Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦 🇺🇦 🇺🇦

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Would an Assassination Help?

According to news reports, someone violently assaulted Paul Pelosi, the 82-year old husband of Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House (who is second in line for the presidency). Mr. Pelosi survived, but got a fractured skull and other injuries. The person arrested for the assault appears to have been seriously delusional:

The San Francisco Bay area man arrested in the attack on … Nancy Pelosi’s husband filled a blog a week before the incident with delusional thoughts, including that an invisible fairy attacked an acquaintance and sometimes appeared to him in the form of a bird, according to online writings under his name.

[He] also published hundreds of blog posts in recent months sharing memes in support of fringe commentators and far-right personalities. Many of the posts were filled with screeds against Jews, Black people, Democrats, the media and transgender people [Washington Post].

We can assume the attacker was intending to injure or assassinate Nancy Pelosi, since he apparently asked her husband “Where’s Nancy?” She wasn’t there, she was in Washington. But that’s probably why her husband was allowed to go to the bathroom, where he happened to be charging his phone. That allowed him to call 911. The 911 operator then heard conversation between Pelosi and the other man. That led the operator to alert police, who responded within a couple minutes and witnessed the assault [Politico]. I suppose, understanding that Nancy Pelosi wasn’t there, and seeing that he was about to be arrested, it seemed like a good idea to eliminate Pelosi’s husband instead.

Nancy Pelosi has been demonized for years by the Republican Party and right-wing propaganda outlets like Fox News (Vox has an historical summary). It’s not surprising that somebody who’s been told over and over that a powerful woman, in league with various dark forces, wants to destroy America decided he had to do something about it. Given the intensity of right-wing attacks on Democratic politicians in recent years, it is surprising that there haven’t been more assaults and assassination attempts.

One question this episode raises is whether the assassination of a high-level official like Nancy Pelosi or President Biden would tone down right-wing rhetoric. Could it even break the hold of the most extreme Republicans on their party? Would it be a sufficient shock to the system that some voters — possibly the so-called “moderates” who have trouble deciding which party to support — would turn away from the Republican Party?

For a time, people thought the January 6th assault on the Capitol was bad enough to make people switch sides. But it doesn’t seem to have had that effect (otherwise the polls wouldn’t be so close). For one thing, the insurrectionists walking the halls calling out to Nancy Pelosi weren’t able to find her and bludgeon her to death. They didn’t find Vice President Pence, one of their other targets, either.

The early indications are that Friday’s attempt to maim or kill the Speaker of the House by someone steeped in right-wing propaganda won’t have much of an effect. An alternate reality is already being created:

An online forum devoted to former White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s right-wing radio show alerted its 78,000 subscribers to “very strange new details on Paul Pelosi attack.”

Roger Stone … took to the messaging app Telegram to call the assault on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband an “alleged attack,” telling his followers that a “stench” surrounded mainstream reporting about the Friday break-in….

The skepticism didn’t stay in right-wing echo chambers but seeped also into the feeds of popular online personalities, including Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk.

“There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” he wrote Sunday morning, pointing his 112 million followers to a sensationalist account of the episode published by a site known for spreading right-wing misinformation. 

The rush to sow doubt about the assault on Pelosi’s husband illustrates how aggressively influential figures on the right are seeking to dissuade the public from believing facts about the violence, seizing on the event to promote conspiracy theories and provoke distrust….

These merchants of misinformation, said Carl Cameron, a former longtime Fox News political correspondent, deceive their massive audiences using rumors and lies about everything from the integrity of elections to the details of a police report. “They are creating a dystopia wherein lying and physical violence become part of our politics,” he said.

Dinesh D’Souza … aired falsehoods and innuendo in a viral Twitter thread suggesting the attack on Paul Pelosi was a form of intentional misrepresentation sometimes referred to as a “false flag”…. “The Left is going crazy because not only are we not BUYING the wacky, implausible Paul Pelosi story but we are even LAUGHING over how ridiculous it is,” he wrote early Sunday morning. “What this means is that we are no longer intimidated by their fake pieties”….

