The Spread of Disinformation and the 2020 Election | Amanpour and Company | Amanpour and Company

President Trump has personally pledged to spend one billion dollars if it will keep him in the White House. McKay Coppins, a journalist for The Atlantic, has identified how a substantial amount of this funding is being spent. After creating a Facebook page so he could follow pro-Trump social media accounts and communicate with online Trump supporters, Coppins uncovered something remarkable: a campaign-coordinated effort to undermine journalists and the mainstream press on a mass scale. Coppins told Hari Sreenivasan about the Trump campaign’s stunning effort to launch one of the largest disinformation campaigns ever conducted.

Aaron Mate on New #Russiagate Bombshells, Plus More From the Stupid Bay of Pigs | Useful Idiots

Aaron Mate of the Grayzone and ‘Pushback’ joins the show to talk recent developments in #Russiagate, how it’s helping Trump, plus Matt and Katie continue to dive into the Stupid Bay of Pigs

The Coronavirus and the Conservative Mind

The pandemic has put psychological theories of politics to a very interesting test.

Over the past two decades, as conservatives and liberals have drifted ever farther from each other, an influential body of literature has attempted to psychologize the partisan divide — to identify conservative and liberal personality types, right-wing or left-wing minds or brains, and to vindicate the claim of the noted political scientists Gilbert and Sullivan, That every boy and every gal / That’s born into the world alive. / Is either a little Liberal / Or else a little Conservative.

In its crudest form this literature just amounts to liberal self-congratulation, with survey questions and regression analyses deployed to “prove” with “science” that liberals are broad-minded freethinkers and conservatives are cramped authoritarians. But there have been more sophisticated and sympathetic efforts, too, like the influential work of New York University’s Jonathan Haidt on the “moral foundations” of politics: Haidt argues that conservatives actually have more diverse moral intuitions than liberals, encompassing categories like purity and loyalty as well as care and fairness, and that the right-wing mind therefore sometimes understands the left-wing mind better than vice versa.

Both the crude and sophisticated efforts tended to agree, though, that the supposed conservative mind is more attuned to external threat and internal contamination, more inclined to support authority and hierarchy, and fear subversion and dissent. And so the political responses to the pandemic have put these psychological theories to a very interesting test.

In the coronavirus, America confronts a contaminating force (a deadly disease) that originated in our leading geopolitical rival (an external threat) and that plainly requires a strong, even authoritarian government response. If there was ever a crisis tailored to the conservative mind-set, surely it would be this one, with the main peril being that conservatives would wildly overreact to such a trigger.

So what has happened? Well, several different things. From the Wuhan outbreak through somewhere in mid-February, the responses to the coronavirus did seem to correspond — very roughly — to theories of conservative and liberal psychology. Along with infectious-disease specialists, the people who seemed most alarmed by the virus included the inhabitants of Weird Right-Wing Twitter (a collection of mordant, mostly anonymous accounts interested in civilizational decline), various Silicon Valley eccentrics, plus original-MAGA figures like Mike Cernovich and Steve Bannon. (The radio host Michael Savage, often considered the most extreme of the right’s talkerswas also an early alarmist.)

Meanwhile, liberal officialdom and its media appendages were more likely to play down the threat, out of fear of giving aid and comfort to sinophobia or populism. This period was the high-water mark of “it’s just the flu” reassurances in liberal outlets, of pious critiques of Donald Trump’s travel restrictions, of deceptive public-health propaganda about how masks don’t work, of lectures from the head of the World Health Organization about how “the greatest enemy we face is not the virus itself; it’s the stigma that turns us against each other.”

But then, somewhere in February, the dynamic shifted. As the disease spread and the debate went mainstream, liberal opinion mostly abandoned its anti-quarantine posture and swung toward a reasonable panic, while conservative opinion divided, with a large portion of the right following the lead of Trump himself, who spent crucial weeks trying to wish the crisis away. Where figures like Bannon and Cernovich manifested a conservatism attuned to external perils, figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity manifested a conservatism of tribal denial, owning the libs by minimizing the coronavirus threat.

