I see people passing this meme around from time to time. It’s pretty devastating, actually, or at least it ought to be. This of course makes the meme an awful lot like a lot of criticisms directed at the Trump camp insofar as one could really wonder why this isn’t an end-game argument? Except, in this case, there is a clear answer. The quote in the meme is not real.
At least, it’s undocumented.
The quote really is just a bit too perfect, really. It seems almost as if it was made up for the sole purpose of discrediting the man along with anyone foolish enough to vote for him. And the unfortunate fact is that it was probably made up for just that very purpose. In any event, there is no evidence that Donald Trump ever really said this.
Maybe this would have got some folks attention.
Then again, so many other things that should have mattered when he ran for President didn’t, not in 2016 anyway, and not now for those still waiting for the second coming of the deplorable messiah.
In any event, a few other folks have checked into this quote (The Reno Gazette Journal, Snopes, Politifact, CNN, etc.); all have found the quote to be spurious. Several noted that the meme itself first made an appearance in 2015, but all of those who checked for an actual source have come up empty.
Significantly, the meme attributes the quote to a statement made to People Magazine in 1998, but the image likely shows an appearance by Donald Trump on Oprah Winfrey in 1988. More on that later…
From time to time, I have tried to suggest that people refrain from passing along this meme as it does not appear to be accurate, and of course I encounter the usual bullshit responses from people too keen on their delicious gotcha-game to give it up on account of pesky questions about evidence. (It’s a little bit more frustrating to see such weak sauce coming from folks you might otherwise agree with than it is to hear it coming from the mouths of the deplorables, but anyway!) I still figure anone who thuinks they have to use a likely fake quote to criticize Donald Trump has not been paying attention to the living train wreck that is his public life.
One thing does fascinate me…
I have frequently encountered people who swear up and down that they have heard Donald Trump make this very statement.
One of the reasons this caught my attention is the fact that I too once thought I remembered seeing a video clip of Trump saying this very thing. In the run-up to the 2016 election, I recall making a point to find the clip so I could post it on every corner of the net that I could reach. (I really wondered why a link to the clip wasn’t the obvious answer to every pro-Trump statement any republican could make? Only I couldn’t find the clip anywhere, nor could I find an audio-recording, or even a credible written source. I did find a clip from the episode of Oprah in which she interviewed him about the possibility of making a run for the Presidency, but Trump does not say this on that clip. (In fact, his tone is wrong for the quote anyway. In the clip, he is trying to sound moderate and thoughtful, not brash and rude as he appears in the quote, or pretty much at any time during his Presidency.) Realizing that was likely the clip I thought I had remembered, I chalked it up to a bad memory and accepted the fact that I was likely wrong on that subject.
Yet people still insist they too have seen the clip and/or that they know other people who can verify that Trump did in fact say the very thing attributed to him in this meme. When I Tiked a Tok about this in 2020, a couple people told me that they would look around the net and get back to me when they found it. When I Tiked another Tok about it a couple weeks back, well over assured that it was real. A few people even got downright testy with me for doubting the matter. All of which leads me to winder…
Is this the Mandela effect in action?
I know, pop-psychology is another net-hazard, but I can’t help thinking this instance might add up to a decent case for it. For those unfamiliar with the term, “The Mandela effect” refers to a shared memory that turns out to be false. It gets its name from a woman named Fiona Broome who had become convinced that Nelson Mandela had died in prison in the 1980s. She was also convinced that thousands of others shared this belief, all of which must have made his tenure as president of post-Apartheid South Africa from 1994-1999 rather surprising). Some might have their doubts about this particular source, but there are plenty of other examples of the Mandela Effect to be found. I’m not entirely sure why the notion of a shared false memory is all that surprising to begin with. We know that memory is a creative process, and it shouldn’t surprise us that perfectly public sources of information could skew the memories of more than one person thinking about any given subject. So, before, anyone goes off to see this as proof of an alternative universe wherein Trump actually did say this…
I suddenly realize I should have written this entire post on the premise that these are memories of an alternative universe in which Trump actually did say this, and perhaps even one where the Mandela effect really is proof that alternative universes do exist, but I can only hope that there exists an alternative universe wherein the American people were smart enough to say ‘no’ to this festering bloodfart back in 2016, but then, dammit, why do I have to live in the one where a whole buncha people just weren’t?
…Okay, so, before you go off thinking this effect points us to alternative universes, let’s just say this is just the sort of distortions that we ought to expect from perfectly fallible people trying to reconstruct our perfectly fallible memories in the present.
Anyway, the point, is I can’t help thinking the number of people who seem to remember seeing and hearing this (likely fake) quote might be a good example of the Mandela effect.
One person told me the quote comes from Playboy magazine, but I have yet to see any direct reference to any specific publication.
Others have suggested the quote comes from an interview that Trump did with Howard Stern, but I think this is actually a reference to a clip in which Stern describes Trump as being contemptuous of his fan base. The stern clip is interesting, but its not Trump saying it himself, and I have yet to see any other relevant clips coming from Stern or any of his shows.
Quite a few folks have pointed to People Magazine, but this claim has been checked pretty thoroughly (see the fact-check links above), and nobody has found any evidence for it.
By far and away, the most common angle is to suggest that the actual quote comes from the Oprah interview that seems to be the source of the image contained in the meme. This is the most common clip from that interview. As you can hear from the clip, it does not contain the quote in question. A search on Oprah’s website, reveals a couple other clips that seem to come from the same interview, which appears to have occurred on April 25th, 1988. What I can’t seem to find, on Oprah’s website or any other source on the net, is any full-length recording of the complete interview. Apparently, others cannot find such a clip either.
The inability to find a recording of the complete Trump interview with Oprah creates an interesting problem. Why can’t we find such a recording? I for one have no idea. I don’t know how Oprah’s archives work, how thorough they were back in 1988, or just how common it would be for people to have at least an old VHS tape (or even a Beta) of the interview. I really haven’t assessed the odds against this absence of an episode actually happening by natural chance. For at least a few folks, however, this is all so damned suspicious. They will commonly tell us the complete clip has been scrubbed from the internet, and that the elites (including Oprah) have conspired to prevent any evidence of the quote coming out. We could talk about how likely this is (and here the Streisand effect might also make an appearance), or we could insist on asking for solid evidence for the authenticity of the quote, rejecting any excuses for the lack of it. That so many people swear they remember hearing Trump actually speak the words contained in the quote doesn’t count for nothing, but eye-witness testimony isn’t the most dependable source of information. It’s a little less dependable when it’s provided by random guys on the net. At the end of the day this leaves us with a larger question…
What do we do when we don’t know?
