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Welcome to Save America. I'm Jon Favreau. I'm John Lovett. I'm Tommy Vietor. On today's pod, Kevin Roo's of The New York Times talks to tell me about Trump's embrace of the Kuhnen cult. Before that, we'll talk about what's in store for this week's Republican National Convention, how the public reacted to last week's Democratic convention, and the latest on the Postal Service crisis.
But first, love it. How was the show this weekend?
We had a great convention. Special Senator Brian Schatz. Emily Haler. Naomi Paragon. Josh Barro. We had a good time, we broke down the speeches. That's all you really need to know. Fantastic, fantastic. Also, tomorrow is Tuesday, which means there's a brand new episode of Missing America Out. Ben talks to an anonymous activist about the daily marches and protests taking place in Hong Kong, and they sound the alarm on the dangers of a growing authoritarian power.
So check it out wherever you get your podcasts.
Also, if you want to watch the RNC with us, we will be on our group thread each night this week, starting at 6:00 p.m. Pacific, 9:00 pm Eastern. Watch with us at cricket dotcom slash convention and subscribe to our YouTube channel, a YouTube dotcom slash crooked media. A lot of content this week, boys, a lot of content, a lot of content. All right, the Republican National Convention lineup has been announced, and it's a real who's who of Trump's staff and family members.
On Monday we got Donald Trump, junior, Donald Trump, Junior's girlfriend, Kim Guilfoile and Donald Trump. Tuesday night, we got Melania Trump, Eric Trump, Tiffany Trump and Donald Trump again. Wednesday night, we got Larry Trump and Donald Trump again. Thursday night, Ivanka Trump and one more time, Donald Trump. The Republican Party also announced that they will not be releasing any policy platform other than to reassert, quote, the party's strong support for President Donald Trump and his administration.
Meanwhile, Trump has released a second term agenda that includes bullets like, quote, teach American exceptionalism, drain the globalist swamp and return to normal in twenty, twenty one.
I'm not really getting a not me us vibe from this convention. What about you?
Yeah, I mean, look, he already started this morning. You know, the he went to the podium already today for his uplifting convention and spent the whole time railing against the scourge of people voting. So it's already off to a great start. They've already they already also did their their roll call. And we had people all across the country in these magnificent vistas showing the best of America. And it was just white head after white head, just being like, we hate Joe Biden and we're sending Kentucky's votes to Donald Trump.
So they're they're already they're already kind of failing to meet the expectations set over the weekend.
I love it. I can't believe you would be this hard on a good step. And repeat, look, look, look gorgeous. Terrible. Looks at.
Yeah, looks like they're on their way into a Dinesh D'Souza documentary. But the other, the other.
This is stupid and this is small. American exceptionalism is not something you claim to teach. It's an insult at people who believe America is exceptional. It was coined by Joseph Stalin. If you say if you say I think the Yankees are the best team, you don't say I'm a Yankees. Exceptional, lest you think the Yankees are the best. Other people think you're stupid and don't notice what's wrong with the Yankees. If you love America and think America is the best, it's not because you believe in American exceptionalism.
It's because that's your evaluation of countries.
See what I'm saying? Do you see why it's stupid? I mean, look, I'm glad that bothered you.
I do think the fact that they have decided to forgo a policy platform this year.
No, this is a special no for whatever this is their leader wants. That's also one of two things in the budget.
That's their education platform, which is absolutely incredible. Also, one thing I notice in the platform is repealing Obamacare not high on his on his agenda anymore. That's gone. That's out of there. So I wonder I wonder I wonder how they're explaining that to themselves. Tell me, what are the what are the potential downsides of having this much trouble, you guys notice they've been calling him the talent in chief? That's a cute little thing. They're becquerel.
So it's not totally clear what his role is every night. Jason Miller is out today saying he might just be appearing and not speaking every night, but I don't believe him. I think it's very hard to drag Trump in front of a microphone and not have him speak.
So, like, on a basic level, his approval rating is forty one forty two percent, which means your message every night is going to be carried by someone who is deeply unpopular. Yes, there are other speakers, but he's going to need the news coverage. He's going to need everything that spins out of this event every night. So I don't know that that's ideal. Normally, conventions are structured to let validators carry the message for you and tell your story because they can often make the case better than you can.
And so, you know, look at Michelle Obama's speech, right. She comes into that. She's a 60 percent approval rating. She's a ninety one percent approval rating among Democrats. She makes a case for Biden's character. She presents this devastating critique of Trump that makes news and all these different ways and appeals to different audiences. And I think that's more beneficial. I just wonder if this is going to be too much Trump right. I is not the same as the as the daily coronavirus briefing because he's giving a speech.
It's not a Q&A, but that did hurt him politically. I also wonder if it's going to get boring. I mean, he spoke for forty five minutes already this morning. I mean, it feels like too much. So potential upsides, right? I mean, he has commanded the political debate over the last four years, unlike any president we've ever seen, despite the fact that the RNC says this will be helpful. My guess is that Trump is just going to end the night every night with another broadside against Joe Biden.
And that can add up another upside for them, I guess, if we're being honest, is just not like they've got a ton of great options. And most of the keynote speakers are named Trump. They're just shittier versions of him. It's not like not Geitz or Jim Jordan, who have no name ID or are going to carry the message. Well, like drunk ass Rudy Giuliani, an assortment of White House staffers like it's slim pickings. So none of this is to say won't be successful.
