Opinion: A myth for every purpose

(AP)

(AP)

All over the country, including here in Georgia, Republican congressmen and senators are acting like snowflakes who might melt in a little heat, in some cases literally hiding from the people who elected them and pay their salaries. They’re canceling town hall meetings, shielding their official schedule and sending lowly staff out into the public to take the figurative slings and arrows.

They’re also doing something worse: They’re trying to strip those protesters of their legitimacy and thus of their voice. As many Republicans are telling it, the people showing up at town halls and protests aren’t citizens using their First Amendment rights to speak freely and petition their government, they are instead paid, professional protesters and thus not deserving of attention.

Where would they get that absurd idea? Oh, yeah…

trumppaidIn the past few weeks, the claim of professional protesters has been used to explain away any number of uncomfortable realities. The millions of people who showed up at the Women’s March on Washington, New York, Atlanta and other cities, in numbers far outnumbering the Trump inauguration crowd, were by some accounts paid to demonstrate by the dastardly George Soros, the right’s favorite go-to villain.

When tens of thousands of protesters rushed to airports around the country to protest Trump’s disastrous immigration order, succeeding in freeing hundreds of people who might otherwise have been deported, Rush Limbaugh claimed they had been “bought and paid for by George Soros, prearranged. … and waiting for the moment to be cued to action.” When U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz faced an angry crowd at his town hall meeting in Utah, he claimed they were paid protesters bused in from out of state, presumably California, which is some 600 miles away.

Right-wing media have also embraced the meme. When White House spokesman Sean Spicer appeared on  Fox News, he was given the topic on a tee, and he took a mighty swing at it: “Oh, absolutely. I mean, protesting has become a profession now,” Spicer said. “This has become a very paid, ‘astroturf’ type movement.”

Let us pause to point out that there is absolutely zero evidence to support any of those claims. Let us further point out the sheer absurdity of it — imagine the money it would take, the scale of organizational skill and logistics, the discipline required to find and pay hundreds of thousands of actors while leaving behind absolutely no evidence. To even make the claim with a straight face is lunacy; to claim that Democrats are capable of pulling it off only compounds the comedy.

Yet many on the right accept it as gospel, as established fact. And it fits a common pattern. In this case, when major protests — almost all of them peaceful — pop up around the country, the myth of paid protesters is invented to explain it all away. When Trump loses the popular vote by almost three million votes — voila! — three-to-five million votes for Hillary Clinton are magically subtracted because they were allegedly cast by illegal immigrants. It’s astonishing how quickly any potential weak spot in the bubble can be patched with a story that fits the need perfectly.

None of these claims has the slightest foundation in fact. None is true, at least in the sense of “true” as based in reality. Yet millions of conservatives will insist they are true nonetheless.

How do we explain that? How can we reconcile these two very different versions of the truth?

In a way, we’ve answered our question by asking it: We have two very different versions of the truth because two very different versions of the truth are in operation here.

One is the concept of truth that grew out of the Enlightenment and the Age of Science and Reason, the idea that truth must be verifiable and that truth is independent, serving no purpose or cause other than itself. In that view of things, you can’t alter truth to make it conform to your world view, you must alter your world view to conform to the truth. That process can be a little unsettling, particularly in a world in which the facts change at a dizzying pace, requiring an equally fast readjustment of your understanding.

But there’s also a more ancient, less concrete concept of truth.  In that approach, you begin with the acceptance of larger, more important truths that are immune to exposure to facts. Those larger truths provide a pre-existing understanding of the world that makes it comprehensible and non-threatening. For a long time in the Western world, the Roman Catholic Church provided and sternly enforced one such world view; the divine right of kings provided another.

Once you accept those larger truths, anything that reinforces them is deemed true, and those who speak them are your friends; whatever contradicts those truths is deemed false, and those who speak them are your enemies. Truth is defined by the function that it serves.

So when President Trump says that the mass media ignore terror incidents, under one concept of truth that is demonstrably false: It’s a lie, because the media in fact glory in covering such stories. But if you accept the larger notion that Muslims pose an existential threat, then Trump’s story becomes true even if it is wrong in its details. Likewise, if three to five million illegal immigrants didn’t really vote in our elections, it’s still true because it expresses the larger truth that those people have no business being here in the first place.

And when those two concepts of truth collide, as they often do on this blog, people end up talking past each other.

Traditionally, the “larger truths” in that more ancient approach are communicated through story.  Myths and fables and origin tales aren’t usually offered as factually true, but they persist for millennia because they do somehow express a deeper, more emotionally resonant truth. Such stories have a power, in a sense an accuracy, that is independent of their factual basis. They explain not the outer world of reality; they explain what’s going on inside people, what they’re feeling.

So, if you don’t like the fact that millions of Americans are upset with what’s going on in Washington, if those protests make you feel uncomfortable, then you invent a story to explain it away. And you really don’t care if that story has facts to support it, because it serves its purpose.

Reader Comments 1

951 comments
WWYT?
WWYT?

So Trump said the DNC voting was rigged.  Why does he care?  Who would he have chosen?  This man is seriously wacko.

Riversprite
Riversprite

We were supposed to be paid?  Where do I send my invoice?  Do I get a 1099?  Or am I considered an employee?  So many questions!

WilSmith
WilSmith

The truth is what happens on election day in 2018. If all the folks protesting get out and vote the Repubs out of office then the truth is that these were actual voters protesting - if they don't then its an AstroTurf movement.