Now we are in a third phase, where Trump is (more or less, depending on the day) on board with a robust response and most conservatives have joined most liberals in alarm. Polls show a minimal partisan divide in support for social distancing and lockdowns, and some of that minimal divide is explained by the fact that rural areas are thus far less likely to face outbreaks. (You don’t need a complicated theory of the ideological mind to explain why New Yorkers are more freaked out than Nebraskans.)

But even now, there remains a current of conservative opinion that wants to believe that

  • all of this is overblown, that
  • the experts are wrong about the likely death toll, that
  • Trump should reopen everything as soon as possible, that
  • the liberal media just wants to crash the American economy to take his presidency down.

Where does this leave the theories of conservative and liberal minds? It’s too much to say that they don’t describe anything real. A certain kind of conservative personality (a kind that includes more than a few of my own friends) really did seem particularly well attuned to this crisis and ended up out ahead of the conventional wisdom in exactly the way that you would expect a mind-set attuned to risk and danger, shot through with pessimism and inclined to in-group loyalty to be.

At the same time, the behavior of what you might call “normie” Republicans — not Very Online right-wingers or MAGA populists but longtime Fox News and talk-radio consumers — suggests that any such conservative mind-set is easily confounded by other factors, partisanship chief among them. The fact that the virus seemed poised to help Democrats and hurt the Trump administration, the fact that it was being hyped by CNN and played down by Hannity, the fact that Trump himself declined to take it seriously — all of this mattered more to many Republicans than the fear of foreign contamination that the virus theoretically should have activated or the ways in which its progress seemed to confirm certain right-wing priors.

So one might say that the pandemic illustrates the power of partisan mood affiliation over any kind of deeper ideological mind-set. Or relatedly, it illustrates the ways in which under the right circumstances, people can easily swing between different moral intuitions. (This holds for liberals as well as conservatives: A good liberal will be as deferential to authority as any conservative when the authority has the right academic degrees, and as zealous about purity and contamination when it’s their own neighborhood that’s threatened.)

But the right’s varying responses to the pandemic also illustrate two further points. The first point is that what we call “American conservatism” is probably more ideologically and psychologically heterogeneous than the conservative mind-set that social scientists aspire to measure and pin down. In particular, it includes an incredibly powerful streak of what you might call folk libertarianism — which comes in both highbrow and middlebrow forms, encompassing both famous legal scholars predicting minimal fatalities from their armchairs and “you can’t stop the American economy … for anything” tough guys attacking social distancing on Twitter.

This mentality, with its reflexive Ayn Randism and its Panglossian hyper-individualism, is definitely essential to understanding part of the American right. But it’s very much an American thing unto itself, and I’m doubtful that it corresponds to any universal set of psychological tendencies that we could reasonably call conservative.

The second point is that on the fringes of the right, among QAnon devotees and believers in the satanic depravity of liberalism, the only psychology that matters is paranoia, not conservatism. And their minimizing response to the coronavirus illustrates the unwillingness of the conspiratorial mind to ever take yes for an answer — meaning that even true events that seem to vindicate a somewhat paranoid worldview will be dismissed as not true enough, not the deepest truth, not the Grandest of All Grand Conspiracies that will someday (someday) be unraveled.

In his novel “Foucault’s Pendulum,” a sendup of crackpot esotericism that anticipated “The Da Vinci Code” years before its publication, Umberto Eco captured this spirit by describing the way that self-conscious seekers after hermetic wisdom and gnostic mysteries approached the rise of Christianity:

… someone had just arrived and declared himself the Son of God, the Son of God made flesh, to redeem the sins of the world. Was that a run-of-the-mill mystery? And he promised salvation to all: you only had to love your neighbor. Was that a trivial secret? And he bequeathed the idea that whoever uttered the right words at the right time could turn a chunk of bread and a half-glass of wine into the body and blood of the Son of God, and be nourished by it. Was that a paltry riddle?

And yet they, who now had salvation within their grasp — do-it-yourself salvation — turned deaf ears. Is that all there is to it? How trite. And they kept on scouring the Mediterranean in their boats, looking for a lost knowledge of which those thirty-denarii dogmas were but the superficial veil, the parable for the poor in spirit, the allusive hieroglyph, the wink of the eye at the pneumatics. The mystery of the Trinity? Too simple: there had to be more to it.

