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July 14, 2022

The cohesive power of hate

“My Pillow Guy” Mike Lindell was unavoidable for comment at the Trump rally in Anchorage. 

We walked into the arena at roughly the same time on Saturday. He saw my microphone and asked if I was trying to interview him. I wasn’t. 

“You can interview me,” he said. “I hate the media. But you can interview me.”

He’s an insistent guy, so I turned on my recorder and asked him a few questions. Then he happily moved on to pose for selfies with fans who knew his face from TV.

My takeaway? Hating on the media is part of the performance at the Trump show. 

"My Pillow Guy" Mike Lindell (right) was a willing and able interviewee. (Kendrick Whiteman/Alaska Public Media)

From the rally stage, Trump and U.S. House candidate Sarah Palin pointed at the roped-off section where I and dozens of other reporters were working, to get the crowd jeering at “the media” and the “fake news.” Jeer they did. One man directly behind me said, “That means YOU,” just in case I wasn’t personally feeling the jab.

Truth be told, I wasn’t feeling it. It was a bluff charge.

Let’s not undermine the potential danger. Whipping up hatred against journalists has inspired violence and corrodes democracy. In the long term, it diminishes the meaning of words and facts. It aids authoritarianism. 

In the short term, it serves another goal. Beating the drums of outrage and disdain binds a group together, defining who is in by pointing fingers at those who aren’t. 

Rallying around positive group values doesn’t have the same cohesive strength. Maybe there’s a mob that chants, “Sharing is caring!” but I haven’t seen it.

It’s a similar story when it comes to conspiracy theories about voter fraud. I wondered why Trump repeatedly attacked Alaska’s system of ranked choice voting. Was he laying the groundwork to later dispute the election outcomes? Maybe. But equally possible is that he was seizing on an issue that he knew would play well with the crowd. He’s already gone to enormous, perilous lengths to convince his supporters his 2020 election was stolen, despite having no evidence to persuade a court. He could also find common ground with Alaska conservatives by tapping into doubts about ranked choice voting. It’s a natural fit. And even though some of the things he said weren’t possible, the narratives help bind his fans to him as they undermine trust in election results.

The irony is that our first exercise with ranked choice voting will be the special U.S. House election, a three-way contest between Palin, fellow Republican Nick Begich and Democrat Mary Peltola. With two Republicans splitting the conservative vote, Peltola will likely be in the lead after the first count. If conservative voters don’t choose a second, they risk handing the election to the Democrat.

A few weeks ago I saw Palin address a voter who said she was concerned about voter fraud.

Palin said it was a “foundational issue” for her campaign, and something that she’d discussed with God. “I want to win,” she told the voter. “But even if I don’t, I want to expose any kind of fraud that comes on in an election, and if that’s my purpose, then …” 

Their conversation was cut short by a throng of Palin fans eager to have their photos taken with the candidate.

As always, I'm eager to hear your comments, story ideas and news tips.

- Liz Ruskin

Follow me on twitter: @lruskin

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