By Charles C. W. Cooke
Thursday, July 20, 2017
A few years back, my father and I voluntarily submitted ourselves to an episode of Question Time, a long-running program on the BBC on which sundry British politicians try to sound as indignant as possible while expressing nothing whatsoever beyond the day’s conventional wisdom. On the panel that evening was one Louise Bagshawe, a Tory MP from London who had a gig on the side as a writer of teen-girl books. “That woman,” my dad said to me about half-way through the show, “is one of the dullest people I’ve ever seen. Even for Question Time.”
So much for plus ça change.
Today, Louise Bagshawe is Louise Mensch, a show-woman and a fantasist of world-class ability. No longer a member of Parliament, Mensch now lives in the United States, where she spends at least 18 hours a day filtering current affairs through the mind of Edward Lear. Over the last six months, Mensch has unleashed her unfiltered stream-of-consciousness on the denizens of her new country — both in short-form on Twitter, which she uses in much the same way as a woodpecker uses a wall, and in longer episodes on her Patribotics blog, which describes itself as “Pro-America, pro-democracy, pro-NATO, pro-Russia, anti-Putin,” but which seems most consistently to be pro-clicks. In both arenas, she has made sure to set herself at the thriving center of a hive of unfastened theorizing and molten-hot dudgeon. If a hot topic can be linked to Donald Trump or to Russia, Louise Mensch will manage it. And if it can’t, she’ll manage it too.
In theory, Mensch represents the fact-checker’s deepest-held fantasy — the moment for which all that training was contrived and intended. In practice, she is uncheckable and unaccountable in precisely the same manner as is a primal scream. Mensch reads like a woman who speaks civics as a third or fourth language that she lost touch with long ago. She has a pidgin grasp on the American settlement, and an ersatz, bastardized relationship with reality. One part novella-fantasy, one part hallway-hearsay, Mensch’s world is one in which an ethereal “they” are omnipresent and omnipotent. “They,” she tells us, are considering executing Steve Bannon, though he hasn’t been charged with so much as speeding in a school zone. “They” have already “sentenced” Rudy Giuliani — to what fate we will presumably find out when someone next mentions his name on television. “They” will soon overturn the election results, and are on the verge of making Orrin Hatch president. Donald Trump, in turn, is perennially but a few steps from the gallows. On the 13th of April, Mensch promised that the “first arrests may be as soon as next week.” Yesterday, she related that the president faced imminent “federal execution.” Presumably, “they” just needed some more time.
Usurpation abounds, at home and abroad, and seems never to be walled in by anything as prosaic as the law. Mensch’s Supreme Court has proactive police powers and a Bruce Willis–esque “marshal” who chases down helicopters and colludes heroically with the rogue justices. Her Congress acts primarily in camera, and may already have informed Trump that he is no longer permitted to use his legal powers. Her FISA courts issue indictments they have no authority to present. And the rules? They’re suggestions, really. The America of Mensch’s imagination is a place in which the entire Republican party is imminently going to jail — on RICO charges, no less — because Paul Ryan is a partisan. What the Da Vinci Code was to Christian theology, Louise Mensch is to James Madison’s handiwork. See how the symbols line up in the moonlight?
It is on the subject of Russia, however, that Mensch has really hit her stride. In the derailed opium den that is the extended Patribotics universe, Vladimir Putin is not a brute and a bully, so much as an ubiquitous, Svengali-like puppeteer of the sort whose use as a domestic cudgel would have made even the John Birch Society blanch. Per Mensch, the Kremlin is universal: It was behind the riots in Ferguson; it was behind the candidacy of Bernie Sanders; it helped to sabotage the congressional campaign of John Ossoff; it “catfished” Anthony Weiner, causing Hillary Clinton to lose the general election; it planned and orchestrated the recent terror attack on London Bridge, along with the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013; and, most perniciously of all, it has set up vast, bipartisan network of spies and secret agents that include Sean Hannity, Matt Taibbi, Evan Siegfried, Glenn Greenwald, and, well, anybody who has the temerity to tweet at her in a tone of which she disapproves. As a solution for this infinite interference, Mensch has a modest proposal: Bomb Moscow.
In a more sensible world, a woman such as Mensch would be running around a train station warning commuters about the spaceships in the lavatory car. In America, 2017, alas, she was first elevated to the head of a News Corp property and is now is at the heart of what has become a popular and widely read conspiracy movement, which not only indulges her endless flights of hallucinatory fancy but repeats and retweets them under the heady imprimatur of “reporting.” Along with Eric Garland, Claude Taylor, Andrew Laufer, and a few other sorry victims of early onset absurdity, Mensch provides hope and titillation to the illiterate and the credulous, more than 250,000 of whom have elected to follow her on Twitter. In the course of her breakdown she has ensnared some of those you’d imagine she’d ensnare — Joy Reid is a fan, naturally, as are Ted Lieu and Keith Olbermann – but she has also managed to attract some of those you would not. To his intense discredit, Harvard Law’s Laurence Tribe has shared her material on more than one occasion, which should serve as a welcome reminder that brilliance in one’s field in no way guarantees the possession of common sense.
“Rumor,” wrote Shakespeare, “is a pipe, blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures, and of so easy and so plain a stop, that the blunt monster with uncounted heads, the still-discordant wav’ring multitude, can play upon it.” Indeed so, and one can only reflect with a sigh upon the number of blunt monsters to whom the web has handed a lectern. Nevertheless, those many uncounted heads invariably need conductors to play the role of the metronome, and Mensch has gladly become the beat that leads this sordid fray. Back in the days of Question Time, we were all dead wrong. She’s no drib-drab from Corby, nor workaday purveyor of bargain-bin beach-reads; she’s precisely the Pied Piper that our moment needs the least.