How Trump and Steve Bannon are reshaping America’s politics

Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon once explained that his approach to fighting the Democrats was to aggressively play media narratives – specifically to “flood the zone with s—“. The idea, embodied by Trump’s political campaigns and far-right media outlets like Breitbart, was to camouflage his opponents with a fire hose of misinformation and disinformation. The effect was to confuse the public and arouse suspicion not only among Republicans but also among independents and even some Democrats.

Today, grassroots right-wing activists who focus on “election integrity” are themselves channeling Bannon’s “flood the zone” ethos. Ordinary people may not be able to relay influential half-truths and disinformation to reporters like influential politicians like Bannon can, but they can create controversy and a false aura of scandal through organized stunts.

Much of this will be forgotten. But some of it might stick.

A troubling example comes in a recent New York Times report, which identified a “loosely coordinated campaign” leading up to the midterm elections that saw tens of thousands of ballots and voter registrations discarded in a number of states:

Groups in Georgia have challenged at least 65,000 voter registrations in eight counties, claiming they have evidence voters’ addresses were incorrect. In Michigan, an activist group attempted to challenge 22,000 ballots from voters who requested ballot-by-mail for the state’s primary in August. And in Texas, residents filed 116 affidavits challenging the eligibility of more than 6,000 voters in Harris County, home of Houston and the state’s largest county.

As the Times investigation notes, “the vast majority” of complaints have been dismissed, often because they are based on bad information or a misunderstanding of how voter registration works. That’s not surprising because, as election experts have consistently pointed out, fraud is extremely rare and poses no significant threat to our electoral system. “Suffrage groups say the bigger concern is accidentally delisting an eligible voter,” notes The times.

Lest anyone think this is an apolitical exercise, the investigation shows that some of the groups specifically target districts that are Democratically skewed, discussing in private strategy sessions how they view their efforts as a way to help Republicans.

So if these efforts largely fail because there is no fraud issue, what’s the point? flooding of the zone.

This works on several levels. First, bombarding election officials with complaints drains government resources and creates the opportunity to inadvertently steal legitimate ballots or voter registration records.

Second, although today most of these activist efforts are dismissed, it is not difficult to imagine that they could, for a long enough period of time, work with election-denial allies to infiltrate the electoral process. For example, when some of the many foreign ministerial candidates who refuse to vote take office, they may be keen to use the ill intentions and pointless complaints of these “flood zone” watchdogs as an excuse to enact stricter electoral rules or allow endless audits. That would be a real asset to the movement.

Third, this growing network of groups — often with reputable and neutral-sounding names like Election Integrity Fund and Force — creates an air of distrust and controversy about routine election processes that will undermine voters’ already eroding confidence in the electoral process. Combined with efforts such as fake “election police” units, unnecessary election audits, absurd lawsuits to annul election results, and right-wing sheriff’s groups, there is indeed a lot of flooding going on in the zone.

Much of this will be forgotten. But some of it could stick and make any future election more contentious. It’s a reminder of how Bannon joined forces with Trump to transform our politics far longer than they stayed in power — and could continue to do so if we don’t address the issue head-on. How Trump and Steve Bannon are reshaping America’s politics

Rick Schindler

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