Hello from Battleground Wisconsin. What a fucking week! As I mentioned on Facebook, I ran myself pretty hard all of October– promoting my book American Madness, a Milwaukee Paranormal Conference, socially distanced ghost tours, freelance writing, plotting, planning. I was busy and it was great, but by Election Day I was ready to wrap up in blankets, drink a lot of whiskey, and see where this batshit crazy year would take us next. And what a day to drink copious amounts of whiskey it was! As of this writing, nothing is official yet and in 2020 anything can happen, but here’s my early takeaways from the election.
The Good: It looks like Trump will be voted out of office–unless he pulls off some crazy dirty trick (and we know if nothing else, he’s masterful at dirty tricks). And of course angels might intervene. That’s the case Trump’s spiritual adviser Paula White makes here:
Trump out of office is good news, a start, but there’s is a lot of damage to repair. We’ll talk about that in a moment. First, more good news– progressive candidates representing marginalized people won campaigns across the country. These include Cori Bush, the first black woman to represent Missouri in the House, and the reelection of all 4 members of “The Squad.” Several LGBT candidates made historic victories, including Sarah McBride of Delaware, the first transgender state senator, and Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones, the first gay latinx/black congressmen.
The Bad: 68,943,879 (and counting) million people voted for Trump. Here in my home, Wisconsin Biden won 1,632,542 to Trump’s 1,610,007 (as of this writing), less than 20,000 votes. I just can’t wrap my head around this. Anything less than Trump losing in a major landslide is a failure of our society, in my opinion.
The aftereffect of Trump will be long-lasting– you’ll see some immediate examples when we get to “The Ugly” section of this post. The Trump presidency will be studied for generations. Most puzzling will be how such a large population stuck to this terrible person so loyally and so willingly voted against their own interests. Why did 69 million Americans vote for a racist, sexist, conspiracy theorist conman reality star goof? After everything that happened over the last four years, how can they still see him in a positive light? I will never understand.
Here’s what I mean, visualized. This is Trump supporter Jon McNaughton’s latest masterpiece, “2020 Ride.” I wrote about McNaughton’s art in a column from February titled “Laughing My Ass Off at These Bonkers Trump Paintings.” Here McNaughton says he is showing Trump as a cowboy hero, successfully taming all of the issues of 2020.
I don’t see that in this painting, though. I see a sad, hateful man dressed like a clown, riding a beast that he himself created in the sunset of his presidency. But I guess art is subjective.
The cognitive dissonance in Trump supporters is just staggering. As just one example, compare Pro-Trumpers at a polling station in Detroit chanting “stop the vote!” while Pro-Trumpers in Phoenix are chanting “count the vote!”
Well, which is it? It depends, of course, on what favors Trump, democracy be damned. Conspiracy theories about election fraud, stoked by Trump himself, are in full swing. No, there isn’t hundreds of thousands of dead people voting. That’s easily fact checked: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/11/04/fact-check-no-fraud-wisconsin-overnight-vote-spike/6167188002/
The Ugly: Along with new progressive candidates, we also elected the fringest of the fringe right-wingers, like QAnon believers. The most major of these is Marjorie Greene, a QAnon believer from Georgia who won a House seat. I wrote more about her here: “Well, it Happened-Meet Your First QAnon Represenative.”
But she wasn’t alone– Lauren Boebert also won a House seat in Colorado. Boebert has made comments supporting QAnon in the past, saying QAnon was “motivating and encouraging and bringing people together, stronger,” but has since disavowed the conspiracy cult. She owns a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, called Shooters Grill, where the staff are encouraged to open-carry.
Another QAnon believer who ran successfully is MMA fighter Tito Ortiz, who won a seat on Huntington Beach, California’s City Council. Ortiz sold QAnon themed athletic wear on his website and ran on the campaign slogan “Make Huntington Beach Safe Again.” MMA site Bloody Elbow has the disturbing details here: https://www.bloodyelbow.com/2020/11/4/21549515/ufc-pioneer-qanon-supporter-tito-ortiz-elected-huntington-beach-city-council-mma-politics
Also heading to Congress is Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina. He’s disavowed QAnon, but takes talking points from their playbook, talking about a cabal of sex slave traffickers. As the Charlotte Observer notes:
“Cawthorn’s rise to prominence has already been mired in scandal, as he’s faced accusations of ties to white supremacy, sexual misconduct, racism and lying about his record.”
Even if Trump is gone, an orange stain will remain.
Read more about how we got to this crazy time in my book American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness.
* I discussed American Madness on the CripesCast, with the very funny Charlie Berens (Manitowoc Minute): https://cripescast.podbean.com/e/episode-19-tea-krulos
* I joined the guys on Lumpen Radio’s Eye 94 book show, which includes some American Madness excerpts read by Shanna Van Volt, giving it a nice conspiracy jazz lounge tone: https://www.mixcloud.com/lumpenradio/eye-94-10-29-2020-tea-kroulos-conspiracies-and-qanon/
* I was part of a written roundtable discussion on misinformation for LitHub with authors Renata Salecl and Jonathan Berman. You can read it here: https://lithub.com/the-misinformation-superhighway-a-roundtable-on-the-rise-of-the-great-american-conspiracy/
“Art is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone will have their own interpretation.” — E.A. Bucchianeri
“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy, you can do anything.”– Donald Trump
I’m not sure how I stumbled on the works of Jon McNaughton, a painter from Utah who specializes in “highly detailed religious and patriotic subjects.” His bio also says that “there are three kinds of people who view my paintings: those who like it, those who hate it, and those who simply don’t understand.”