Don't whine and cry that they are calling the protest AstroTurf - get out and vote them out of office. Right now those folks in office don't fear those folks doing the protesting. Republican politicians understand only one thing - power and you all protesting have none until you get out and show that you outnumber the ones calling you 'snowflakes'. 

jezel
jezel

The New York Times took a dive into whether Donald Trump's supporters are unusually racist — or, in the newspaper's delicate phrasing, "responsive to religious, social and racial intolerance." And they came up with a stunning statistic: Nearly one in five Trump supporters didn't approve of freeing slaves in the Confederacy.

Yo

jezel
jezel

John Dean....GOP legal counselor for Pres. Nixon...

WWYT?
WWYT?

Jay, please write a blog describing an "administrative state".

ProudAmerican2017
ProudAmerican2017

Trump told CPAC attendees on Friday that it's time to "stand up for the American flag," but a different red, white and blue flag was seen in the audience during the president's remarks.

According to multiple sources, people were seen waving Russian flags with "TRUMP" written on them. The flags were then confiscated by CPAC staff.

"A section of people in the back of #CPAC2017 waving Russian flags -- a staffer just came and demanded they all be handed over," says POLITICO's Tim Alberta

NativeAtlantan57
NativeAtlantan57

Trump is illegitimate. Thus his best ploy is to attempt to de-legitimize anything and everything else. It is a transparent strategy to everyone except the Deplorables.


Bruno2
Bruno2

@DownInAlbany @NativeAtlantan57 Apparently the Lib learning curve is pretty steep.  It only took Jay nearly 4 months to figure out that insulting the other candidate isn't enough.

LordHelpUs
LordHelpUs

It's 77 flippin degrees today sheetz...

Donnie_Pinko
Donnie_Pinko

@LordHelpUs 

So how many record highs smashed does that make now for just the month of February? 

WDE
WDE

@honested @Donnie_Pinko @LordHelpUs I don't know Ed there is a post on the outer edge of a marina on Tybee Island that has been there for at least 30 years  not only is it not underwater the highwater mark has not changed that I can tell...I have a friend that has a place on Ono Island for the last 20 years and even with the highest place on the island only 7 ft above sea level they are not sinking into the Gulf...so if the ice capes are melting as the climate change masters tell us...where is the water going ? don't bother trying to answer for if this was the coldest winter on record...in your bunches minds it would be due to climate change...its amusing in a slightly frightening way.

weechie
weechie

About 900 posts so far and still no proof presented that any of these protesters received payment for their protesting. Organized political action is part of the system and always has been.

honested
honested

@weechie 

Probably because there was NO PAYMENT!!

Just angry Americans with a legitimate purpose.

WDE
WDE

@honested @weechie that's funny...Soros pays you and then you tell us he doesn't pay anyone else...sort of a closed loop process.

LordHelpUs
LordHelpUs

Though they may differ as to the wisdom of the move, the travel press and most travel experts are of one mind: They are currently drawing attention to an unintended consequence of the Trump-led efforts to stop many Muslims from coming to the U.S., pointing to a sharp drop in foreign tourism to our nation that imperils jobs and touristic income. 

 It’s known as the “Trump Slump.” And I know of no reputable travel publication to deny it.

honested
honested

@DownInAlbany @LordHelpUs 

Wow, like a PROFESSIONAL TOURISM COMPANY!!!

How would they know what the ongoing effects of a ill-considered, stupid, childish anti-American policy would be........collaborator!

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@LordHelpUs  Wait until CBP is demanding to examine the cell phones of every traveler to the US - that's really going to help tourism.

honested
honested

@DownInAlbany @honested @LordHelpUs 

a sudden, measurable, downturn generated by an ill considered executive action just COULDN'T be the so-called ppresident's fault now could it, collaborator?

Citizen-of-the-World
Citizen-of-the-World

Democratic party meetings all over are SRO, with people hanging out the doors not even able to get in the room. Leaders are lining up bigger venues to accommodate everyone. Wonder who paid all these people to come out and get involved?

WDE
WDE

@Citizen-of-the-World aren't those folks in Atlanta this week trying to figure out who is going to get stuck trying to rebuild the party?

honested
honested

The 'so-called president' is very angry this morning at the FBI for following the law and doing their job.....


He might need to get a little help in figuring out how this 'presidenting' thing works.

Donnie_Pinko
Donnie_Pinko

We went to work, paid our taxes, and waited to express our disgust at the ballot box?

-

EFF the ballot box.

WDE
WDE

Greatest myth out there the idea of  Liberal Tolerance !

Bruno2
Bruno2

@WDE Lib self-delusion is quite hysterical......

honested
honested

@WDE 

I guess you don't realize just how much 'tolerance' liberals have shown to wrong-wing nuts....

For instance, when does 'supply side' start to work?

Intolerance would have provided a revolution with heads-on-pikes by now!

Bruno2
Bruno2

@honested @WDE 

"a revolution with heads-on-pikes by now!"

Don't get Donnie's hopes up this early in the morning....  ; > }

honested
honested

@Bruno2 @honested @WDE 

I want to be first on the list when they make the 'conserrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrvative' toe-tags available, because cons used up all the good will they can ever expect from me years ago!!!

jezel
jezel

@WDE Not many will tolerate racism....white supremacy...idea that christian church is chosen...destruction of American institutions

LordHelpUs
LordHelpUs

@WDE Two things disgust me...those that are intolerant of other cultures...and, the Dutch... (h/t Nigel Powers)

WDE
WDE

@honested @WDE Ed your bunch can't leave their "safe spaces" long enough to start a revolution, burn a few cars smack around a couple of "non believers" is about all they can commit too.   

WDE
WDE

@honested @DownInAlbany @Bruno2 @WDE what you are Ed is a paid "projector" you project all of your not so hidden bigotry , racism , class envy etc on others ...attaching your sins on any you deem "wrong".

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