sociopath with the mental capacity of a toddler should have been a sobering moment for the Democratic Party. Plenty of supporters have been telling them exactly that. However they are repeatedly being dismissed for their disloyalty to the Eternal First Female President and their apostasy from the true faith of the Holy Data and the Holy Model. Naturally, many who keep the true faith are more than happy to latch onto a soothing, yet implicitly frightening explanation- that Russia is manipulating US politics from afar. Like any conspiracy theory it is paranoid, but the world of fear it offers is preferable to admitting one’s ignorance or one’s mistakes.
If the “Zionist Occupied Government” explains why the superior vanguard of “the White race” largely consists of petty criminals, con-men, perverts, and people who can’t maintain a relationship, the Russian Trump operation explains why those super savvy liberals just can’t stop failing. Funny though- Russian election meddling, at most, only explains the presidential election. I’ve yet to see these geniuses explain Democrat losses in the house and at the state level. But what would I know, I was probably added to the roster of “Team Deza” long ago.
And speaking of “Team Deza,” there are a couple more factors that make conspiracies very attractive to some Democrats. One is the new jargon. Kompromat! Dezinformatsiya! Chekist! Game theory! Nothing makes some liberals happier than dropping jargon and factoids at parties to sound like they actually know what they’re talking about: “So like, yeah, like, Vladimir Putin is a Chekist, which is like a type of Chechen Russian that kills LGBT people. And, like, he got kompromat on Trump and Flynn, so they have to keep putting out Kremlin dezinformatsiya, which is like information that’s like, not real, like disinformation, so like we’re basically living under this…Cyrillic autocracy controlled by Vladimir Putin! Might as well cover the White House in Kremlin minarets, right? This cheesecake, by the way, is literally amazing!”
If it’s not the jargon, then it’s the same thrill some people apparently get from role-playing online. Long ago in discussion forums I learned that some conspiracy theorists aren’t there to just share and discuss their theories and other views. They are online to actually live out the conspiracy. If they encounter someone who questions their theories or whom they just don’t like, they will allege that this person is some kind of “disinfo agent” working for the Mossad, CIA, or whomever. Now savvy liberals can sound smart as they engage in the same behavior, accusing people of being “Kremlin trolls.” We can’t forget that much like many conservatives, plenty of liberals live dull, pointless late-capitalist lives and thus may be starving for excitement. Imaging you’re unraveling a Russian intel op can be a cheap alternative to video games, and unlike with video games, this makes you look like a mature, politically-minded adult.
So while psychological research on conspiracy theories is interesting and explanatory, I think the best shorthand answer as to why so many Democrats are “falling for fake news about Russia” is, apart from simple partisanship, a strong desire to let go and indulge in the comfort of conspiracy theories. For some people it’s more comforting to imagine that the world is controlled by shadowy forces who always win than to admit their own failings. Moreover, the conspiracy exempts the believer from any concrete actions. There is no point if the puppet masters are in control the whole time. There are clearly significant numbers of liberals who want their own Alex Jones, and now they have it in the form of Louise Mensch. Simple as that.