What do we infer (or simply assume) when we don’t get a definitive answer to our questions?
Short of any substantial evidence in support of the alleged quotation, this effort to suggest the absence of evidence isitself evidence of a larger conspiracy isn’t the least bit helpful. I like my conspiracy talk in the other guy’s camp where it can keep good company with the likes of Q-Anon fans, Birthers, and Truthers, none of whom have anything worthwhile to add to our present-day politics. I think it far more likely that all the people who think they remember seeing and hearing Trump speak the words in this clip are reading them into their memories of the common Oprah clip. It’s a shared memory, but it’s a false memory.
…and Trump is every bit as awful as any of us might remember. That memory isn’t false.
…and we don’t have to make up anything to criticize Trump.
Believe it or not, there was a time when liberals were the civil libertarians of American politics and conservatives were the folks most likely to advocate repression of individual rights. I do not mean simply that this was the substance of our nation’s politics at that time. No. I mean, that this was largely the understanding of people across the board of American politics. Lest you think this makes liberals the obvious good guys and conservatives the obvious baddies, I should add that a good portion of conservative rhetoric stressed the excess and indulgence of civil rights themes in liberal politics. The Republican Party was also much more invested in a kind of Edmund Burke version of ‘conservatism,’ so they were explicitly concerned with the preservation of long standing traditions, even at the expense of individual rights. Hell, they used to tell you so!
I don’t know how far this pattern stretches back in American history, but as I came of age in the 80s, it was sufficiently common to be taken for granted by a good number of people on each side of the battles we then fought. Back then, liberals consistently played the underdog, a stance often granted without challenge. For their part, conservatives often spoke with the authority of the ages; they spoke on behalf of powerful institutions, and they were the voices most likely to wield power consciously at the expense of individual rights.
A lot has changed.
…at least in the way we Americans typically talk about politics.
This is all broad strokes commentary, of course, but I think you can see it in the general tenor of the times. William F. Buckley, Jr.s first book, for example, was an appeal to Yale to crack down on the damned unbelievers at that institution. It was liberals who fought the banning of books. It was liberals who defended artists in music and film facing censorship from government in one form or another. It was liberals who supported birth control, gay rights, and much of the sexual revolution. It was liberals who defended the burning of the flag, and so on. In those days, before the right wing learned how to tell stories of ‘political correctness’ there was a definite sense that in any political battle you could expect the liberals (and along with them, many on the far left) to side with advocates of individual liberty and conservatives would tell us why something else mattered more.
There were exceptions of course, the most significant ones lying in the area of economics, which threw actually skewed the normal response to power inn both liberal and conservatives politics. So, we could certainly find some battles where the dominant themes were reversed. Also, some of the battles outlined above still track the same way now, but even there, the vocabulary has changed. One topics such as racism, for example, even the moderate left is no longer interested in individual acts of discrimination. If it ain’t systemic, it ain’t racism in left wing circles anymore. Meanwhile, the right wing is happy to use individual acts of racism as a wedge in which to insert the word ‘reverse’ into any discussion of racism in which they willingly take part. If it ain’t reverse racism, it ain’t racism in right wing circles anymore. It’s an absurd situation, to say the least, and part of what got us here is a massive shift in the means by which left and right wingers frame the issues in American politics. The left (and here I am including moderate liberals) wants to talk about larger issues; the right just wants to talk about individual rights.
What we don’t talk, at least not with each other, is how these themes intersect.
How the left got to where it is today is an interesting question, but I am not going to talk about that in this post. I am more interested in how the right got to where it now sits, utterly blind to the public welfare and completely disingenuous in its sense of individual rights.
Suffice to say that I do not think this evolution has been a positive force in American politics. The right wing embrace of individual rights hasn’t done much to enhance them.
Far from it!
How did we get to the point where a significant portion of America’s right wing thinks it’s acceptable to set aside the results of an election on little more than rumors and pornographic conspiracy narratives? How did we reach the moment in which the President of the United States would incite a riot and shut down our government over this very thing? How did we arrive at the principle that protesters could occupy federal buildings with weapons on their person?
The extreme violence of this event has been repudiated, of course, even by those who helped to stir that very mob to its frenzy, and the great bulk of Republican leadership is still unwilling to see in this event – the bloodshed spilled in our government buildings on behalf of a sitting President – anything so significant as to merit impeachment or invocation of Amendment 25. Mike Pence, one of the very people literally hunted by the domestic terrorists at the head of this riot (people who would have counted him an ally just last month), even Mike Pence doesn’t think this is worthy of removing the lunatic from the office Trump trashes with his very presence.
And still concern trolls all about the country urge us all to try and understand the perspective of Trump and his supporters!
How did we get here?
I think a large part of the answer to that question lies in the way ‘conservative’ ideas about authority and individual liberty have changed over the last couple decades.
In a name, it was Bill Clinton!
No, I don’t mean to suggest that it was anything Clinton did that caused this change, though Goddammit he sure did enough to lend credence to the worst of his detractors. What I mean to suggest is that his own Presidency signaled a radical change in the way that conservatives approached our government. They didn’t like Carter before him, no, but they REALLY didn’t like Clinton. More to the point, they simply didn’t accept losing control of the White House.
During the administration of Bill Clinton, elements within the Republican Party abandoned any pretense to work with their opposition. Newt Gingrich led the charge in Congress, abandoning efforts to compromise on actual legislation and putting the GOP political machine on permanent campaign mode. He repudiated the very notion of putting country over party, and made it the norm to fight on any and all fronts, even at the expense of the American people.
I mean, what the Hell? You can always blame the other side, right?
That’s what Newt would do.
It’s what he did.
What happened to cultural conservatism was more important.
