Jollying the Wingnuts

I got a little ahead of the game by posting yesterday about the bizarre situation of right-wing folk in Texas convincing themselves that Army exercises in the area were the beginning of a military coup aimed at their own selves, or at least their shooting irons. But I didn’t emphasize the fact that the Governor of Texas had formally asked the Guard to “monitor” the exercises to ensure no hostile action against the Citizenry by the supposed agents of the secular-socialists in Washington.

Paul Waldman had an apt comment about that little detail of the saga:

[I]n response to the fact that some of Texas’s dumbest citizens emerged from their doomsday prepper shelters long enough to harangue a colonel about their belief that martial law is coming to their state, Governor Abbott issued an order to the National Guard to monitor the movements of the U.S. military just to make sure they aren’t herding citizens into re-education camps or dropping Islamic State infiltrators into Galveston. I guess we’re safe from that, for the moment anyway.

Every politician encounters nutballs from time to time, and it isn’t always easy to figure out how to respond to them. But what’s remarkable about this is that we aren’t talking about an offhand remark Abbott made, or an occasion in which a constituent went on a rant to him and he nodded along to be friendly instead of saying, “You, sir, are out of your mind.” This is an official action the governor is taking. He’s mobilizing state resources, at taxpayer expense, because of a bizarre conspiracy theory that has some of Texas’s more colorful citizens in its grip.

It’s really hard to keep people from believing outlandish things. But you don’t have to indulge them. And that’s what so many Republicans do with the crazies on their side: They indulge them. Doing so doesn’t reassure them or calm them down, it only convinces them that they were right all along and encourages them to believe the next crazy thing they hear.

That’s true, though you would like to hear a “You, Sir, are out of your mind” comment now and then. Or perhaps something a bit more indirect, like Woody Allen’s response to a confession of thoughts about driving into oncoming traffic by the Christopher Walken character in Annie Hall: “Excuse me, Duane, I have an appointment back on Planet Earth.”

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.