Judging Jackson: Confirmation in the Age of Conspiracy Theories, Lies, and Technology

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

A recent report from the January 6th commission shows Ginny Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was communicating with President Trump’s Chief of Staff to illegally (and seditiously) stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

The report illustrates that extremism, guided by conspiratorial thinking, existed at the highest levels of government. Unfortunately, that’s still the case today.  The ideas and conspiracy theories that Ginny Thomas referenced to prod Mark Meadows to turn against his country are readily available to anyone with internet access.

Lies and conspiracy theories are nothing new. But social media amplifies them and accelerates how they’re spread. So, to combat this, one must be committed to countering the lies with truth and facts. But, unfortunately, and with few exceptions, Republican politicians have done the exact opposite. They’re embracing the lies and conspiracy theories, not because they believe them but because it’s politically advantageous. In fact, embracing lies and spreading conspiracy theories is now a political strategy of the Republican party. And we’re seeing the effect before our very eyes.

The political proliferation of lies and conspiracy theories is like a constricting snake around the throat of our democracy – choking off reason, rationality, accountability, and integrity.

The lies and conspiracy theories are woven in fear, fake patriotism, and culture war issues such as transgenderism and critical race theory.

I feel sorry for people caught up in conspiracy theories, many of whom are so desperate to be part of something worth fighting for they disregard facts and evidence. But I have nothing but contempt for politicians who look to capitalize on the misguided and misinformed. And that’s what a lot of Republican congressmen and senators are doing.

Republicans clearly understand the connection between technology, lying, and generating support from voters. We saw this on display at Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing.

Senators Cruz, Hawley, Blackburn, and Graham cherry-picked snippets from Judge Jackson’s court cases and decisions and painted an un-nuanced and inaccurate caricature. That caricature became twitter-sphere fodder for their party’s base and kindling for their political campaigns.

We all saw Senator Cruz checking his Twitter feed after questioning Judge Jackson about racist babies and pornography.

The hearing illuminated a disturbing trend, where politicians are not simply repeating lies and conspiracy theories but are ginning up their own lies and false narratives, which end up on websites and social media accounts, and, inevitably, into the hearts and minds of their constituency.

Since the end of the confirmation hearing, we’ve seen a disturbing uptick in political attacks against Judge Jackson, labeling her as a sympathizer of Nazis and pedophiles. So perhaps we’re witnessing the birth of a fresh new conspiracy theory about Judge Jackson?

I would not be surprised.

And finally, Kudos to Judge Jackson for her grace under pressure. 

Had Lindsey Graham asked me to rate my religiosity on a scale of one to ten (as if religion has anything to do with being a sound jurist), I would have said, “Zero. And fuck you for asking the question.” 

Judge Jackson is supremely qualified. She has the intellect, experience, and temperament to be a justice on the United States Supreme Court.

Today let’s celebrate her success. 

Truth, lies, opportunism, and the disintegration of Josh Hawley

Josh Hawley saw an opportunity in the angry, throbbing-with-hate, wild-eyed, vein-popping crowd of Trump supporters.

He felt the energy of that crowd’s rage and understood if he could harness it, he could jettison himself to the front of the 2024 Republican presidential pack. The only thing that stood in the way of that happening was the truth.
For months leading up to the 2020 Presidential election, and every day after it, Americans were fed a constant diet of lies that the election was rigged. Those lies breathed life into the January 6th insurrection that resulted in 5 dead, including a capital police officer.

Josh Hawley knows that President Trump did not win the 2020 election. He understands that every election comes with some irregularities and that in the 2020 election, those irregularities were minor and had no impact on the outcome. President Trump got drubbed by more than 7 million votes in an election deemed by Trump’s own election security expert as the most secure election in the history of our country.

Hawley’s motives leading up to the events of January 6th were seditious. His explanation of why he voted to overturn a free and fair election is both laughable and disingenuous.

Hawley said the people of Missouri had concerns about the integrity of the election, and as their senator, he was obligated to make sure their voices were heard.

If we listened to Hawley’s words in a vacuum, they sound reasonable and almost noble. But Hawley’s obligation as a US Senator is not to blindly support the concerns of his constituency, especially when those concerns are based on false information and lies. No, his job as a Senator is to tell those people the truth, even if that truth is complicated for some of them to hear – even if that truth becomes somewhat of a hindrance to Mr. Hawley’s political aspirations.