What happened there was Rush Limbaugh. First Morton Downy, Jr., of course, but after him, Rush Limbaugh. I still don’t think the majority of Americans quite realize how important Limbaugh was back in the early 90s. It was Limbaugh who taught countless bullies and bigots to call themselves ‘conservatives,’ people who weren’t really all that interested in politics but were happy to laugh at anyone supported by liberals and to berate any woman foolish enough to call themselves ‘feminists.’ Limbaugh entertained his audiences by attacking a parade of underprivileged people seeking help in various forms, and he gave his audience the weapons to hurt such people for generations to come. It was also Limbaugh who transformed the culture of conservatism from a Burkeian defense of tradition into the smart-ass voice of a teen rebel, or for that matter an internet troll. Limbaugh never really made a serious case for cultural conservatism, but he was relentless in his critique of liberalism and his challenge of any authority liberals might come to wield. Whether it was the campus speech codes coming into fruition at the time or inclusiveness in the academic curriculum, the authority of the Bureau of Land Management, efforts to enlist government in combating the AIDS epidemic (yes, Limbaugh made fun of that!), or any number of issues in the culture wars of the time, what Limbaugh did most was to poke fun at liberal pretense and tell stories about the abuse of authority by liberals. Conservative use of similar authority was never at issue on his shows, but this was simple hypocrisy. It was a conscious effort to equate liberalism with the abuse of authority, to delegitimize liberal use of authority in any form, and where necessary, to burn down the authority of any institutions then dominated by liberal voices. Attendant to this cause was a willful erasure of thought about conservative use of authority, and erasure of consciousness that that could ever really happen. Even when conservatives were in charge, their actions would be measured, henceforth, in terms of the response to liberal authority. Limbaugh’s audience bought that story to be sure.
It was through Limbaugh that countless Americans came to see authority as the domain of liberalism, so much so, that even a sitting president could count as an underdog, so much so that Hillary’s years in Washington could have made her responsible for everything that happened in government in the decades before 2016, that Biden’s years in office could now make him the new fall-guy for everything done by the Federal government over the last 40 years, so much so that Biden rather than Donald Trump could be the man most responsible for America’s failure to mount an effective response to the Covid outbreak.
So complete is the equation of authority with liberalism in right wing thought at this stage in our history that Joe Biden, a private citizen in 2020, was regarded by many cultural conservatives as more responsible for our nation’s disastrous pandemic response than the very President of the United States!
In right wing thought, all government power is liberalism. Conservative use of power is by definition the opposition to liberalism, the opposition to big government, even if the policies in question expand the power of that government. If a conservative is found to have expanded the power of the feds in the end, well then they were never really a conservative after all.
It takes cultural conservatives the time it takes to read a tweet now to wash their hands of one of their own.
Any of their own!
It was Rush Limbaugh that taught cultural conservatives these narratives. His message has been re-enforced, of course, by countless pundits in the echo-chamber, but no other voice in American politics could was ever so consistent, so loud, or so shameless in its repetition of this theme. He played the smart-ass in the back of the room mocking the liberalism as though it were a teacher hated by every student (American citizen) in the class, and he played that role so well, it became the dominant trope of right wing politics.
At least one other major development in U.S. politics helped to shape the rise of underdog themes in American conservatism, and that is a series of conflicts that reshaped the way conservatives thought about (or at least talked about) police power. Oh they are still happy to back the blue, of course, so long as we are talking about treatment of individual suspects, and certainly in relation to just about any conflict with persons of color, but during the early years of the Clinton administration, America’s right wingers added a new victim narrative to their own list of stories about police power.
They did this in the wake of Waco and Ruby Ridge.
I still think about this with a bitter sense of irony as I remember conservatives around me responding to the initial conflict at Waco by telling me how much they worried that the Clinton administration would simply let those bastards get by with it. Police had been shot, and they were deeply worried that a liberal softy might prove soft on the thugs who did it. After the travesty, I also remember conservatives laughing and telling me how glad they were that those idiots got what was coming to them.
That was before the Branch Davidians became martyrs to conservative politics, along with those killed at Ruby Ridge.
In the wake of these tragedies, Federal authorities doing much the same as they had under Republican administrations suddenly became symbols of liberal authoritarianism. The right wing folded in complains of a “New World Order” to be ushered in by Bill Clinton in with the horror stores about Waco and Ruby Ridge, all the while while forgetting that George Bush, Senior, had used that very phrase to help sell his war in the Gulf (a war most of these folks had openly supported). Everywhere fears of oppression by big government made their way into right wing rhetoric. G. Gordon Liddy spoke openly of shooting ‘jack-booted thugs” in the head, and countless cultural conservatives forgot that Liddy himself had been one of the worst of these thugs, the most openly corrupt.
Everything the Feds did under Clinton became fodder for these stories. When Elián González became embroiled in a custody dispute between relatives in Florida and his father back in Cuba, he too became a symbol of liberal excess. Countless Republicans declared Janet Reno’s determination to send González back to his father as the height of liberal abuse. How, they asked, could we send a small child back to a miserable life in Castro’s Cuba?
…as thousands of Haitian refugees, including their children, rotted in an internment camp at Guantanamo Bay.
The right wing wing spin on these events was shameless in the extreme.
And it worked.
A substantial portion of America’s so-called ‘conservatives’ embraced these themes about conflict between private citizens and “jack-booted thugs” serving the Federal Government. That these thugs were presumed to serve liberal interests goes without saying, not that that story makes any sense. All of this dovetails with the standard rhetoric from the NRA (“from my cold dead hands…”), and it must have been a real comfort to white supremacists to see otherwise mainstream Republicans taking common cause with them on conflicts with Federal authorities. If the KKK and its brethren had lingered in the wilderness of American politics for a time, this narrative about armed conflicts with the Feds brought them in out of the cold.
Today’s Republican Party gives them a place at the table.
On a personal note: it was this theme that led me to wash my own hands of the gun culture. I’d grown up with firearms, loved them at one point in my life, and still harbored a soft spot in my heart for firearms. Listening to the growing fanaticism of the gun lobby, back in the 90s, I came to see the gun lobby as a positive evil independent of the firearms themselves. Whatever the ins and outs of gun control, it just isn’t a good thing to have a substantial portion of the American public openly fantasizing about armed conflict with the Federal Government. In selling its products to the right wing through such stories, the NRA and their allies do us all a great disservice.
It’s one thing to talk about gong to war with the Federal Government, but that begs the question of just who will you be fighting when that happens. When Timothy McVeigh addressed that question in 1995, his answer was people in a government building in Oklahoma City.
Those people included children.
Anyone who couldn’t see this coming was beyond blind to the realities of right wing politics.
Then, as now, they talked about such things openly. One has only to take them at their word.
I still recall a leader from the very Michigan Militia which McVeigh had ties with speaking at a televised “Town Hall” meeting after the bombing. He cited a long litany of abuses by the Federal government as partt of the reason for his own politics. I still remember that one of the horrors he cited was the Sand Creek massacre, an event carried about by the Third Colorado Cavalry, in affect a local militia. The American public learned about events at Sand Creek largely through the efforts of Federal troops who refused to take part in it. None of this prevented the event in question from becoming fodder for the relentless story of big government run amok and the hope that militias could counter that.
The irony of that was excruciating!