RNC It might be. I just imagine it's just going to be a sustained negative assault on Joe Biden. I saw one run of show that said Jim Traficant perens if alive. Oh, look, I do very much enjoy watching the best laid plans of the fucking Goober's who work for Donald Trump instantly meet reality on the first morning of the convention.
Like their job right now is to turn this election into a choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump and to move it away from a referendum on Donald Trump and his leadership. That's what they're trying to do. So that's why you got Miller out there and Kellyanne Conway and all the rest of them talking about this hopeful, optimistic convention versus the Democrats.
Dark, scary convention. Right. Which is like bullshit already.
And then they talking about like it won't be. Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, actually said it's not going to be Trump centric like the Democratic convention is.
It's going to be about real people who've benefited, just like they know that their strategic imperative is to do that is to turn into a choice between Trump and Biden and to try to defend Donald Trump's record and talk about the second term like they know this is what they need to do. And then about an hour into the convention on Monday morning, Donald Trump storms and gives a speech longer than Joe Biden's acceptance speech where he just rambles on, accuses Democrats of stealing the election, talks about Spygate, talks about Barack Obama, goes off on this thing.
And it's just like it's always about him and he makes it about him all the time, I would say, in what Trump said today. So there's whatever they'll claim about the message. You know, Kellyanne Conway, we'll take a break from Trust Falls with Claudia and George to like let us know what the message is going to be.
Can I say that is fine. And I like Ronna Romney. McDaniel will say whatever she wants to say. But like Trump today, this morning, I think actually says what the message will be because you can't put bounds on what he'll do. He'll say what it is and really what he said today, as if it wasn't for me, the virus would have killed millions. If it wasn't for me, everything would have been worse. I shut down travel from Europe, I shut down travel from China.
Everyone told me that that was stupid. None of this is true. And if you give Joe Biden the reins, America won't come back. He's going to shut it down. Things will be worse than ever before. And so, in a way, I think what he's trying to basically do is he's trying to declare bankruptcy. He's trying to say, all right, let's go back to zero. Let's cancel all the old debts. None of that was my fault.
I'm not paying for any that were back at zero because that's what he knows how to do. And his hope is that he can spend a week basically terrifying people about Joe Biden claiming that America won't come back if Joe Biden has been there.
Optimistic message is an apocalyptic message. I mean, normally in an optimistic message means painting a a better future for you and me. Here's my plan for that vision or here's my plan for that future. Like here's my vision. There is some hand-wringing at the DNC because Biden didn't spend enough time, some people think, talking about his economic plans. Maybe that's right. Maybe I don't know. But Trump's second term agenda so far is 50 bullet points. I mean, it just if that's all they've got, they have to fill in the rest with just attacks on Biden.
Well, also, does anyone think that if asked, Trump would be able to repeat any of those bullet points? I mean, he was on Fox News Sunday night and the host asked him about a second term agenda and what he would do. And he said, quote, I would strengthen what we've done and I would do nothing.
He's whiffed on that question on Fox four times, literally four times. It's a mistake. And that's Fox. That's Fox. Amazing. What else is it? All right.
Let's talk about how last week's Democratic National Convention has been received by the public so far. In a few new polls conducted over the weekend, Joe Biden maintained or just slightly increased his lead over Donald Trump, which is now an average of nine points. But a number of polls have also shown that the favorability ratings for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have risen by a decent margin, especially among independents, black voters and Democrats, more of whom now say they're very enthusiastic about voting for Biden.
Tommy, what do you think this says about the success of the Democratic convention and how much the convention matters to the overall race?
I mean, I think there's this silly discussion about whether or not people get a convention bump that is actually kind of dated. I think the average convention bump since 2004 is about two points. So I think if you look inside those polls, there actually was good news. I think the one you mentioned, there's two that I saw John Axios in Survey Monkey. They showed a 14 point improvement in Biden's net favorable rating with independents and Biden and Kamala Harris got a five point bump in their favorability with Democrats.
And then CBS did a poll where they said to voters, we asked voters why you were voting for Joe Biden and the percentage of people who said, because I like Joe Biden, went from twenty nine percent preconvention to thirty eight percent post convention. So that makes it seem like they did do an effective job of explaining to people who Joe Biden is, his values, his character, the things he would do for them as president, which I would view as a success.
I love it. What do you think? Yeah, that was the number that I sort of stood out to me. It was what we talked about, actually. Dan, I think actually on the pod set a marker down saying he wanted to see a change in the number of people who were supporting Biden to support Biden versus supporting Biden to oppose Trump. And that nine percent shift, I think is really important. You know, one thing that has just become clear is that with each passing convention, the number of persuadable people watching goes down.
That's just the nature of polarization. And one of the hardest jobs is to reach the kind of people you could persuade but might not be paying attention.
Yeah, and I think that has been the trend, as you both point out, generally over time. I also think that this election in particular so far has been incredibly stable, despite all that's happened.
Right. Like the margin between Trump and Biden has not has been fairly stable. And I think more people have already made up their minds. And this election certainly than in 2016.