This is where the pandemic-minimizing sort of conservative has ended up. They are confronted with a world crisis tailor-made for an anti-globalization, anti-deep-state worldview — a crisis in which China lit the fuse, the World Health Organization ran interference for Beijing, the American public health bureaucracy botched its one essential job, pious anti-racism inhibited an early public-health response, and outsourcing and offshoring left our economy exposed.

And their response? Too simple: Just a feint, a false flag, another deep state plot or power grab, another hoax to take down Trump. It can’t be real unless Hillary Clinton is somehow at the bottom of it.

Rand Paul Has More Than a Cold

The senator from Kentucky was worried enough to get tested. But while he waited for the results, he kept going to work, the gym, and the pool.

By inadvertently spreading the coronavirus around the U.S. Capitol for at least a week, Rand Paul has turned the world’s greatest deliberative body into the nation’s highest-profile vector for the spread of the pandemic.

The senator from Kentucky was worried enough about being exposed to the virus that he got a still-hard-to-obtain test for it. But while he was waiting for the results, he

  • decided to keep showing up to the Senate. He
  • went to group lunches with his Republican colleagues,
  • took the Capitol elevators,
  • talked with reporters, and
  • worked out in the somehow-still-open Senate gym.
  • Yesterday morning, he was doing laps in the pool there.

By yesterday afternoon, Paul had announced that he had tested positive. Graciously, he said that he would start self-quarantining.

Paul is exactly what we’ve been told to worry about. For all the laughing and hate-tweeting directed at spring breakers saying they don’t think the coronavirus is a big deal, they’re at worst dumb, selfish, underinformed 20-somethings. Paul is a medical doctor (he worked as an ophthalmologist before first being elected in 2012). He is a senator. He is an elected official. People look to him for leadership.

In the Senate, the average age is 62.9. There are five senators in their 80s—and there will soon be six, when Vermont’s Patrick Leahy has his birthday at the end of the month. There are mothers and fathers of young children in the chamber. There are senators who have close family members with conditions that make them especially susceptible to the virus, such as Utah’s Mitt Romney, whose wife has MS.

Then there is Paul, whose office claims that he was being extra careful by deciding to get tested (he had a procedure last year to remove a damaged part of his lung), and that he “only got tested because of his insistence.” But Paul’s attitude seems to have boiled down to some version of Too bad for you if I’m infected and I come into contact with you.

He is infected. He came into contact with a lot of people. And now, at a crucial moment in American history, when the entire country is counting on Washington’s response, Paul has single-handedly given senators reason to worry that they are risking their health by showing up to vote.

None of this explains how Paul got tested at all. People across the country are having trouble breathing and running fevers but being told that they have to wait for a test. Paul was asymptomatic, but did attend an art-museum fundraiser in Kentucky on March 7 with two people who later tested positive for COVID-19 (Paul says he never interacted with either of the people in question). Other people at the event, including the local mayor, have tested positive, and Paul seems to have decided that attending the fundraiser was enough reason to ask for a test. How he jumped the line for one is a mystery. America doesn’t have anywhere near enough tests for those who need them, despite Donald Trump saying at the beginning of the month that anyone who wanted a test could get one, and Vice President Mike Pence saying on March 10 that there would be an additional 4 million tests “before the end of this week.” That was two weeks ago today.

Importantly, Paul has no idea where or from whom he contracted the virus. He could have gotten it and then spread it at all sorts of places he hasn’t considered.  Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, who was at the same museum fundraiser, announced on March 15 that he’d taken a test and the results had come back negative. Still, Yarmuth tweeted, “I plan to continue working from home and will avoid going out in order to do my part as we all work to practice safe and precautionary distancing to help defeat this pandemic.”

Other senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas, preemptively self-quarantined after learning that they could have been exposed. Cruz had no symptoms either. Paul’s office argued that he got the test “out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events.” But if traveling between Kentucky and Washington is all that is required to get a test, a lot more people should be able to receive immediate testing.