I thought about all of this when I heard that Michigan Militia had recently plotted to kidnap and put Governor Whitmer on trial. I thought about that plot recently as I watched video of a domestic terrorist inside Congressional buildings with his face covered and police-style zip-ties in his hand. I try not to jump to conclusions, but it’s hard to escape the notion that he was looking to make his political enemies into hostages. And if that seems to extreme to think about, one has only to remember that McVeigh’s own efforts to put right wing rhetoric into practice.
It should not surprise us to find that people who speak of the government as their enemy would be willing to carry out violent attacks against that very government.
In the past few days I have been told by numerous people that the recent attack on our government was carried out by extremists, that the actual violence was done by Antifa, and that no-one, not even Donald Trump himself has sanctioned their crimes or their violence. Of course it isn’t the first time that right wing violence has been blamed on Antifa, but this is a particularly shameless version of that theme. Anyone who thought this was going to be peaceful would have been naive in the extreme to do so. Anyone who thought Trump wished it to be so was ignoring the extremism of his own rhetoric (and the precedent he set in encouraging people to beat protesters at his rallies back in 2016), Plausible deniability is an art form in right circles, and Trump is one of its greatest practitioners, but the extremist rhetoric used to sell the “wild” protest could hardly be thought innocent. Trump wanted a disruptive presence in Washington on the day his loss would become official. Nothing short of stopping Congress in its tracks would have served his purposes.
Anyone who says that Donald Trump or his supporters are not responsible for these events is a Goddamned liar.
I have also been told that one of the problems here is the degree to which the media, the courts, and the rest of us have been dismissive of concerns about the integrity of the election. This was an insurrection to be sure, but it was an insurrection led, so I am told, by people whose voice and whose votes have been silenced by the powers that be.
And here we have it!
This is the ultimate pay-off for all these years of underdogging right wing politics. An action carried out in the service of the President of the United States, a man born to wealth and sporting a long history of abusing it, will count for so many cultural conservatives as being done out of love for the common citizen. An effort to set aside the legitimate votes of 80 million Americans is, in effect, no more than an effort to protect the rights of the voters. And a mob full of people who literally attacked our nation’s government still counts as patriots! Those whose hatred of American government, of liberal politicians, and even of the newly demonized Vice President, still count as having acted out of love for their country.
So, I am still on TikTok. It’s actually kinda fun. In the native language, I guess I am mostly on ‘political TikTok, but I pretty much talk about whatever I feel like at the moment, just like I do here. I don’t dance though; that does not happen.
It’s an interesting challenge, trying to make a point in 1 minute or less.
Ironically, I am experiencing this constraint as a sense that the format is too long. See, I’ve never prepared my speeches or classroom lessons on a word-for-word basis. Some technical points, sure, I spell them out precisely and read them off a note, but most of my public speaking is off the top of my head. I have a general script in mind and improvise my way through the details. If I feel like I flubbed a point, I just take a minute to restate it. That’s what I normally do. With only 1 minute per video, however, that just isn’t an option. So, every word counts. The trouble is that I can’t seem to speak for 1 whole minute without screwing something up. So, the fact that I have only 1 minute means I have to make it through a whole minute. Oh the paradox!
So, Moni comes up wondering what I’m mad about. It’s my own fumbling tongue.
Yes, I know, you can record a TikTok in segments. I still think the better vids are all-in-one takes, and anyhow, I like the challenge. …except when I flubbed it for the umpteenth time in a row.
Anyway, one thing I do not like about TikTok is the lack of any useful curating features. I might be missing something, but at the moment, I don’t see any means of organizing vids and bundling them up into themes, etc. So, I am going to do that here, at least with a few selected vids. Yes, Isome of these may appear in more than one category. I plan add to this page from time to time, unless I wake up one day and say to Hell with all of it.
I am mostly doing this for myself, just to keep track of what’s what, but I sorta hope, someone finds a few of my vids amusing at least. If anyone is curious, I hope you enjoy the content.
We all learned that two wrongs don’t make a right when we were kids, didn’t we?
And we learned that ‘you too’ arguments are a fallacy back in Freshman logic class, right?
Okay, maybe not everybody, but this is a lesson a lot of us probably have in common. Most educated people ought to know that there is something wrong with answering a criticism by saying “you do it too!” or some variation thereof. Hell, most decent people ought to know better than that regardless of their education.
So, why do we do it?
Hell, almost everybody does it on at least some occasions. To be fair, some people do it more than others. They will do it every chance they get. Others try not to, most of the time anyway. So, the penchant for answering a serious concern with a quick ‘you-too’ gambit varies from one person to another, but I don’t know that anyone avoids it entirely.
This tactic also comes and goes with the times. It’s been particularly common for the last 4 years, so much so that folks even coined a new term for it; ‘whataboutism.’ The “Your side does it too” gambit has made a regular appearance in public debate for a long time, but it’s been particularly common for the space of about one presidential administration (or an administration plus the campaign before it). So, the internet collectively coined a new term to describe it.
Okay, but why is this kind of argument so common?
One reason? It’s not always a fallacy.
Another? For some people, it really is a way of life.
Variable Relevance: The (ir-)relevance of ‘you too’ games varies in a couple of interesting ways.
If someone corrects my behavior and I respond with “you do it too?” am I really engaging in a fallacy?
Variable Conclusions: If I mean by that you-too response that I am not really wrong, because you do it too, then yes. Hell yes! If that’s what I mean, then I am absolutely engaging in the tu quoque fallacy. If, on the other hand, I mean; “Okay, I need to correct my behavior, but so should you, because you do in fact do this too,” then my response is not entirely unreasonable. I’m not denying my wrong-doing in this instance. I am just asking you to correct your own behavior right along with me.
Alternatively, I could employ a ‘you-too’ argument by of refusing to accept a rule that I have good reason to believe others are not going to follow themselves. Let’s imagine we are playing a game of soccer and you tell me I should stop touching the ball with my hands. I could then say you do it too as a means of insisting either that you stop yourself or that we are just going to continue playing an odd game of soccer in which both of us are allowed to touch the ball with our hands. In this case, I am refusing to play by unfair rules, or unfair application of those rules.
It seems that there are at least some conclusions which could be reasonably drawn from a premise beginning with an assertion that is essentially saying “you do it too.”