I think the morning consult poll showed that, you know, Biden didn't get a huge bounce so far and neither did. And Hillary got a few points after 2016. But after 2016, I think Morning Consult found the race like forty four forty Hillary over Trump. Right. Which means there's a lot of undecided voters now. It's like fifty one fifty to forty three, which means that Biden's over 50, meaning that a lot more people have made up their minds and a lot of other polls have show that.
So I think what that means for both the Democratic Convention and what we're about to see this week is that we may not see a big bump for either Biden or Donald Trump.
But I think what the Biden campaign has wanted is a lot of Biden's lead comes from sort of voters who are softer in their support. So they're voting for Joe Biden because they really just don't like Donald Trump. If those people, after a week of the Democratic convention, decide that they like Joe Biden a lot more, they're going to be firmer in their support for Joe Biden.
And that's going to harden that margin that we've already seen build over the last couple of months. Hopefully, we'll see what the Republican National Convention does to that lead this week.
So in addition to whatever Trump does at the RNC, he will also continue to make use of his primary strategy and winning re-election, which is abusing the power of his office.
He called a press conference on Sunday night to announce that the FDA has issued an emergency authorization for blood plasma plasma, as he said, why can't you say fucking plasma, plasma, blood plasma infusions as therapeutic treatment for coronavirus patients?
Even though FDA scientists voiced objections to Politico that the plasma has not been, quote, proven as an effective treatment, Axios reports the Trump administration officials have been putting pressure on the FDA. Just last week, trade advisor Peter Navarro said to officials at the FDA, quote, You are all deep state and you need to get on Trump time.
So Tommy Trump and his strategists clearly think that any kind of announcements around covid treatments and vaccines help him politically, which obviously has horrifying implications. But do you even think that's true?
I struggle with this one. I mean, is the average voter happy about Trump's handling of the coronavirus if they're still stuck at home or if their kids can't go to school or if you're one of like 30 million? All out of work, my guess is probably not I mean, we shouldn't underestimate his ability to bullshit his base into just magically thinking things are better. We saw that with the economy. But I have a harder time believing it applies here.
Like, are you really going to be like one hundred seventy five thousand people are dead. The economy's decimated. But I just overheard some moron on Fox and Friends talking about plasma TVs and now we're good to go. I don't know. I struggle with that one.
Lovett, what do you think I mean, some people thought that there was a story in the Financial Times that it wasn't going to be the plasma thing, that it was going to be that in October they're going to do an emergency use authorization for the Oxford vaccine, potentially so that Trump can announce there'll be a vaccine before the election. Do you think this kind of thing can work or do you think.
I don't know. I would say that people at this point are used to Donald Trump saying things that don't turn out to be true, that is then dismissed by the vast majority of people and embraced as a kind of proof of how good he is because he's so good at playing the media by his base who are so smart that they know when he's honest and know when he's not. To me, the thing that makes me nervous is not like basically what amounts to kind of bigging up a incremental advance.
What makes me nervous is more of a Donald Trump taking credit for something. And then actually there is follow up A because once there is a vaccine that goes into production, it becomes, you know, the biggest story in politics and in the news. And then we are following every single day the debates about distribution, the debates about who gets it first. Will it go to nurses and health care professionals? Will it go to seniors? Will it go to teachers?
That becomes an all consuming debate that he's very much a part of and taking credit for. So that makes me nervous sincerely. But I don't know that in October he'll be in a position to start that conversation. What matters to me is Donald Trump going to a podium and making a claim and more the kind of follow on news stories that make it seem true. Yeah, I will say, you know, we have the folks at Navigator have done a lot of polling on people's opinions around the pandemic and Trump and on their last poll, even among people who are in high infection states, 57 percent say they are more concerned about going too far in pushing to develop a vaccine quickly rather than being too cautious and slow.
So I think a there's there's that when you hear Donald Trump just like touting a new treatment or vaccine.
But I also find it weird that, like, so what is what is Trump's argument here come November, come October, like, vote for me and you'll get a vaccine vote for Joe Biden.
And I'm taking the vaccine, which is going to hold up the secret recipe with a lighter like what is the what's the pitch? I just don't get why. That's why that's a big reelection argument. Like why that's the big October that I would say.
Right, right. If you're going to answer the question, it's I think it's more about Trump saying something along the lines of if it weren't for me, this vaccine would be months off because I pushed these dumb deep state namby pamby government insiders who were too slow and too cautious and too worried about how it looks. And I pushed them and I pushed them and I got this vaccine done faster. And so because of me, I stopped the virus. I stopped.
He'll say I stopped the China virus by keeping people out of the US and then I'm stopping the virus by getting the vaccine done early. And that, I think, is the case.
I'll make it so like stick with me. And we get this vaccine that I pushed for and the economy is back open. You go with Sleepy Joe and he probably gums up the works again on the vaccine and shuts the whole country, which is only gives it to Ellen Oman antifa.
Nobody else gets it becomes a Muslim only vaccine.
We're joke. We are joking about this now. In October, that line will probably come out of his mouth, but mostly during the meeting about something.
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So on that note, Trump and other Republicans are also attacking Joe Biden for saying he'll follow the advice of public health experts if he's elected. In response to a question from ABC's David Muir about what he would do if scientists recommended another shutdown. Biden said, quote, I would shut it down. I would listen to the scientists. We're going to do whatever it takes to save lives. In response, Donald Trump tweeted, Despite biggest ever job gains and a v shaped recovery, Joe Biden said, I would shut it down, referring to our country.
