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MyPillow Mike Lindell's new Trump election fraud movie is an 'incoherent' and 'bizarre' mess

Trying to watch MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's "Absolute Proof," a two-hour "docu-movie" designed to convince its viewers of what they already believe — that Donald Trump's defeat in the 2020 election was the result of a vast and incoherent conspiracy, or an overlapping set of conspiracies — reminded me of an experience I had once at the Cannes Film Festival. (That isn't a sentence I expected to find myself writing.)

This article first appeared in Salon.

At the premiere of Jean-Luc Godard's "Film Socialisme" some years ago, I found myself sitting next to a prominent British film critic I knew slightly. There's no saving seats for your friends at a Cannes premiere; everybody piles into the ginormous theater in a wild scrum, and you sit wherever you can. If you catch sight of someone you recognize, so much the better. Well, this was late at night and after the lights went down and Godard's hypnotic, non-narrative and deliberately baffling film began, my British acquaintance promptly went to sleep. As far as I could tell, he slept through nearly the entire movie — which is admittedly rough going — so I was especially impressed that he published a review of it the next day. Which was thoughtful and funny!

I didn't fall asleep during "Absolute Proof," I promise. But I'm not going to claim I watched all of it with keenly focused attention. It is simultaneously so bizarre, so boring and so amateurish — without form or depth or any variation in tone, and seemingly endless — that it becomes impossible for a viewer to follow the supposed arguments that Lindell and his interlocutors are making for more than a minute or two at a stretch.

Evidence would suggest that the decision to package "Absolute Proof" as something vaguely resembling a movie, at least in terms of running time, came after the fact. Lindell repeatedly refers to it as a "show" and sometimes as "today's show," and performs both his stream-of-consciousness monologues and rambling interviews from behind a news-anchor type desk bearing the mysterious logo of the "WVW Broadcast Network." (That appears to be a one-man Christian media outfit run by Brannon Howse, who is credited on Lindell's website as co-creator of "Absolute Proof," and should perhaps be considered its director.)

Arguably, "Absolute Proof" has more than a little in common with "Film Socialisme," political orientation aside: It resists all structural and narrative conventions, makes no effort to tell a clear story, contradicts itself and leaps from subject to subject, and could fairly be described as a meditation on what has gone awry in our society. There are jagged mid-interview edits, unexplained fadeouts, occasional surges of faintly troubling soundtrack music and interpolated video essays composed of stock footage: the blinking lights on a broadband modem, the U.S. Capitol at night (dramatic foreshadowing?), someone using an iPad, a stylized spinning globe.

I watched the film on Lindell's website — it hasn't been "censored," but no longer appears on major platforms like Facebook or YouTube, and even on the low-end right-wing cable channel OANN is shown only with a legal preamble essentially warning viewers that none of it is true — and was unable to prevent myself from toggling away sporadically to read email or look up what European soccer games were streaming later or search on Autotrader for cars I'm never going to buy. (I might like to imagine myself as the sort of person who would buy an ultimate Republican-dad car, like a Lincoln SUV, both out of some double-switchback ironic impulse and because I genuinely liked it. But I know I'm not.)

I think cars were on my mind because Lindell has the classic demeanor of a showroom salesman. I don't mean to be insulting. I'm not talking about the odious and slimy salesman who keeps interjecting your first name into his sentences and maneuvers you into buying something you don't want on egregious terms. Lindell is more like the guy who gradually wears you down with relentless Midwestern good cheer and a series of non-sequitur anecdotes until you sign up for the useless $500 service contract just to make it stop.

When Lindell calls out the mainstream media for refusing to pay attention to his grab bag of miscellaneous non-evidence about voter fraud — which is sometimes about small numbers of people in Nevada who allegedly voted when they shouldn't have, and sometimes about a communist coup involving the Chinese government, the FBI and (of course) Dominion Voting Systems — he doesn't get middle-school-girl pissy like Donald Trump or artificially hot under the collar like Ted Cruz. He mostly seems sad and disappointed, but still able to imagine an America where decent people do the right thing.

After chuckling about the fact that suddenly all the journalists who ignored him and treated him like a buffoon want to talk to him — "your CNN, your New York Times, your Worshington Post" — Lindell poses a rhetorical question to our entire profession: "Why dontcha become a real journalist and go, 'Wow,' and take this story and run with it?"