Plus Alternatives: There is another context in which “you too” starts to become more relevant than it would otherwise be. In this case, the tu-quoque fallacy has some company, because the False Alternatives fallacy comes in here right along with it. This is the context of constrained choices. If I tell you that apples bother my teeth, so I don’t like eating them, it would normally be quite foolish to respond by telling me that cookies have too much sugar. Whether or not cookies have too much sugar, apples still bother my teeth (always feels like I am biting into styrofoam). That does not change if cookies are bad for me. So, the cookie-themed response seems quite irrelevant.
…unless I want a snack, and I have exactly 2 options!
If my universe of possible choices includes an apple and a cookie, then problems with one might very well be a reasonable answer to my expressed concerns about the other. It’s not so much a logical inference as it is a conversational implicature. A possible respondent hears me complaining about the apple, realizes I have offered it as a reason for choosing the cookie instead, and responds by reminding me of a good reason to avoid the cookie
Of course apples and cookies don’t make these arguments themselves, so if this is a concern about false alternatives, how does it relate to the tu-quoque fallacy? Well, it comes into play when the apples and cookies do make these arguments themselves, or at least when we divide ourselves up into an obviously apple camp and a clearly cookie camp.
Or maybe when we try to pick a President.
If I say that Donald Trump has been self-dealing throughout his Presidency as a means of saying he is a terrible President, it wouldn’t normally help matters to say that Hillary does it too (using the Uranium One story about her charity foundation for example). Neither would it help to raise the prospect of similar corruption on the part of the Biden family. These become relevant during elections precisely because the obvious alternative choice is understood, and so the range of viable possibilities is narrowed sufficiently to make these normally irrelevant arguments matter after all.
And here, 3rd party-proponents will have an obvious complaint of their own. What if there are better choices? What if you can point to a candidate that doesn’t have a history of self-dealing (or, more to the point, a history of having the charge of self-dealing leveled at them by political opponents)? That’s a reasonable concern and one that speaks directly to the very kind of problem that logicians are trying to call our attention to when speaking about ‘false alternatives’ and ‘tu-quoque’ fallacies. Of course, part of the concern here lies in just how viable the third parties really are and what you are trying to accomplish with your vote, both of which speak to the question of just how constrained the alternatives here really are. If a 3rd party might really win, then it would be quite illogical to respond to a criticism of one major party candidate as though it were an obvious endorsement of another. Conversely, you may know that the 3rd party is going to lose but choose to vote for them anyway as a means of signaling to the major parties that they should take you own political values more seriously. If enough others vote the same way, this could become leverage in the next election. If a 3rd party candidate is, however, not a serious contender for winning an election, and the election is just too important to risk on a symbolic statement, then we may be back in the realm of 2 real choices and dirt on one viable candidate really will have to be weighed against dirt on the other. In such cases, “your guy does it too” and “the alternative is worse” start to become relevant again.
Where your choices are constrained, criticisms of one choice can provide a meaningful response to criticisms of another, but this is still problematic. Such arguments don’t erase problems, and they don’t disprove initial claims. If you tell me, for example, that Hunter Biden was using his father’s position as Vice President under the Obama administration to make money, reminding you that the Trump family profits from his role as President (e.g. through fees paid by the Secret Service to Trump properties during his visits, use of political leverage to get Ivanka’s patents in China, or simply the profits made when foreign diplomats choose to stay at Trump properties while negotiating with him) will not prove the claims about Hunter Biden are untrue. If I want to do that, then I have to provide an argument directly debunking the claims about Hunter Biden activities. What do I get out of calling attention to similar shenanigans about Trump? I get an argument about the significance one relative to the other. I get an argument about how each balances against the other when we assume both criticisms are of roughly equal merit. That may not be the best argument I could produce on the topic, but it would not be fallacious. It’s in this context that ‘you too’ (or at least ‘your guy too’) arguments start to make a little more sense.
One fascinating thing about this is the way that the relevance of such arguments comes and goes. I understood claims about Uranium One, debunked as they are, as a concern in the 2016 election. It was fascinating to me, however, seeing Trump fans continue bringing this up in response to criticism of his actions well into the Trump administration. I found myself saying; “well let’s impeach her too” then, by which I hoped to suggest that this was no longer a relevant means of answering concerns about Trump’s own actions. As the 2020 election heated up, concerns about Biden became a more viable means of offsetting those about Trump (at least to those who care nothing about proportion or credibility of the sources). In terms of addressing the choice at hand, it was useful for the Trump camp to have a claim about political corruption in play precisely because they knew many such claims could be held against Donald. What the merits of each claim really are is of course a debatable question, but having comparable accusations on the table makes possible a kind of argument about how one wishes to weigh one relative to the other.
When we were all expected to weigh Donald Trump’s character against that of another person, complaints about that other person could pass a certain test of minimal relevance to complaints about him. So, the relevance comparison to other people to criticisms of Donald Trump came and went over the course of his Presidential administration. When he was operating on his own, and the only viable question was about his own competence and integrity, they should have gone away.
Of course they didn’t.
Constraining Personalities: This brings us to one last point; some people thrive on the sort of constrained choices I am describing here. When they face an open range of possibilities, they work very hard to create the illusion of constrained choices anyway.
Yes, I have Donald Trump in mind here.
I am also writing about his many fans.
There is a reason the Trump camp was such a source of whataboutism claims throughout his Presidency. This is both a feature of the base to which he consciously pitched his politics and to personality of Donald Trump himself.
Audience: There are people who live in a world of artificially constrained choices, and you can see it their responses to a broad range if issues. Did you say Fox news got something wrong? Well then you must be watching too much MSNBC. If there is a problem with capitalism, well then why don’t you just go try China? Don’t like Christianity? You must be an atheist! Is the American healthcare system broken? Well then, let me tell you the horror stories coming out of Canada! Concerned about police brutality? You must support riots in the streets! Don’t like coke? Shut up and drink your Beer!
And so on…
(Okay, I might not be that be that serious about the coke and beer example.)
Perhaps all of us fall into this way of thinking from time to time, but some people really do seem to think in such terms on a regular basis. They live in a world of social Manichaeism, a world in which 2 rival forces contend with one another for control of the world and of our loyalties. Anything said against one can clearly be understood as support for the other, because all questions of value must be measured according to the standard of which force one wishes to align oneself with. Other options are always illusory. You are with the lord of light or you are with the lord of darkness, and if you don’t declare your loyalties openly, then that is a good reason to suspect you are on the wrong side of this conflict. In effect, such people keep making use of the false-alternatives fallacy because they actually do live in a world in which their choices are always constrained. Their assumptions about the world around them and the choices available to all of us consistently reduce all choices to a binary opposition.