He has no clue. Tommy Trump and the Republicans are very excited about this line of attack.
Is it smart? We just had this debate. We just had this debate. Politicians who took the coronavirus seriously, who listened to scientists, saw their approval ratings go go up, those who didn't were hurt politically. This is not like a federal thing. It's look at the governors. Governors in Arizona, Texas and Florida all saw their numbers tank. But really, Cooper in North Carolina, who took all kinds of shit from Trump because he wouldn't let the RNC happen in Charlotte without social distancing and masks and other health protocols.
He his approval rating was almost at 60 percent like, look, I can't predict the future. Maybe people are sick of Lockdown's and the context has changed. But I still think the safest political ground for Biden or Trump or anybody is to show that you will follow the scientists and do what they say, because I don't think anyone wants, like a chop shop vaccine from Putin in Russia or to keep the economy open when people are getting really sick. It's like this seems so obvious to me.
Love it, I mean, I've been very pleasantly surprised at how patient most of the public has been about this because we've now gone through this, as Tommy pointed out many times, where Trump says Democrats want to shut the country down. And I don't. And every time it turns out, you know, there's some people who think, oh, that's going to be a political winner for him. And then it turns out people are much more patient because they are scared about opening up the country without a vaccine or without having gotten the virus under control.
But what do you think about that? Does that does that surprise you or do you think that people could finally be sick of it now?
And this is this was one where it's beyond Trump. There was a bunch of Republican strategists, some of the more right leaning reporters were tweeting this like we'll probably hear this all week at the convention, I'm sure. Yeah, no.
So I think Biden is on the best ground when he says you can't actually choose between the economy and your health. The only way the economy comes back is if we take care of people's health. That to me, is is incredibly sort of clear, like popular obvious. I also do understand why he's saying what he's saying. And I think it's admirable that he's letting the science lead and really kind of delivering a maximal position. Right. Know I will do what the scientists say.
They say, shut it down. I will shut it down. I get that. I also I also agree that the polls have been incredibly heartening about how patient people and generous people are about this even now to this day. Right. Even as parents are now experiencing the hardship of what happens when schools either have to open and shut or can't open or are partially open. And it's an entire mess there. The polls have shifted to parents wanting to make sure schools don't open right.
They understand the stakes of the virus. That said, you know, Donald Trump. Has made his career on telling people, basically getting people to forget what their minds know was true, to go with something easy, to go with something that feels good. And even as people know instinctively that opening up might be wrong, that Biden's positions are correct, there is something appealing about a guy going up there and saying, elect me. It's Mardi Gras.
It's just you give in. It'll all be OK. It's fine. Everything's fine. Don't worry about it. Don't listen to these naysayers. So, like, I think he's saying the right things, but I do think there's a head heart issue. It's a little fool me once, though, you know, like you can say that the first time and then we, you know, the restaurants all open up and the schools open up and suddenly cases are shooting through the roof.
Like, I just think I think that the other part of this is that Biden the question to Biden was if the scientists say this right. And so what?
I think Biden is on the best the firmest ground, as you said, making sure he continues to repeat, I will follow the guidance of scientists.
So, like, hopefully Joe Biden wins and there's a vaccine or there's a vaccine in development. It's very close.
But like, if it's a choice between do you want to I can stumble through twenty, twenty one like we stumble through twenty twenty where we just have these like outbreaks and flare ups because everyone opens, then we have to shut down again. Or do you want to do four weeks of a real solid shutdown and then actually tamp the virus down so then we can open up for the rest of the year. Obviously you choose the latter, but you just have to make that clear and say that you're going to scientists.
And obviously, Donald Trump, it's really unfair of you to say this. The the the 50 bullet policy plan they rolled out clearly says return to normal in twenty twenty one in the covid section. Please don't lie about his record or his plan. Can you imagine a Donald Trump re-election slogan is returned to normal? Twenty twenty one would have just voted for Donald Trump to return to normal.
That's I want to make one more point to you, which is they're going around saying that they are responsible for the biggest job gains in history. And it is one of the most idiotic claims. If you what's actually happening is you have the the the most precipitous job drop in history and a tiny little recovery like like just a dead cat bounce. This tiny bit of of increase. And the idea that they're going to campaign on the fact that it went from having lost, what, 50 million jobs to forty five million jobs is is astounding.
I can't believe they think they can get away with that. Yeah, it's it's wild. All right, let's talk about the latest developments in the the great postoffice crisis of twenty twenty. Postmaster General Louis Dejoy is testifying before the House today. He was in front of the Senate on Friday where he said, quote, There has been no changes to any policies with regard to election mail. The Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation's election mail fully on time.
Said he's pausing any additional changes in advance of the election, but he refused to reverse changes he's already made, like removing mailboxes and sorting machines. House Democrats also passed a bill with the help of twenty six Republicans that would provide twenty five billion dollars to the post office and, according to Roll Call, prevent it from taking any action that would reduce services or impede timely delivery during the pandemic.
And it would also require to treat all election mail as first class mail postmarked with the date of receipt and to the maximum extent practicable, process it as soon as it's received.
So Lovett, McConnell and Trump have refused to support this bill. Trump is tweeting voter fraud conspiracies again this morning. He was talking about the convention already.