He's fond of the disappointed question, which now that I think of it resembles a sales tactic. ("Andrew, why wouldn't you go ahead and buy that Lincoln and do a good thing for your family? Is it really gonna be about the interest rate?") That's exactly the tone he strikes in a direct address to the former attorney general, lamenting his public announcement that there had been no significant election fraud: "Bill Barr, if you're watching — why would you say something like that?" A few minutes later, he makes a similar inquiry of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, again based on what we must consider the faulty assumption that she is riveted to the screen by this crackpot video hosted by a pillow salesman.

Let's pause here to acknowledge that, out in the real world, Mike Lindell tried to convince Trump to stage an actual, literal coup-d'état in the last days of his presidency, and was apparently 86'd from the White House by chief of staff Mark Meadows and presidential counsel Pat Cipollone, neither of whom is likely to go down in history as a hero of democracy. So, yes, I understand that Mr. MyPillow should be considered, in a certain light, as extremely dangerous.

I'm not arguing that he isn't. If anything, the fact that Lindell comes off on camera as a likable bumbler rather than a sanctimonious dickhead, that he is incapable of following a sentence from beginning to end in comprehensible fashion, and that it's impossible to tell how many of these fractured fairy tales of electoral misconduct he actually believes undoubtedly makes him more dangerous, rather than less. There's been a lot of speculation that maybe Republicans can achieve full-on American fascism by nominating a smarter, smoother and more competent version of Trump, but maybe that's looking at the problem the wrong way around. A dumber, nicer Trump could be a far more effective instrument. Mike Lindell would genuinely feel sorry about some of the things he'd have to do as America's dictator, and he'd want to make clear to us that, for gosh sakes, he didn't hate anyone.

There's no point in trying to detail or debunk the various conspiracy theories floated in "Absolute Proof," which are assembled and delivered in such scattershot fashion that it's clear the audience is already supposed to know the words and sing along. If you're looking for evidence that Lindell isn't quite as big a dope as he appears, and may have his eyes on a prize bigger than his bedding empire, that arrives in the ingenious premise that Trump's electoral defeat — although of course illegitimate — was a blessing in disguise.

So many people showed up to vote for Trump, Lindell tells us, that they "broke the algorithm" — maybe the one inside the Dominion voting machines, maybe the ones in servers in Germany or Italy or Communist Party HQ in Beijing — that was supposed to ensure an easy Biden victory on election night. That led to all the supposed shenanigans by Democrats and their RINO allies (although, again, Lindell isn't given to calling people names) that flipped states Trump had actually won to Biden, which in turn — and at last! — caused true patriotic Americans to sit up and pay attention. As Lindell puts it, "This is the most attack on our country, I'm telling you, ever."

This is of course opposite-world thinking on a world-historical scale, in which the political faction that tried its damndest to overturn a clear election result imagines itself the victim of a fanciful web of interlocking conspiracies to destroy democracy. All of this was providential, however, because it led to — well, to what? To the widespread red-pilling of far-right America, to an unwatchable and probably accidental movie that Jean-Luc Godard might pronounce a work of genius, and perhaps to Mike Lindell's next and greatest sales pitch.

Democracy's dance of death: Trump is gone — kinda. But the crisis is still here

We have recently been told, by ever so many earnest commentators, that the United States faces a dire historic choice between democracy and fascism — or, in the more optimistic reading, has recently faced one and surmounted it, if only just.

This article first appeared on Salon.

If that reflects a desire to make the nation's current predicament — and for that matter the world's — seem like a dramatic struggle at the edge of the abyss, along the lines of World War II, that's understandable. Maybe it's an improvement that the mainstream media abruptly woke up to the dangers of Donald Trump's regime, just as it was leaving office — although the sudden pivot to "Get thee behind me, Satan" after years of pretending that things were more or less normal is more than a little suspicious.

But if we are struggling with someone or something on the cliff's edge, the landscape is shrouded in darkness. We can't see the precipice and we're not quite sure who our opponent is. Or exactly who "we" are. Are we at a dark historical crossroads, marked by intense internal conflict over the nature of what we used to call "Western civilization"? Absolutely. But I'm not sure either of the options we characterize with the terms of art "democracy" and "fascism" has yet revealed its true nature.

What we've seen over the last few weeks, since the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump's supporters, should make clear to all non-hypnotized observers that America's two-party system is locked in a death spiral it seemingly can't escape. Despite the efforts of Mitch McConnell, Liz Cheney and a number of other prominent Republicans, their party is completely unable to free itself from the undertow of an ex-president who was comprehensively defeated, tried to stage an impromptu coup-d'état on the cheap, and lost the Senate majority they thought they had saved from the fire.