Brief Technicality: I should add that the not all binary opposition are equal. What typically happens here is that people looking at contrary relationships often construe them as contradictory relationships? What is the difference? In a Contradictory relationship between two claims, they two have opposite truth values. If one is true, the other is false. If one is false, the other is true. In a contrary relationship between two claims, on the other hand, one of them must be false, but it is at least possible that both will be false.
In the case of either a contrary relationship or a contradictory relationship, you could infer the falsehood of one claim from the truth of the other, but you could only infer the truth of one claim from the falsehood of the other in the case of a contradictory relationship, not in the case of a contrary relationship.
Case in point: If I know that John is voting for Biden, I can conclude he is clearly not voting for Trump (unless he wants his ballot to be thrown out). If, on the other hand, I know he is not voting for Biden, I could not normally conclude that he is voting for Trump. He might be voting for a third party after all (and whether or not that is a good idea brings up all the points made above). So, political loyalties are not usually well modeled on the basis of a contradictory relationship. Such loyalties are contrary at best even if specific choices made on the basis of those loyalties (e.g. voting) might be framed in terms of contradictory relationships.
Another example? If you like capitalism, it’s probably safe to assume you are not in favor of communism, but could we really infer from a criticism of capitalism that you were a communist? No. You could be in favor of some alternative political economy. Old fashioned trade guilds, perhaps coupled with mercantilism, subsistence economics (as practiced in many indigenous communities), or good old Georgism (which may or may not be a form of socialism, depending on who you ask), all come to mind. (So, does rejecting the terms ‘capitalism’ or ‘communism’ outright as being to vague and sweeping.). Inferring support for one of these highly loaded terms from opposition to the other is hardly reasonable, and yet, people do it all the time.
People who should know better.
But people often treat contrary relationships as though they were contradictory, thus enabling a faulty implicature, the inference of a specific loyalty from criticism of an alternative commonly understood to be its opposite. This empowers both false alternatives and tu-quoque arguments. For some people this approach to decision making is just too gratifying to resist.
We sometimes encounter simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, and hence make choices between contradictory values, but much of our thinking takes place in a world with a broader range of possibilities. Those locked into the mindset of Social manichaeism are constantly pushing us to think in narrower terms to begin with. If all of us are prone to miss the possibilities from time to time, then some people seem to take this as a point of principle.
Personality: Enter a living train-wreck such as Donald Trump! He thrives on constrained choices precisely because his own actions and his own statements cannot stand up to scrutiny on their own merits. Whatever the man may have been like when he was younger, he has long since accumulated a range of of bad deals, unpaid debts, and obvious lies in a personal history of chronically abusive behavior. His own credibility would never stand up to scrutiny, not from anyone making an honest effort.
So, how does he manage?
He always brings with him a broad range of bluffs and diversions, and one of the most important is a constant penchant for attacking someone in virtually any context, and for doing it in the most humiliating way possible. Every claim he might make, every question one might ask, is then subsumed under the effect of this personal attack. For those under attack, this means trying to balance the need to defend yourself against the effort to address any objective issues that may be on the table. For bystanders, it is a question of balancing concerns over Trump’s behavior against those he raises about others. In the ensuing hostilities, trump can raise and drop any issues he wishes, make false claims, and set them aside at his liesure. If he is caught flat footed, the solution is as simple as insulting the person who pointed it out or any source they may rely upon. The end-result is a choice between him or someone else, and any doubts about that other person whatsoever will be enough for Donald. He has spent his lifetime exploiting the benefit of the doubt. It is a benefit does not share with others.
The logic of the whataboutism gambit suits Trump’s style perfectly.
Is Trump University credible? What about Hillary!?!
Did Donald tell a lie? Ask Obama if you can keep your insurance!?!
Is he mistreating immigrants? What are the Dems doing to protect us!?! (…and after 2016, ask Obama, because he did it first?)
Is the Trump family self-dealing through their position in government? Where is Hunter!?!
You get the idea.
This is a man in deep need of enemies. The closest he will ever get to redemption lies in the hope that those around him will think him better than the alternative. Small wonder that he preferred to keep Hillary on the table as a kind of shadow President, a mythic character he could use as a whipping woman even in the 2020 election. At the peak of his Presidency, when she should have been off the table entirely, she was still the answer to concerns about Trump, replaced only when Biden stepped in to become Trump’s new foil, and only partially so at that. Trump has always needed a constrained choice to make a case for himself, because he is of no value on his own.
To know the worth of Donald Trump, one has always to ask what about someone else.
A man like that is made for the sort of strife we have seen this week, and throughout his Presidency. He is at his peak when the whole world has to think in terms of the constrained choices he seeks to bring about in all times and all places. For most of us these moments come and go. For the likes of Donald Trump, such moments are the only ones that count.
Is Donald Trump the only person like this? Not by a long shot, but he is my exhibit ‘A’, and as he is still in a position to do us all harm, he seems to be a relevant example. It was the dramatic nature of our recent elections that got me thinking about the way that certain arguments seem more compelling at some times than other.
I could just as easily have written an epitaph for nuance.
Perhaps that would have been more to the point.
Let us hope that subtlety finds room to breathe in all our minds sometime soon! It is one thing to say ‘no’ with conviction when that is what is called for, and it is quite another to live in a world that is polemics all the way down.
In the end, the point here is that there seem to be some folks who really thrive on the ability to reduce the world to a pair of choices under the assumption that to affirm one is to deny the other. Elections may be a special time to such folks, a moment in which certain patterns of thought seem a little less flawed and a moment in which the rest of the world may just be happy to join in that same pattern of thinking.
We probably all engage in similar patterns of thought in many other contexts, sports rivalries and all manner of brand loyalties come to mind. For my own part, I hope soon to set some of this aside and think about other things. I can’t quite say that i am ready yet.
I can’t quite say that the rest of America is either.
When exactly do you suppose America was great according to Donald Trump?
When do you suppose it was great in the minds of his supporters?
America is not great now, at least not in the minds of Donald Trump, and it certainly wasn’t great when he ran for office. That much is clear from the very nature of his old campaign slogan. “Make America great AGAIN,” certainly means it’s not great in the present age, at least not when he decided to run.
Perhaps Trump and his supporters might think to claim the economic stats he used to parade as success stories in the first 3 years of his administration made the difference and pulled us all the way from something else to greatness. How those economic trends differed from those under Obama is a different question, and whether or not Trump did anything but coast his way to a good look on paper is another. Either way, I could imagine he and his supporters might see in that enough cause to claim putting his label on the nation had made us all great again, but that would be a thin pretext indeed. Regardless, the moment in which this pretext could be claimed is long since gone at this point, and we are back to the same other-than-great world Trump seemed to see in America back in 2016.