How useful do you think this vote by Democrats in these hearings were?
I think pretty useful, you know. It is difficult to know how responsive someone like Dejoy is to shame and ordinary politics, but I will say that that some of the moments that that have broken out from the hearings today, we're recording this Monday and there may there may be more and we may have missed some stuff. It's happening in real time. But I thought the two most interesting things that came out of the hearing were, one, Dejoy basically flat out denied that there were over, that he was responsible for the overtime cuts and some of the some of the other changes in policy that caused the delay, even though there is just like documentary evidence, just physical evidence that he actually did, which tells you he's really nervous about this and trying to evade responsibility for some of these changes.
And the other thing was Roxana pushed Dejoy on the elimination of some of these sorting machines and whether they could come back on. And it got a little bit tense. And and Dejoy said, give me a billion dollars and I'll set them back up, basically. So it tells you that that this has gone to Dejoy and it tells you that getting them the money removes a key argument that Dejoy and his allies are making about why these service changes were necessary.
Tommy, do you have any big takeaways from the hearing and do you think we should be relieved that Dejoy has agreed not to make any more? I'm not relieved.
I mean, you know, being out of power sucks. Good for Pelosi in the House Democrats for holding this hearing. Good for them for passing a bill. I think people are much more aware of what was happening with the Postal Service than they were before. I think that twenty six Republicans voting with Democrats is a big deal. It's a big crossover. And hopefully it creates even more pressure on Republicans in the Senate who are up for reelection. I think bigger picture, Democrats can argue and should argue we're here doing our jobs like we passed a major bill to bail out the post office so that veterans can get their medications.
We passed a major covid relief bill. Where the hell are you? Like, where is Mitch McConnell? Because a few weeks later, we now know that Trump's bullshit stimulus is not working. Like one or two states are actually paying the three hundred dollars stimulus. The are like caught up in bureaucracy. You're not going to do it or who knows. But, you know, consumer spending is now collapsing. That will lead to more job losses. States are broke.
They're going to lay off people like we're in a historic crisis. Everything is getting worse. It does allow Pelosi and the Democrats to put pressure on Republicans to come together and do something. I'm not saying it's going to work because the Republican Party is broken, but like they're doing the right things to position themselves to have that chance. Yeah, I think that the the hearings are probably more useful than I even thought they would be, because it does seem like they're doing everything they can to hold the GOP accountable.
They're saying come back with a plan and exactly how you're going to make sure that you can process all this election mail. They got Dejoy to say that he was going to, like, send out a letter to every American in September to talk about, like, election deadlines and when they should be getting their ballots in and all this kind of stuff.
So if they can keep up the pressure on Dejoy and haul his ass back in there in in a couple of weeks, if things haven't changed or things are still bad, then like I do think that can have some effect.
But I do think the biggest effect of the entire all these hearings and, you know, bringing Congress back from recess to do the vote, if nothing else, if it just lets people know to vote early, to request your ballot early, to get it back in as early as possible, that there is potentially some problems with the postal service, that they're delivering mail to late, that there are delays, that there is reduction in service. If everyone if more people in the country are aware of this and can act accordingly to get their ballots in as early as possible, then that I think will be a win because like we're going to be able to you know, we've had Mark Liasson, there's plenty of lawsuits out there.
It doesn't seem like legislation is going to happen. It doesn't seem like Trump is going to do anything about this.
So the only option we have is to request your ballot early and drop it off early. Like that is the most important thing we can do right now. All right, when we come back, we will have Tommy's interview with The New York Times is Kevin Roose about Kibwana? Part of America is brought to you by a stamps.com. As we slowly adjust to a new normal, what are they talking about, we still need to be smart about how we do business.
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I'm so excited to talk to our guest today. He's a New York Times technology columnist and the host of the podcast Rabbit Hole, which I binged as fast as one can binge anything. Kevin Rudd, thank you so much for coming on the show. Thanks for having me. So we are here, unfortunately, today to mostly talk about Kuhnen. I wish that was not the case. I feel like I've been watching and reading about the growth of Q and on for several years now, but if you ask me to explain it to someone for the first time still, I don't know how to summarize it quickly.
Can you recreate for me the moment when you had to describe? Q And on to some big shot editor at The New York Times and why this was worthy of going in the newspaper?
Yeah, if only it were one singular moment. I feel like I've spent most of the past year trying to explain. Q And on to just befuddled editors and other people, but the basic nuts and bolts, is this right? Q On started as a 4chan post in twenty seventeen by someone calling themselves. Q Clearance Patriot who claimed to be a high level insider in the Trump administration with access to classified information about this secret battle between Donald Trump and this global cabal of elite pedophiles.
So that is Q and Q has continued posting almost 5000 times at this point and over the course of those posts has inspired this big sprawling conspiracy theory about how Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, all of these people are in on this global conspiracy.
Usual suspects. Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Do you think of when you think of evildoers in this country who are all not only part of this global sex trafficking ring where they're trading children and molesting them and things like that, but they're also cannibals. They are literally eating the children in order to extract this supposedly life, extending chemical from their blood. So that's the sort of nuts and bolts of the conspiracy theory I call Kuhnen, the Swiss Army knife of conspiracy theories, because it's got a lot in there, like it's got a piece about aliens and the JFK assassination.
And it basically encompasses every major conspiracy theory of the last 50 years.