They can’t, of course. There’s no question that Paul got special treatment. He got a test that others want and can’t get, and he got it despite having no symptoms—something the president has explicitly said people shouldn’t be doing. He got it as a United States senator, which means that he got it on a taxpayer-funded government health-care plan. Everyone else, including those who might be fighting for a ventilator in the coming weeks, can wait.

All last week, while he was deciding that he wanted to be tested, getting that specially obtained test, and waiting for the results, Paul was at work in the Senate. He was holding up, then voting against, then blasting in a floor speech the first major coronavirus-response bill, which includes a provision to make testing, once it becomes more readily available, free for whoever wants it.

Paul got a test that he voted against everyone else being able to get. He slowed the passage of the bill to make a principled stand against the enormous deficit spending involved. He did not mention, as he criticized young people for not taking the virus seriously while in almost the next sentence raising doubts that it is worse than the swine flu, that he was concerned enough about himself to get tested. “Modern man has become accustomed to the idea that life is relatively safe, that a long life is to be expected. Consequently, any re-eruption of diseases beyond our control paralyzes us with fear,” he said, urging people to get their worries under control. He mentioned that his parents remember the polio scares, and that they lived through those well into their 80s.

One of those parents is Ron Paul, the former congressman from Texas and presidential candidate who helped mainstream a version of libertarianism that his son is clearly inspired by, though the elder Paul is a separate political figure and not formally affiliated with his son except by biology. But here’s what Ron Paul, who also began his professional life as a doctor (an obstetrician) wrote in a commentary published on March 16: “People should ask themselves whether this coronavirus ‘pandemic’ could be a big hoax, with the actual danger of the disease massively exaggerated by those who seek to profit—financially or politically—from the ensuing panic.” The same day, Rand Paul’s chief political strategist, Doug Stafford, tweeted mockingly about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio taking a midday break from dealing with the pandemic response to go to a gym in Brooklyn: “So people can’t eat out but can go to the gym where they expel bodily fluid and touch things other people just touched. Ok.” His boss, he would later find out, was doing those things all week.

Here are some of the questions I sent Paul’s spokesman this morning:

  • When did the senator decide to get tested? Why did he wait, when Congressman Yarmuth, who was at that same museum fundraiser, got tested a week earlier?
  • Why did he not inform anyone in the Senate that he was concerned enough to get tested and/or self-quarantine?
  • How did the senator obtain a test so quickly, when others have been waiting (including others who likewise have conditions that have them on high alert)?
  • Was the test covered under his Senate health insurance? If not, how was it paid for?

The only response I received pointed me to the statements that Paul has put out over the past day, which don’t address these questions. Paul’s office released an emailed statement from him this afternoon, calling for “more testing immediately, even among those without symptoms.” He argued, “The nature of COVID-19 put me—and us all—in a Catch-22 situation. I didn’t fit the criteria for testing or quarantine. I had no symptoms and no specific encounter with a COVID-19 positive person. I had, however, traveled extensively in the U.S. and was required to continue doing so to vote in the Senate. That, together with the fact that I have a compromised lung, led me to seek testing.”

He turned his scolding toward anyone questioning how he’s behaved, holding himself up as an exemplar because he went out of his way to get tested, even though he kept it secret, and even though he got a test others can’t get.

“For those who want to criticize me for lack of quarantine, realize that if the rules on testing had been followed to a tee, I would never have been tested and would still be walking around the halls of the Capitol,” the statement reads. “Perhaps it is too much to ask that we simply have compassion for our fellow Americans who are sick or fearful of becoming so.”

I hope the senator makes a full recovery. Many Americans who are sick or fearful of becoming so won’t get the same compassion or access to treatment that he did.


The Secret Plot to Bring the U.S. into WWII

At the outset of the Second World War, the Allies were desperate to have Americans fight alongside them. So, they enlisted Canadian M16 officer William Stephenson to help sway them, kicking off a large-scale, state-sponsored influence campaign. Author Henry Hemming joins The Agenda to discuss his book, “Agents of Influence: A British Campaign, a Canadian Spy, and the Secret Plot to Bring American into World War II.”