Boy howdy, McNaughton, I’m definitely 2 out of 3! I see Trump as everything bad in America– a greedy 2-bit con man who instills fear and paranoia instead of hope, all 7 deadly sins rolled into one foul, bloviating persona. McNaughton’s take, you’ll see, is a little different. But first, let’s dive in take a look at one of McNaughton’s pre-Trump era pieces:
This painting, “The Forgotten Man,” was completed in 2010. It’s a Rembrandt of nuttiness. Here we see that McNaughton’s poor “forgotten man” is not a black person sent to prison for life for smoking weed or stealing $9, or a refugee thrown into a border concentration camp, but your average white dude slumped sadly on a park bench. A stern-looking President Obama has his arms folded and is ignoring him. The U.S. Constitution is pinned under Obama’s shoe like yesterday’s news. Also gathered around the poor guy, hashing out his plight: every president ever. Here’s what they’re saying:
James Madison: “Dude, seriously?! You’re stepping on it? Do you know how much time I spent writing that thing?! It’s like, over 200 years old!”
Abe: “Hey! Hey buddy, turn around! What’s your problem, man?!”
Clinton and the Roosevelts: clap clap clap, “bravo, bravo, Obama.”
Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson: “I’m also pointing.” (oddly subdued– you’d think he’d be the first one to throw a punch.)
JFK: “Hey aaaa, look ovah there, they elected aaaa black guy for the aaa presidency!”
W: “Wait a minute, are you sure I’m not supposed to be over there by Washington and Kennedy?”
Old Mother Reagan: “Where am I? Why are we gesturing at this guy?”
Based on the old chestnut that you can “give a man a fish, and you feed him a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him a lifetime,” this work, “Teach a Man to Fish” is a hilariously failed metaphor. Here we see another poor white dude who has put down his books about socialism and is saying “duhhh, what are these things?” while benevolent Trump shows him how to tie a lure in a tranquil forest. Here’s the thing, I don’t think “patient teacher” springs to mind when describing Trump. I’m also guessing he doesn’t know how to fish. Do you think young Trump sat on a pier attaching a squirming nightcrawler on a hook? If he ever has been out to fish, he probably paid someone to set up the rod for him, much like Don Jr. pays someone to drop him in an enclosed area so he can trophy hunt endangered animals.
I think a more accurate metaphor would be Trump running away from an angry fisherman (with an unpaid bill in his hand) with a flopping fish in between his teeth, like Yogi Bear stealing a picnic basket.
This painting, “Crossing the Swamp,” (a parody of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze) shows the danger in trying to create any depiction of the Trump administration as a coherent team. Of those featured here, almost half the crew has walked the plank: Nikki Haley (resigned), James “Mad Dog” Mattis (resigned, Trump says he fired him), Jeff Sessions (forced to resign), Sarah Sanders (resigned), John Bolton (HA! resigned, Trump says he fired him) and John Kelly (forced to resign). Trump better hope that Ben Carson and Ivanka can navigate that thing.
“Expose the Truth”: Trump: “C’mere you lyin,’ crooked FBI man! Let me grab you by the fucking tie and get a good look at you! A real good look, with my magnifying glass!”
This “Modern-day Paul Revere” is supposed to be obnoxious FOX News personality Sean Hannity, the top dawg at the station after Bill O’Reilly was fired (6 sexual harassment cases totaling $50 million finally did it). Instead of riding town to town to warn of the British invasion, you’ll hear Hannity call out things like:
This is McNaughton’s latest, “You Are Fake News.” For more on Trump’s clown problem, see my column HERE.
Wheeeew! Final thoughts:
Conspiracy News Dept.: Flat Earther and homemade rocket pilot “Mad Mike” Hughes died after a malfunction with his parachute as he attempted flight on Feb.22 outside of Barstow. An upcoming show, Homemade Astronauts was at the launch to shoot footage.
Meanwhile, during Mardi Gras, an “Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself theory” float depicting Hillary Clinton strangling the deceased sex predator rolled down St. Charles Avenue while a group of dancers– “the Swingin’ Epsteins”– danced in grey wigs, prison jumpsuits, and bedsheet nooses around their necks.
My upcoming book American Madness features a journey through conspiracy culture. It’s out August 25, 2020 from Feral House. To pre-order: CLICK HERE
“This chatty, fast-paced volume will entertain those who enjoy reading about unusual subcultures.”– Publishers Weekly (on Apocalypse Any Day Now)
The#TrumpConspiracyCounter just passed 100. I’m skipping analysis until next week, where I’ll discuss what we’ve seen so far.