But the piece that is sort of the most agreed upon piece is this global cabal of elite pedophiles that Donald Trump, in their telling is about to put a stop to.
And we are we are laughing because it's easier than crying on a podcast, but we'll get to the serious part in a bit.
So one thing that confuses me a little bit is my understanding is that that Kuhnen was not the first anon poster on 4chan. There was Synanon, there was FBI, Annon, I think there were others. But what's interesting or surprising maybe is the Q and honest persisted. It's grown enormously to the point where Q and protests were marching in dozens of cities over the weekend. There were people marching a couple of miles from my house in Los Angeles despite. Q constantly getting things wrong, right.
He predicted Hillary Clinton would be arrested in October of twenty seventeen. Clearly that did not happen. Why do you think the Kuhnen theory took off and how is it persisted in the face of not coming close to being accurate? Well, those are two interesting questions.
Let's take them one at a time. So first, why has Kuhnen taken off? You're right. There have been other Anan's posting on 4chan. I think part of why this took off is, is that there's sort of a growing conspiratorial minded view in America more generally.
I mean, we have political leaders who believe in conspiracy theories. We have, you know, lots of people getting their news from alternative sources, from social media, things like that, you know, distrust in mainstream institutions.
But I also think there's a technical piece of it, which is that in 2018, just after the first Q posts started appearing, Facebook changed its algorithm to promote groups. I don't know if you remember, but there was this period after the 2016 election where they were putting up all these billboards and signs in the subway and stuff that we're talking about, Facebook groups and how you could build a community and find people with similar interests. And so they started ratcheting up the spread of groups in the algorithm for news feed.
And that coincided with the formation of all these Kuhnen Facebook groups. And what Facebook was trying to do is to promote like healthy and vibrant communities where people with similar interests would talk about their shared experiences. But that also promoted Kuhnen because in these Kuhnen groups, there was social interaction taking place.
People were trading tips and trying to decode these mysterious. Together, it looked to the algorithm like genuine social interaction, and it was and so they got promoted and promoted and promoted.
Yeah, I want to talk more about this social media element of this, because it's so important. It's also dovetails with some of the things you covered in Rabbit Hole. But before we get there, I mean, so there's the funny part of this, right? Like, look, people think JFK Junior faked his death to join Trump's secret evil fighting organization and today is posting his Q and on. That is insane. Other parts are not so funny, like the FBI has warned that conspiracy theory driven domestic extremists are a growing threat.
And they specifically mentioned Kuhnen. Can you talk a little bit about why the FBI and others led to this? Like what led to this warning where there are specific incidents? Was it a collection of things?
Yeah, there have been a number of incidents over the past couple of years that I think have really sort of made law enforcement wary of Kuhnen as a movement. There was an armed standoff on the Hoover Dam bridge between the Kuhnen supporter and law enforcement. There have been at least a couple of murders alleged by Kuhnen people who believed in Kuhnen and sort of carried out these killings in Kyuss name. There have been abductions, there have been vandalism. There have been any number of of sort of crimes committed by people pledging their support for Kuhnen.
Someone was arrested with knives in their car saying that they were going to go take out Joe Biden because Q had sort of had had turned this person against Joe Biden.
So it's really a it's it sounds funny when you first hear about it. And I think a lot of people have sort of dismissed it as like, you know, ha ha. Can you believe it's like like almost like a lizard people kind of thing. But this is creating real extremist energy in the country and it's turning violent in a lot of cases.
Yeah. Yeah. And so even more disconcerting is I don't know when Kuhnen went mainstream, so to speak, but it has now been fully embraced by the Republican Party. So, you know, last week Trump was asked about Kuhnen at a press conference and far from denouncing it, he just fully embraced the theory and and his role in it as some sort of savior of the world, savior of our children. And he said that Kuhnen adherents love our country.
Before that, he had retweeted Yunan accounts hundreds of times top of the Trump administration. The Washington Post counted 11 candidates running for Congress who expressed belief in or support for Kuhnen. There's been a subsequent surge of news coverage about the theory. What do you think the impact is of this political embrace and sudden attention to the theory? Does it help it grow? I think it probably does. I mean, it's emboldening Kuhnen supporters after Trump's press conference last week when he basically declined to denounce the Kuhnen movement.
I went into some of the Kuhnen groups that I lurk in and they were celebrating. I mean, this was a big moment for them that they seem to have gotten the endorsement of of the president.
And I think just in general, I mean, I've spoken to a lot of historians over the past couple of weeks talking about previous conspiratorial forces in American politics, things like the John Birch Society. But with the John Birch Society, you had prominent conservatives denouncing them and pushing them, trying to push them out of the movement. And now what we see is that Kuhnen is being embraced by people who are part of the mainstream conservative movement, who are maybe not on board with all of the facets of Kuhnen, but who don't want to sort of detract from the energy, the groundswell of sort of pro trump support that these people are offering.
Yeah. So I'm glad you mentioned John Birch. So, you know, looming large here, obviously, is the role that social media companies play in the spread of this stuff because but, you know, Kuhnen is also not the first conspiracy theory. I mean, when I read about it, it sounds very similar in some ways to me, to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is a vile anti-Semitic text that purported to detail Jewish plans for world domination.