(I'm not giving Mitch and Liz any medals for valor, by the way, although they deserve a little credit for being able to think strategically beyond the middle of next week — and for finally dropping the pretense that they don't hate Donald Trump like poison. To be completely fair, Mitt Romney has distinguished himself as a man of principle throughout this period — although, let's face it, he's also kind of a prick.)

Does that make the Republicans a "fascist" party? Honestly, that's giving the shambling zombie shell of the party that once represented old money, hardware store managers and small-town Presbyterian ministers way too much credit. Say what you will about Adolf Hitler — please, people, I know that phrase is an unacceptably dark joke — the guy spent a full decade diligently building a political organization and a mass movement that had a clear set of ideological principles and policy goals. All Donald Trump did was to grasp that the Republican Party was collapsing under the massive weight of its own ideological and political failure, and then stage a hostile takeover built on social-media insults and rage memes borrowed from Fox News and the late Rush Limbaugh, he of the Presidential Medal of Total Domination of All Media, or whatever it's called. Has that raised the national temperature and led to various acts of right-wing violence? Sure, but it's lard-ass couch-surfing fascism, at best, not a genuine mass movement committed to seizing power.

I am 159% not here to tell you that there's no difference between our two political parties, or that the Democratic Party's internal conflict (which is at least about real things, including ideology and generational change) is as bad as the so-called crisis within the not-quite-post-Trump GOP, or even that Joe Biden is a hapless historical nonentity whose presidency will wind up on the rocks sooner or later. None of that's true — well, OK, except possibly the Biden part, but he seems like a good guy on the whole who sincerely wants to patch the gaping holes in the sinking ship, and it's way too early to have any idea how he'll come across in the longer arc of history.

But the Democrats are hilarious, at least if you have an appetite for bleak humor. I'm not just beating up on the "liberals" and "moderates" either, as much fun as that is; the occasional or begrudging Democratic allies on the "left" — which I suppose is more or less where I identify — are also behaving like idiots. Having essentially lucked into control of both houses of Congress and the White House, after an election in which they underperformed across the nation in pretty much every state not starting with "G" (or containing a "Z") the Democrats are doing what they do best: Fine-grained, small-bore and deeply unimpressive reform legislation, internecine battles over issues where the general public wants big policy changes but the party's funders don't, and attempted purges of the left, both coming from the center (which is at least to be expected) but also from the left, some of which has uselessly concluded that the growing progressive caucus in Congress are a bunch of DINO corporate sellouts.

In the near term, this points toward another rebound cycle of dispiriting political defeat: Republicans could easily recapture both the House and Senate in 2022 (although they certainly won't win the most votes nationwide) on an incoherent non-agenda of reheated MAGA rage and conspiracy theory, effectively Trumpism without Trump and QAnon without Q. A brand new gerrymander built on the Trumpified racist wreckage of the 2020 census could once again create a built-in Republican congressional majority that it will take Democrats another several cycles to break down — even assuming that this dysfunctional political system continues to creak along in its familiar pattern, which is definitely not a safe assumption. I don't even want to speculate about the 2024 presidential election, which looks from this distance like one of those game-theory hypotheticals that has no viable solution (mixed with one of those low-budget Italian horror movies in which demons come off the screen and eat the audience).

On a larger scale, though, it's long past time for Americans to face the fact that we're not the only nation in the world that's going through this kind of crisis, and that our locked-in two-party system — which has nothing to do with the Constitution or the law — is itself a massive part of the problem. The bipolar two-party systems that defined most major European democracies during the postwar decades have already collapsed, or been rendered unrecognizable. In France and Italy, the two formerly-major center-left and center-right parties have effectively disappeared. In Britain, the once-socialist Labour Party hasn't won an election, under anyone except neoliberal reformer and George W. Bush lackey Tony Blair, since 1974, while the ruling Conservative Party, under Boris Johnson, has reinvented itself along vaguely Trumpian lines as the party of "Little England" throwback nationalism.

