Staff Columnist

The bogeyman politics of the GOP

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst speaks during her Benton County town hall at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton, Iowa, on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The town meeting is part of Ernst’s 99-county tour to hear concerns from constituents. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst speaks during her Benton County town hall at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton, Iowa, on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. The town meeting is part of Ernst’s 99-county tour to hear concerns from constituents. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Donald Trump is a Twitter president. A man who governs by the whims of tweets rather than policy. He whips up a frenzy of social media emulsifying the fact and fiction until they become one. Supporters feed on it. The headlines write themselves. A media storm dominates the news cycle.

It’s a political campaign of disinformation and distraction. A new republic of trollery. But it’s effective and Iowa Republicans are joining in, creating their own false chaos.

On Sept. 4, U.S. Rep. Steve King released a video of himself drinking toilet water at a detention center. The video, posted on Twitter, shows King slurping from a fountain that is connected to the back of a toilet. It is a stunt. A viral prank that grabbed headlines and became a Twitter moment. It had nothing to do with the reality at migrant centers and blatantly ignored the sworn testimony of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others who spoke in front of a House committee in July about sinks being broken, and water being scooped out of toilets for drinking.

Their tweets are straw man arguments — a false enemy, set up to battle an imaginary war. The only purpose serves to posture and perform and misinform for an audience of trolls.

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King’s stunt was supposed to call out “fake news,” but by ignoring the facts, it became the very thing it sought to debunk.

Sen. Joni Ernst is also using this tactic. In the past four weeks, Ernst has used her campaign Twitter account to call out Rep. Ocasio-Cortez,Ilhan Omar and former Georgia House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams. All three are women of color. And her tweets are notable because, for so long, Ernst has kept herself away from the rabid foam of political culture wars. But she’s entering in and, in doing so, is perpetuating fake news and misinformation.

Most recently, in a completely unprovoked tweet attacking Abrams, Ernst misspelled Abrams’ name, tagging the wrong “Stacy Abrams.”

Additionally, the tweet linked to the website, LifeNews.com, which runs blatantly false or misleading stories with a anti-abortion slant. The media watchdog site Media Matters explains, “Almost half of LifeNews.com’s top-engaged links made some reference to Democrats allegedly supporting ‘infanticide,’ a debunked claim misrepresenting later abortion procedures that are often necessary. ...”

We say we want facts and truth, but do we really, when we so willingly believe every shared lie, every viral folk tale?

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When The Gazette contacted Ernst’s office and campaign about the tweet attacking Abrams, her representatives refused to answer questions. Instead, Brook Ramlet of the “Joni for Iowa Campaign” stated in an email, “Joni Ernst will always stand for life and will oppose Democrats’ radical abortion stances.” But nothing is radical about Abrams’ stance on abortion.

Like 60 percent of people in Georgia, Abrams supports abortion rights and opposes Georgia’s heartbeat bill. And unlike what Ernst implies in the tweet, Abrams never claimed protections for unborn babies were “evil.” Instead, she called Georgia’s heartbeat bill, which would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected and allows prosectors the right to file criminal charges against women who miscarry — “evil.”

The distinction is important. In the Ernst tweet, Abrams is somehow demeaning all protections for babies. But in reality, Abrams was calling a bill “evil.” And it’s worth noting, similar bills have been struck down as unconstitutional.

It would be easy to dismiss the difference. After all it could be just semantics, the worldview of word choices of one side over another, but it matters.

America is caught in the battle between the facts and “fake news” and with these tweets, Ernst and King put themselves on the side of fiction. Their tweets are straw man arguments — a false enemy, set up to battle an imaginary war. The only purpose serves to posture and perform and misinform for an audience of trolls.

And it must be working. LifeNews is a popular site for anti-choice activists. The site is not news. It’s not written by journalists. But it’s shared on Facebook and Twitter as a distorted mirror image of a fake but menacing reality. It allows politicians and others to create entire worlds of self-delusion. And we, the people, willingly enter those worlds. We say we want facts and truth, but do we really, when we so willingly believe every shared lie, every viral folk tale? More realistically, we don’t want truth, we just want the comfort of our own fakery.

Here is the truth: Immigrants do face horrible conditions in detention centers, and Stacey Abrams is not a radical, baby-killing activist but a politician whose views represent her state and 61 percent of our nation.

But the hue and cry of Trumpian Republicans on Twitter conjure up a bogeyman politics — a counterfeit menace that can be anywhere at any time, ready to murder your babies.

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In preindustrial times, these bogeymen got their power from folk tales. Today, they get their power from tweets.

Comments: 319-398-8513; lyz.lenz@thegazette.com

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