And it included details about Christian children being sacrificed at Passover dinners. Right. Like very similar stuff. It was a total fabrication written by anti-Semitic secret police in czarist Russia. It has been discredited. In fact, big chunks of it were just plagiarized. But the things spread like crazy, right? Especially with, I think, individuals predisposed to have anti-Semitic views. For example, Henry Ford had a half a million copies printed here in the U.S. Thanks for that, Henry.
So, you know, I guess my question is Kuhnen doesn't exist without 4chan where it originated. But when you look at the Facebook groups, the YouTube algorithm, like, how key do you think those elements were to spreading this theory?
And they were absolutely critical to it. I mean, I don't think Kuhnen becomes a mainstream phenomenon or anything close to it without mainstream social networks promoting it. I mean, your average Facebook user is not going to wade into the depths of 4chan to, like, go look for the latest Q post. But they will join a Facebook group. They will subscribe to our YouTube channel. They will follow people on Twitter who are kuhnen influencers. So these platforms have been absolutely essential to the growth of Kuhnen and not only because they sort of give it a platform, but because for a while now they've been actively recommending Kuhnen content to people that their algorithms think will be interested in it.
So I've heard from a number of people that their friends and family members kind of got sucked into Kuhnen not because they went looking for it, but because they were in a parenting Facebook group or a natural health Facebook group, or because they subscribe to some person on on YouTube who they thought was just talking about economics. But it turned into a thing about Kuhnen. So they've been very good at kind of creating these algorithmic on ramps to Kuhnen that I think are drawing in a lot of people who otherwise never would have found it.
I just sort of assume that someone is making a bunch of money off of this theory. Is there any evidence of who or if anyone is making money off of Kuhnen? There is money being made, certainly.
I mean, you can buy AQ merchandise. I went to a Trump rally late last year in Florida and the people selling Trump merchandise also had their Q merchandise right next to it on the table. And in a lot of cases, the Q and on merchandise was selling faster than the Trump merchandise, which is strange and troubling.
But I so I think there's there's definitely people sort of making a grift out of this, but it's it's not commercialized in the same way that other, I think, political movements have been. I don't know.
You know, we obviously don't know who Q is or what their stake in this is.
But clearly it's something that, you know, is sort of bigger than Q at this point. I mean, there's an entire media universe of people with YouTube shows and Dischord servers and Facebook groups, all of which are generating just a ton of engagement and probably some money, too.
Yeah. So you have this fantastic podcast that came out a couple months ago.
Six months ago. Yep. Time is a flat circle. It explores all the ways people can get pulled into social media platforms and fed increasingly radical content, especially racist right wing content. It's called rabbit hole. Everybody should listen. You looked at four years of YouTube search history of a guy named Caleb Cain. God bless you for doing that. Can you tell us about that experience? And like, what did you learn from. That history and about how these algorithms work, well, I should mention that I did not look through his four years of history on my own.
We had a great production team of people who helped me come through that. That's more than any any one person. Yes. Yes. But we went back through four years of Caleb Kane's YouTube history. He he provided that to us.
He was someone who had started off as a pro Obama liberal and then kind of threw his YouTube recommendations, got increasingly served more and more extreme right wing content, ended up sort of sympathizing with the. All right. And then kind of had this weird thing happen where he kind of came back to to sort of the far left.
So we just wanted to figure out, like, what the heck is happening here and what role is YouTube playing in this. So it's really interesting when you start looking at someone's actual YouTube history and doing a kind of a forensic analysis, it's not at all straightforward, but there are these kind of gateways, these people who talk about, you know, things on their YouTube channels that are not politics, that are not extreme right wing.
They talk about positive psychology or they do self-help or they talk about, you know, cryptocurrency or something, and then they start transitioning into kind of more extreme right wing politics and they kind of bring their audience with them on that journey. And that's kind of what happened to Caleb Cain. He got very into this YouTube surname's to find Malina, who was helping him with depression and was talking about all these issues that were important to him. And then he kind of veered off and became a far right influencer and Caleb went with him.
So you see these periodic announcements from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, where they'll ban Infowars content or you'll see these periodic announcements about efforts to crack down on Q and on content.
Are those working, do you think? And I know that's a big question. A lot of different pieces, but do those sort of bands and platforming, does that work in your in your view?
Depends what you mean by work, I mean, does it, you know, decrease to zero the amount of extremist content flowing through these pipes? No, but it can slow the growth for sure. I mean, just taking Kuhnen content out of recommendations is a step that I think could slow the growth. It's not going to make the people who currently believe in Kuhnen stop believing in it, but it could sort of make their recruitment and growth harder.
I do think de platforming works in certain cases. I mean, when was the last time you heard from Alex Jones?
But I think it can also, for certain people, sort of embolden them. Obviously, we just saw Laura Loomer win a Republican primary for Congress in Florida. Laura Loomer, of course, is she calls herself the most banned person on the Internet. She's been banned by like every major platform, including some that aren't even like T-.
Spring banned her, which I didn't even know it was possible to get banned from Tee's spring.
So that's a case in which I think that banned you know, those bands have been worn as kind of a badge of honor. But I think in a lot of cases, people just kind of disappear.
So just stepping back on the tech platforms, I mean, I lived in San Francisco for a couple of years. I worked with and around a bunch of tech companies. The majority of people I met were great, like well-meaning, often brilliant. But I was always a little weirded out by the pervasive myth making around these companies. Right. Like every company was had to be mission driven. For some reason, the narrative is always about the world being a better place.