In a non-parliamentary system like ours, where the two parties have deep institutional roots and formidable fundraising power — yet have become increasingly detached from grassroots organizations and their own base voters, not to mention the ability to govern effectively — that kind of "revolution from within," however chaotic and disruptive it may be, apparently isn't possible. We're stuck with this thing we call "democracy," which isn't democratic, while trying to fend off a wave of angry yahoo populism that isn't quite "fascism," but expresses the legitimate anger of a significant proportion of the population in approximately the worst possible way. In game theory, there's always a solution that offers you the best possible chance of survival. That must be true here, I guess. But whatever that solution is, we haven't found it yet.

Trump, the Proud Boys and the Kraken: Is the #EndofDemocracy just a meme — or the real thing?

We're in a period of transition — but transition from what, or to what? Nobody's quite sure. From one president to another, purportedly, but that's the least of it. From a barely functional two-party democracy to some other, choose-your-adventure system of pseudo-democratic, zero-sum partisan warfare? From coup attempt to street conflict and civil war? From a set of vaguely shared political ideals and epistemological assumptions — the famous "democratic norms" — to the total collapse of meaning and language?

Yeah, all of those, or maybe none of them. I would suggest that the crisis of democracy — or what I have previously described as World War IV, an overlapping but larger phenomenon — has entered its decadent or rococo phase. (Can history repeat itself as farce if it was never anything else in the first place?) Comical or fantastical figures like Jenna Ellis, with her Christian-gift-shop degree in constitutional law, or Sidney Powell, the once respected attorney gone deep into discarded plotlines from "Alias," or Michigan voter-fraud testifier Mellissa Carone, who we cannot be sure is not a Kristen Wiig character, or Michael Flynn, the defrocked general turned QAnon-curious wannabe putsch leader, might once have seemed too extreme to be credible. Now they're pretty much normal, and the old-line conservative normies are the weirdos.

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What will American politics be like after Trump? First of all, he's not going away

Over the last couple of weeks, the media caste has been indulging in extensive literary meditation in how and whether we can break our addiction to Donald Trump. "We" in this case is a large category: There's no question that everyone from tabloid-TV talking heads to Ivy-educated columnists has flocked to Trump like ants to a sticky-bun picnic, but also that our readers and viewers have enabled and encouraged us at every step.

When people asked me, during the first year or two of the Trump phenomenon, why Salon didn't simply ignore him, I would mildly reply, "Well, you should see the numbers." It was and remains true that stories about the awfulness of the Trump regime — about its total fascist victory, its impending downfall or anything in between — outperform every other category of reporting, commentary or analysis we can possibly offer. (In fairness, over the past few months recipes and food stories have been doing well too. I wonder why!)

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Trump lost — but did democracy really win?

What unfolded across the United States on Saturday afternoon was breathtaking: an extraordinary explosion of relief and exuberance, not quite like anything else most of us now living have ever seen. While the comparison to V-E Day — which marked the defeat of Hitler and Nazi Germany in May 1945 — may be over the top, the emotional resonance was similar.

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Trump goes nightmare-scenario

None of us have seen a year like 2020 — and now it has finally snapped the tether that seemed to hold it to the realm of reality. After a relatively calm Election Day, leading into a nail-biter evening that left the result very much in doubt, President Trump did exactly what many observers feared he might do, prematurely declaring victory over former vice president Joe Biden, even though millions of votes in several important states remain uncounted.

It was a rambling, incoherent and extraordinary speech even by Trump's standards, delivered in an extraordinary setting — the East Room of the White House, rather than a campaign headquarters at a Washington hotel, as would be traditional for an incumbent president running for re-election. Whether it represents a genuine attempt to subvert democracy or was just an example of "Trump being Trump" and letting off some steam depends on one's perspective. Vice President Mike Pence attempted to assert the latter interpretation, arriving on stage after Trump had concluded and making relatively normal remarks about "the integrity of the vote," while of course praising Trump in fulsome terms and urging him to "make America great again, again."

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Here's why the 2020 election has been so painful

Donald Trump is not the central problem in American politics, and neither is the 2020 presidential election, as dire and urgent as those things seem at the moment. Our real problem is that our democracy is not a democracy, and that many Americans — most of them, I would argue — feel powerless, disenfranchised and despairing, confronted with a dysfunctional system that thrives on massive inequality and serves the interests only of the richest and most powerful. Those systemic problems made Trump's presidency possible in the first place, and created the circumstances that make this election seem like a last-ditch struggle against autocracy.

I'm here to tell you there are signs of real hope — but they have almost nothing to do with the question of who wins next week's election. Don't get me wrong: I'm invested in the outcome too. But I also suspect that in the longer arc of history, it might not matter all that much.