So, when was America great in the minds of Trump and his supporters?
Could it be when Thomas Jefferson said that “all men are created equal?
Or when Martin Luther King challenged us all to live up to that very principle?
Some folks might say ‘both,’ and maybe so, but that is the answer to a different question. I didn’t ask which message you approve or admire? I asked when do you think America was great in the minds of Donald Trump and his supporters?
Maybe the former, but only if we discount the latter. They might well love the promise of equality and freedom, but only so long as that promise remained unfulfilled for a great many Americans. To the deplorables, the gap between American ideals and our political realities is an essential feature of our greatness. The greatness they seek is always gained at the expense of others.
I really don’t see how there could be any doubt in the matter. This man is a bully, and he has a bully’s sense of the world around him. His heroes are bullies. His villains are those that stand in their way. The vast majority of mankind are but cannon fodder by which his heroes distinguish themselves. They are the human sacrifices by which true greatness distinguishes itself from the mere men and women of ordinary humanity. Greatness in the world of Trump is a boot ground into the neck of someone unable to do anything about it.
(Or a knee.)
When was American great according yo Donald Trump and those who support him?
When slaves were sold on the market in Charleston, South Carolina, and when the profits from slavery flowed into all of the United States, North and South alike. This was greatness in Donald Trump’s world.
When Confederate Statues went up all across the south, reminding African-American that those who held slaves in bondage were the real heroes of their time, that was greatness in the world of Donald Trump. The suffering of African-Americans in slavery, and in segregation was (and is) a small price to pay for the greatness made possible by the profits of slavery.
…and the second class citizenship which was to follow.
There are those who would return African-Americans to that very second class status in the most explicit terms possible. Trump is a hero to these people. He would deny it of course, but countless White Supremacists have organized in the wake of his rise to power, encouraged by a dog-whistle here, a slow condemnation there, and of course the occasional glaring statement of racist sentiments by Trump or those in his inner circles.
There were those who thought the existence of a plebeian class in America was critical to republic, the price of greatness for those free enough to enjoy it. Clearly, a number of Americans see in Trump’s rise to power the chance to reconstitute that servile class of Americans who don’t quite enjoy their full rights.
For those who share this vision, every confederate statue is a memorial, not just to history, but to a natural aristocracy. Most, I expect imagine themselves the righteous heirs to that aristocracy, denied their proper station by the corruption of liberals and various minorities who are but pawns duped by the white liberal agenda.
It’s a message driven home every time right wingers tell us about the evils of the “Democratic plantation,” or tell us, as Phil Robertson once did, that African-Americans were happier in the days of Jim Crow than they are now living in the shadow of this very ‘plantation.’
For a good portion of Trump’s base, greatness lies in hierarchy, but only when it’s the right kind of hierarchy. In their world, we are all a little happier with slavery or something as close as they can get to it. Equality just means people end up in the wrong places within that hierarchy. For America to be great, each must be in his or her proper place.
Lest anyone forget this greatness, the greatness of slavery, it is celebrated in the Star Spangled Banner before every ritual in America’s one true religion, professional sports! This celebration takes the form of the star Spangled Banner, a song which triggers in every good American the obligation to display their loyalty and love of the nation by standing with their hands over their hearts for all to see. Any athletes who take exception to this on behalf of African-Americans mistreated by the police become enemies of America itself, and of its greatness, at least in the eyes of Trump and the deplorables.
That the full song includes a stanza celebrating the return of escaped slaves to their former bondage is perhaps a little more significant than this little-known passage would seem to suggest. That great celebration of freedom is also a celebration of slavery.
A point well made every time Trump and his fans demand obesiance of players and seek punishment for those who hesitate.
When Jewish women jumped from the upper floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in hopes of escaping the flames consuming the building and those within it, that was greatness to Donald Trump. It was greatness, because it was the price paid for great profits and a nation of industry unfettered by regulation or those Goddamned unions and all that bullshit red tape that comes with them. Those were days when Captains of industry were free, dammit, free from the death of a thousand paper cuts that require working fire escapes, reasonable work hours, and countless other protections for the safety and dignity of workers. That world without such regulations, that was greatness to the likes of Donald trump. The women who died in that fire? They were the price paid for the captains of industry to thrive, and the success of those men was worth every life snuffed out in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.
…and every indignity suffered by any worker ever sacrificed in the name of that greatness.
When Custer died for our sins on the greasy grass, THAT was greatness.
A great sacrifice.
And before that when Custer sacrificed the lives of Cheyenne Women and children at the Washita River, that was greatness, a greatness beautified by the music of Garyowen. Garyowen was the song played by Custer as he attacked Black Kettle’s encampment in the early morning of November 27th, 1868. Still reeling from the massacre at Sand Creek, Black Kettle had come to the Washita River in the hopes that he and his people could camp in peace and stay out of the fighting (just as they had tried to do at Sand Creek 4 years earlier). Custer showed them American greatness!
Lest the lesson be lost on any of us, the Trump administration made a point to play Garyowen at their July 4th celebration at the Black Hills this last summer. Most of America would have missed the message sent to Native American activists that day, perhaps noticing only a slight trace of nostalgia for the old west upon hearing the tune without quite knowing how they had come to form that association. For those that knew the tune, however, the message was unmistakable. What made American great was its willingness to slaughter Native Americans, not to respect them or their lands or anything else about them, but to slaughter them.
Accompanied by a catchy tune!
This message should have been clear enough earlier in Trump’s administration when he honored the Navajo Code Talkers.
With the name ‘Pocahontas’ falling from his sneering lips.
And the image of Andrew Jackson presiding over the whole scene.
Was greatness Abigail Adams telling her husband; “Remember the Ladies?” Or was it John Adams’ response, dismissing her concerns with platitudes about who is really in charge? Does greatness lie in Susan B. Anthony’s efforts to cast a vote in direct violation of the laws of her day. Or does it reside in the fine levied against her for doing so? Perhaps it can be found in Trump’s decision to pardon her? Or in the decision of the Susan B. Anthony Museum and House to reject that very pardon?
Could her greatness reside in the courage to break an unjust law, a greatness only erased by Trump’s worthless pardon?