It's not like ridesharing because drunk driving is bad. You mean let's eliminate it right there. So these simple messages, Facebook and Twitter, were big in that space. They were big on connecting people. There was some truth to it. I like the Arab Spring is the example the Twitter folks always point to, but they always talked about connecting human beings as like it's some unequivocally good thing forgetting, you know, all the awful things we do to each other, the world wars, the bigotry, how much blame or rather how much rethinking do you think they are doing about maybe the naivete early on and the downside of creating ways for humans to spread lies, harass each other without any guardrails whatsoever?
I think they're doing some rethinking of this. I think obviously it's kind of core to their business model that people should be able to share whatever they want with, you know, basically whoever they want at any time. So that's not going away. But I think they've gotten a little savvier about the ways in which their platforms can be misused. And I think there's a problem of naiveté still. But I also think there's I like to think of it as kind of a problem of empathy with something like Kuhnen, for example.
You know, I've talked to a number of people who believe in the theory whose family members and friends believe in the theory. And it always seems to stem from a place of social isolation and from material deprivation from people who are down on their luck. They're not having a ton of things go right in their lives. They're alone. They're spending all their time on the Internet. And then Kuhnen comes along and promises to fix that for them. It gives them, you know, a group of friends to hang out with on the Internet.
It gives them a mission. It gives them hope that maybe the good guys are going to win and and it fills a void in their in their sort of social and material conditions. And I don't think the tech companies properly appreciated that under the right conditions, something like Kuhnen could become genuinely important to people, that if you think about what's important to someone who's living in Silicon Valley and has a great life and a great family and things are going right for them, they're obviously not going to be attracted to something like Kuhnen.
But I think if what you're met, if what you're measuring and what you're optimizing for is something like engagement or even something like social interaction, trying to get people to connect more, I think it's a failure of empathy to not be able to understand the various things that could fill that need for people under the right conditions.
Yeah, well said. So last question for you. I mean, Rabbit Hole is hopeful in that you talk about some ways that people could be, you know, de radicalize, deprogrammed, whatever you want to call it. But I'd say when I when I look at Kuhnen, I feel like the horse is out of the barn and has been for a while. It's here to stay. Trump is embracing it. New followers seem to find a way to explain away every post that doesn't come to fruition, every prediction comix.
So I guess I find myself increasingly worried about the potential for people in these groups to do violent things or to act in the real world. Like you said earlier, you know, covid is making us all more isolated and seemingly more susceptible to this stuff. Have you seen any successful examples of people walking away from Kuhnen? Being, you know, convinced that it is wrong that we maybe we can learn from and maybe learn a better way to approach people who believe it rather than, I don't know, my my default is to mock them probably.
Yeah. I mean, we spoke to one former kuhnen believer for the podcast in the last episode, and she had had sort of an interesting experience of sort of basically seeing a cue post that had a Bible verse in it and sort of being sort of snapping out of it's kind of saying like, wait a minute, like, is this a marketing scheme? Is this someone trying to, like, bring Christians into Kuhnen? So I wouldn't say that's a typical experience, but it certainly is the case that some people just kind of de radicalize themselves kind of on a on a fluke.
But I think more cases are are harder. I mean, you don't get through to people by telling them about all the failed predictions that he has made or the the various things that they believe that that quite obviously aren't true. I think it comes from sort of personal interaction. I think it comes from engaging with people, trying to be empathetic to the role that Kuhnen or something like it is feeling in their lives and then trying to figure out healthier ways to meet those needs, whether it's, you know, giving someone more social support, whether it's, you know, getting them off their computer and out into the physical world, somehow strengthening their ties to community organizations.
It really I think we imagine that we can just debate something like Kuhnen out of existence, but I think we've proven that that's just not true and that we actually have to take a much different approach to something like it. Yeah, well, again, well said. Kevin, thank you so much for doing the show today. Everybody should follow you on Twitter, read everything you are writing at The New York Times and subscribe to Rabbit Hole because it is a truly great podcast that helped me better understand how all this shit is spreading online, because I don't think people get it.
And it's a little scary. And I'm glad we have experts to turn to like you. Thanks for having me.
Thanks to Kevin Ruiz for joining us today, and we'll see you in Group three tonight and we'll see you on the pond Thursday.
And then we're going to we're just going to have another big Marjukka.
Never stop streaming. One of the things we didn't talk about is that there's kind of a kuhnen bullet in his agenda in twenty twenty one, it's the one where he said, yeah, take on the international organizations that hurt Americans and drain the global swamp. There's a real there's a kuhnen vibe on those bullets. There's the I talk about this with Kevin a little bit.
I know we're in the outro, but, hey, congrats to stockbroker's.
But like we go, hey, it's free.
It's free. Turn us off if you want. There's everything we do for you is free.
There's some real, like, historical echoes going back to like the protocols of the Elders of Zion that gets wrapped into these kuhnen like the Rothschilds, like it's this is some dark, dark shit. Are you saying this is not the optimistic, hopeful message that we were promised? Where we go when we go? Oh, yeah, you're right.
It's really exciting. We're united and way for that. This sucks. All right, everyone, we'll see on the group that.
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