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Trump's performance nears final curtain

If it weren't for the human lives damaged or destroyed by Donald Trump's presidency — the 215,000 or so killed by the coronavirus is only the beginning, of course — the whole insane experience could be understood as a brilliant, confrontational work of performance art. It's a vulgar and moronic performance, to be sure, and one that pushes the audience's willingness to suspend disbelief to its outer limits. But it's also a work of indisputable genius, one that has hypnotized media and public around the world for the better part of five years.

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Is Trump just a performer or a would-be fascist dictator? You're missing the point if you see a contradiction

If it weren't for the human lives damaged or destroyed by Donald Trump's presidency — the 215,000 or so killed by the coronavirus is only the beginning, of course — the whole insane experience could be understood as a brilliant, confrontational work of performance art. It's a vulgar and moronic performance, to be sure, and one that pushes the audience's willingness to suspend disbelief to its outer limits. But it's also a work of indisputable genius, one that has hypnotized media and public around the world for the better part of five years.

Viewed through the dark lens of a fully nihilistic or totalitarian aesthetics, where the work of art transcends all ordinary morality — and if Donald Trump had a theory of aesthetics, that would be it — even the cruelty and recklessness of his performance is an aspect of its brilliance. From the beginning, Trump told us that he could commit murder in public without alienating his supporters. Many of us understood that as a figure of speech. His greatest and most malicious accomplishment in public life (so far) has been to prove, on a grand scale, that it was literally true.

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Mitch McConnell's dark Supreme Court gamble: He thinks he can win — no matter what happens

Mitch McConnell's political interests are not identical to Donald Trump's, although there's certainly some overlap. That's the first and most important principle to keep in mind in trying to figure out what will happen in the epoch-shaping battle that now looms over not just the presidential campaign but over America's future — the battle to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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Election 2020 is shaping up to be a horror movie

Among the various inaccurate things my father told me about American politics was the truism that presidential campaigns began on Labor Day. If only, right? In our near-psychotic media dystopia, political campaigning never ends and, indeed, to a large degree has taken the place of actual governing, especially under President You Know Who.

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Trump, Biden and the 2020 horror show

So here we are, exactly where we knew we would be — except it's worlds away from anything anyone could have expected. With the Democratic convention just behind us, the no-doubt-ghastly Republican convention just ahead and the nation afflicted with the worst pandemic in 100 years and a bottomless economic depression, we are poised on the brink of the most godawful election campaign of the media-politics age. It will be 10 weeks of anguish, torment and viciousness that we all believe will decide everything but may just as well, in the harsh light of history, be deemed to have decided nothing.

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Donald Trump is doomed -- and he knows it

Donald Trump is doomed, and he knows it — in the limited, animalistic way he ever knows anything. His electoral prospects are dwindling toward the mathematical vanishing point, and his historical legacy is now sealed. There is no possible future in which he will not be remembered as the most catastrophically corrupt and incompetent U.S. president of the past 100 years, and quite possibly ever. If it's any consolation to him, the damage he has done is enormous, and as Paul Rosenberg explored for Salon this weekend, it may never be undone.

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Will our schools re-open? That's the wrong question

Here's what we know about whether it's safe or practical to send millions of American kids and teenagers back to school for the fall term, which in some districts begins in just over a month: Nothing.

Parents, teachers, school administrators and elected officials are — I mean, pick your cliché: We're lost. (I'm a public school parent in New York City, so I'll go with the first-person plural.) We're wandering in the desert without a map as darkness falls, or perhaps trying to find an invisible needle in a burning haystack, which is threatening to set the entire barn on fire. As Robin Cogan, a school nurse in Camden, New Jersey, told the New York Times: "It feels like we're playing Russian roulette with our kids and our staff."

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Protest in a small town: Black Lives Matter comes to rural America — and it matters

DELHI, N.Y. — According to the New York Times' remarkable list of Black Lives Matter protests over the last two weeks, the largest outpouring of street activism since the Vietnam War has now spread to more than 2,000 cities and towns in every American state. Certainly the biggest and most newsworthy protests have occurred in large, diverse and often symbolic or significant cities: Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed, but also New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and every other metropolis of note. What was less expected, and perhaps even more striking, were the protests we've now seen in hundreds of second-tier cities and small towns clear across the country, including many places with overwhelmingly white populations.

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