This Fox News Segment Is an Object Lesson in the Power of Right-Wing Conjuring Words

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Photo credit: YouTube
Photo credit: YouTube

There's plenty else going on this week, and we have gradually accepted the futility of monitoring the kaleidoscopic nonsense beaming out of The Fox News Channel. But sometimes a segment so concisely captures the rhetorical mode currently having a moment in the rage generator that it needs to be flagged as it floats by on the endless conveyor belt of brain-destructive informational detritus.

California is currently engaged in one of its experiments in direct democracy. In 2020, for instance, a ballot initiative called Proposition 22 was crafted—in somewhat misleading language—in response to California Assembly Bill 5, which extended more employment protections to gig workers. After an extensive influence campaign by large tech companies interested in gig workers not having those protections, it passed by referendum with 59 percent of the vote. But this time around, that vision of democracy is looking positively democratic. California is engaged in yet another gubernatorial recall election, you see, in which the sitting governor, Gavin Newsom—who won a normal election in 2018 with nearly 62 percent of the vote—could be defenestrated if a simple majority votes to remove him. But more than that, his replacement will be chosen on the same ballot, and it will be whichever candidate gets the most votes, full stop. Even if they get, like, 22 percent of the vote, and 49 percent of voters choose to keep Newsom in the job, you could get this guy running the nation's most populous state.

Anyway, the folks over at Fox News took an interest in the effort to recall Newsom on Tuesday. In the process, Tomi Lahren—beaming in from Nashville, where she moved in April of last year having previously railed against coastal elites from Los Angeles—illustrated the real aim of a segment like this: get as many of what my colleague, Charles P. Pierce, calls the "Conjuring Words" in there as you possibly can.

Right. There is no way a Democrat could win an election in California except through fraud. Were the Democrats who currently sit in all those other statewide offices installed through fraudulent elections? Because Lahren then went on, in nearly the next breath, to roll out the laugh line that "every bad idea originates in California," presumably referencing the fact that the state is controlled by liberal Democrats. To summarise, it is facially absurd to believe a Democrat could win an election in a state that is a hellhole because it's run by Democrats.

Not that you're even supposed to string that much together. The point here was to say the words, "voter fraud." There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in California elections or any others in the United States. That includes this one, which hasn't happened yet. But that isn't the point. The new right-wing playbook is to simply call it fraud whenever a Democrat wins an election, and the best way to do that is to start early. That's what Donald Trump did—he said both of his elections would be rigged before they happened, then kept screaming fraud all the way to January 6 and beyond without producing a shred of evidence. That's because the claims that Democratic wins are fraudulent have nothing to do with actual voting procedure, or with people voting twice, or with ineligible people voting. This all begins with a conclusion—only Republicans represent the legitimate will of Real America—and works backward from there. Democratic officeholders are illegitimate by definition. Just backfill the specific grievances of the moment: vote-by-mail, Venezuelan voting machines. Whatever.

But "voter fraud" is just one of the Conjuring Words we were treated to here. If you take a step back, you may see Lahren's mini-monologue not as a series of sentences attempting to make a coherent point about California's upcoming recall election but as a stream of words in which some are neon flashing billboards carrying the message, "BECOME ENRAGED." These are as follows:

  • "teachers' unions"

  • "tech" (surprisingly missing "Big")

  • "voter fraud"

  • "woke"

  • "Kamala"

And that's basically it. Normally you'd also expect to hear about Critical Race Theory, although that seems to be on the wane as a rage button. A few months back you might have heard about Dr. Seuss. (Remember that?) These are inserted at regular intervals to elicit an emotional gut reaction from viewers who have been primed to have that reaction. And then, if a Democrat does get 51 percent of the vote in California, some folks might be so mad they can't help but reject it. Call in the Cyber Ninjas.

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