But Hawley did not do that. Instead, he used the divisive and volatile climate to elevate his own political profile and boost his presidential aspirations. This was a test of Josh Hawley’s character, and he failed miserably – and it’s an example of why character matters in our representatives.

I’m reminded of when John McCain was confronted with a lie about President Obama and how he responded to that lie.

McCain was holding a town hall, answering questions from his supporters, when a woman took hold of the microphone and said she did not trust Senator Obama because he was an Arab. Now, this woman was not alone in her fears – she and the nation had been fed a constant diet of lies about the President’s birth origin and religious affiliation.

McCain could have used that lie to fire up his base – he could have viewed all those false stories about Obama as campaign kindling, and he could have used that moment with that woman to sew division, doubt, and fan the flames of bigotry. Doing so might have given him a boost politically. But instead, McCain took the microphone from that supporter and respectfully told her that she was wrong – that she was misinformed and that senator Obama was not an Arab, but rather a decent American, who he happened to disagree with on the issues facing America.

That moment was a test of John McCain’s character, and he passed it with flying colors. McCain was not stupid. He understood the potential benefits off manipulating the lie about President Obama. But to John McCain’s credit, he understood that correcting that lie was far more important than any political momentum to be gained from it — because lies like that, the lies that divide Americans, are dangerous to democracy.

Regarding the lie about a rigged election, Josh Hawley and President Trump did the exact opposite of what a true leader should do: confront the lie head-on and stop it in its track. Instead, Trump and Hawley consistently propagated rumors that they knew were false for opportunity’s sake.

Truth is the sticking agent in the masonry mix of democracy. Without it, the foundation of our country crumbles.

Under the Trump administration, the truth became a malleable political commodity. It was hammered, reshaped, forged in lies, and repurposed for political gain.

Every administration plays with the truth on occasion, spinning it to suit this or that political reality. But spinning the truth is not the same as creating your own version of it to deceive and manipulate the public and to galvanize your own political power. That’s not spin – that’s propaganda. That’s a weapon.

The desecration of truth that happened during the 4-years of the Trump administration is the strongest argument for why character matters.

A presidential candidate with a high moral character knows that manufacturing a false truth for self-gain is inherently wrong. On the other hand, a presidential candidate with low moral character sees manufactured truth as a tool, a means to an end. And when such a person gains access to power and the levers of government to wield that power, our democracy enters a dangerous and precarious situation. The culminating consequence of 4-years of manufactured truth is what we witnessed and experienced collectively on January 6th, 2021.

The Trump administration had a strategy for truth, and truthfulness was not part of it.

The Trump strategy for truth was this:

As long as we hold the reins of power, we’ll use alternate facts, cherry-pick data, and create a version of the truth that serves our political agenda and strengthens our hold on power.

We’ll weaponize our strategy by publishing our version of truth on communication platforms like Twitter and Facebook. 

We’ll use these channels to magnify and reinforce the lies about voter fraud and a rigged election. And our supporters will spread these lies (knowingly or unwittingly) either way; the lies will take root.

The strategy, like Donald Trump himself, was utterly devoid of ethics.

But it worked.

For 4-years, the Trump administration designed their own version of the truth to meet a pre-defined set of facts. Then, they leveraged conspiracy theories and right-winged websites to discredit actual truth and to stand up for their own version of it. Finally, they injected their version of truth into the public square with mindful malevolence, feeding the masses lies and misinformation through every available communication channel.

Artificial Intelligence, the internet, and behavioral algorithms helped spread the lies incredibly and quickly.

Trump’s 4-year disinformation campaign and an all-out assault on truth was a mass poisoning of America’s mind by a well-oiled propaganda machine. The result? A cult-like following impervious to any information that goes counter to the narrative pushed by the President and his administration.

But unlike Jonestown or Waco, the Trump cult hasn’t succumbed to arsenic-laced Kool-Aid or fiery smoke. Instead, this mass poisoning continues to propagate, grow, and metastasize. And now, America is riddled with a cancerous, malformed notion of truth.

The biggest threat to our nation and our democracy is the continued bastardization of truth and the potential for that strategy to become a framework or playbook for the next power-hungry demagogue.