Musk [Twitter’s new owner] also appeared unconvinced by the official story… In response to a tweet from Hillary Clinton condemning the attack and claiming it resulted from “hate and deranged conspiracy theories” spread by Republican politicians, he pointed instead to a story in the Santa Monica Observer claiming without evidence that Paul Pelosi was drunk at the time of the assault and “in a dispute with a male prostitute.” Musk, who later deleted the tweet, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The website of the Santa Monica Observer, described by fact-checkers as a low-credibility source favoring the extreme right, was offline Sunday morning. But an archived version of the story promised to explain “what really happened early Friday morning in San Francisco”. It unspooled a lurid tale about nudists and a tryst gone terribly wrong….

Apart from our personal experience, we all learn by paying attention to trusted sources of information. If your sources of information are corrupt, you get a skewed view of reality. That’s why it will take more than an attack on the Capitol or a botched assassination attempt — or something of world-historical importance like the climate crisis — to change some people’s minds.

Why Hasn’t Rupert Murdoch Damaged Australia Like He Has America?

Brian Leiter, philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, has a blog and asks “Why hasn’t Rupert Murdoch’s media empire destroyed Australia the way it has destroyed America?”

“Destroyed” is an exaggeration, so let’s rephrase it: Why hasn’t Murdoch destroyed the right-wing in Australia like he has in the US?

The rise of Murdoch’s Fox News in America since 1996 has coincided with the complete crazification of the Republican Party in the U.S., with the result that America is now ungovernable and teetering towards collapse as a democracy (I discussed some of this development in this recent paper). 

Yet Murdoch’s media empire has not had such deleterious effects in his native Australia.  Here’s the program of the Australian Liberal Party, the party of the right in Australia.  With only a couple of exceptions, it’s a set of proposals that would be associated with the more progressive end of the Democratic Party in the U.S.:  spend money on infrastructure, on the elderly, on families, on healthcare, on women.  Of course, Australian politics started from a different baseline, but the question that naturally arises is: why didn’t the Murdoch media wreck Australia too?

I was discussing this with a friend who recently relocated to Australia, and her explanation was striking: mandatory voting.  Everyone has to vote, which means elections (and, in the US, especially primary elections) aren’t dominated by highly motivated partisans.   Most people, so the hypothesis goes, are interested in stability, peace, and services, and since everyone must vote, that’s what they vote on, with the result that even the right-wing party has to stand for a program that delivers stability, peace, and services.  The Murdoch media rant and rave, as they do here, but since most people (including in the US) ignore the Murdoch media, their effect in Australia is muted by the fact that everyone is voting.

He asked what his readers think. One answer was:

Yes, mandatory voting is part of the difference. But I suspect that the preferential voting system is also important, and tends to select more sensible, stable legislators.

The Australian government explains its system of preferential voting:

Elections that use a simple majority, or “first-past-the-post” systems, elect a candidate who has received the most number of votes in a contest after a single count. This is regardless of whether or not the number of votes for the successful candidate represents a majority of the total amount of votes.

First-past-the-post voting systems are used in many countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and India.

Preferential voting

There are many different types of preferential voting systems in use across Australia and the world.

Some preferential voting systems make it compulsory for voters to mark a preference for every single candidate on the ballot paper, some require a certain number of preferences to be indicated and others are optional preferential.

Australian federal elections use a preferential voting system where voters are required to:

  • mark a preference for every candidate on the green ballot paper (House of Representatives)
  • mark a preference for a designated number of preferences on the white ballot paper (Senate)

Note: voters in Australia are subject to a small fine if they don’t vote.

Of course, we could never institute mandatory voting in America, because, you know, FREEDOM!

In other words, a right-wing minority is free to destroy American democracy because, you know, a Constitution ratified 232 years ago.

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