Or did greatness actually reside in Trump’s pardon itself, a gesture which effectively put Anthony in a league with then likes of Sheriff Arpaio, Roger Stone, or Dinesh D’Souza, all men who have spent their entire lives punching down at those less fortunate than themselves? Some might think these men unworthy of respect. Clearly, they meet Trump’s standards of greatness. I somehow doubt, he’d have thought to put Anthony on par with these feckless whores if she were alive today and ready to give him a piece of her mind. A few a Republicans have indulged in fantasies about taking the vote away from women since Trump’s rise to office. If Anthony really does count as great to Trump, it is for a cause that neither he nor his supporters seem eager to support themselves. I don’t think Trump has suggested taking the vote away from women himself, at least not in public, but it’s easy enough to see how others might see it in Trump’s willingness to trash any woman who stands up to him in public.
…a point driven home withe every humiliation Trump unleashes on any woman who dares to stand up to him in public.
…or when facile deplorables make a point to remind us of the women who Trump always finds to speak on his behalf.
…as he punches down at others.
I could go on of course, but you get the point. If America was ever great in Trump’s eyes, it was precisely when America’s greatness was clearly obtained at the expense of others, and that expense was itself celebrated openly in full view of bystanders and surviving victims alike.
For both Trump and his supporters, it must be said, the cruelty is always the point. If there is anything about America that they well and truly love, that is it.
That is what passes for greatness in the land of Trump.
The only wall Donald Trump ever meant to build was finished a long time ago. He built it with phrases like “lock her up” and “fake news” along with countless outright lies and bullshit stories. He didn’t put the wall on the border. It was never meant to go there. No, Trump built that wall right down the center of the nation, and each of us ended up on one side or another. Trump’s wall divides us completely from one another, and that is all it was ever intended to do.
It’s the one meaningful promise that bastard actually kept.
Violent men only have eyes for each other. On a street full of bystanders, they see only their enemies. In a room full of reasonable people, the violent ones seek each other out and do their damnedest to drag others into the fray. It’s an odd dance, one which enemies do together, and when they do it right, they lure the rest of us into the performance. None of this is new. Violent men and women, only have eyes for each other.
There is a lot of violence to celebrate today, or to decry. And how often does the one turn into the other? A condemnation of violence can easily be a clarion call to strike back, and it can be answered in the same tone.
And thus cacophony becomes a chorus!
None of this really started with the killing of George Floyd, of course; but his death certainly has escalated things a great deal. Some are fighting in the streets, and some are fighting on social media. Some are doing both of course. Either way, that chorus of violent men shouting at each other is getting pretty loud these days.
One of the questions people keep haggling out in the media is just how the violence got started? A protest doesn’t have to turn violent, but many of these certainly did. What was it, or who was it, that pushed all these protests over the top?
The right wing is happy to tell us that it is protesters. They are happily sharing videos of looters, vandals, and beatings occurring in these riots. The more rioters participating in the crime, the better it suits this narrative. It is enough to know that these crimes occur during the riots. This tells us all we need to know, so the right wing suggests; it is sufficient to discredit this entire wave of protests, just as it was enough to discredit the entire Black Lives Matter movement, and any number of other protests in the past. This isn’t a policing problem, so their narrative goes, it’s a crime problem, or even a black problem. The national figures in right wing media won’t quite say the last part of that sentence; they are content to have their followers say it for them.
Others assure us it was the cops, which is certainly fitting, because this was all about cops to begin with. Many who support the protesters will point to numerous instances in which the cops themselves seem to take aggressive action against people who are not really doing anything wrong. This wasn’t the reaction, they will remind us, when armed protesters stormed government buildings not so long ago. …it really wasn’t! So, perhaps the police are the party most responsible for escalating violence in this case? Just as the killing of Floyd points to a need for police reform so does the violence of these riots!
Or perhaps it was white people? By now we have seen enough videos of this; whites breaking windows or spray-painting buildings while black protesters beg them to stop. “They will blame us,” one woman says to a pair of light skinned young ladies with spray cans, and she is right. Her pleas fall on deaf ears, and it’s hard not to think ill of the young ladies as they wander off looking fabulous in their riot-chic.
Donald Trump seems to think it’s ANTIFA. He tells us that the United States declares them to be a terrorist organization. What this means, as far as policy goes, I don’t know. I doubt Donald Trump knows either, but I haven’t yet found the judiciary authority of Twitter statements from the Executive Couch Potato in the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps, Donald Trump has. Who knows what that man hears when others explain things to him! Last I checked, ANTIFA wasn’t even an organization, terrorist or otherwise, but perhaps they become an organization when Donald Trump tweets their governing principles into existence. He may yet have that power. Who knows?
Boogaloo Bois and their kindred are another candidate for the cause of violence. For those fortunate enough to have made it this far without learning of the Boogaloo Bois, let me ruin the world a little more for you! They are a part of a movement intent on starting a race war. ‘Boogaloo’, it seems, has become slang for that war, and so the thinking goes, these folks can bring it about by escalating violence in whatever way possible. In this instance, the suggestion is that Boogaloo Bois, other committed white racists, or even bigoted cops may be engaging in false flag operations, breaking things or carrying out attacks in the guise of protesters. Suffice to say, this prospect folds neatly into the same theme as the white-people-are-doing-it narrative mentioned earlier.
And then of course, there is the general outsiders-are-doing-this theme? In this instance, the idea is to emphasize that the violent perps have come from out of state. What that means is another question. To some, it means they are obviously ANTIFA extremists coming to riot over the usual list of grievances, because that’s what ANTIFA-types do. Damned Anarchists! Others are quite certain this must be boogaloos coming to commit their dirty work in the hopes it will be blamed on African-Americans. Both of these narratives assume clear intent at the outset, though it seems to me some of these out-of-staters may be as prone as the rest of us to get caught in the moment. Either way, I’m pretty sure that those emphasizing the interstate travel theme include a few folks looking at sentencing enhancements and/or federal involvement in what might otherwise be a state crime. It’s one thing to break a window in your home state, but if it can be shown that you crossed a state line for the purpose of doing it, you may be in more trouble than you think.
Conspiracy theories are bunk of course, …except when they aren’t. Violence at protests have often been cause for stories about infiltrators deliberately pushing protests over the line and into genuine violence. Cue the folks saying; “I support protests but not riots” and you now have cause to justify harsh police measures in the short run and to dismiss the cause of the protests in the long run. Whether the culprit is a rogue cop, a random white racist, or any other bad actor, suspicions about such agents are always part of the stories told about protests and the violence associated with them.
What does seem new is the number of videos which seem to show something like this actually happening.
I think we’ve all seen this before, streets filled with conventional protesters and then some guy shows up covered head-to-toe and well-masked, carrying something easily used as a weapon. He makes a bee-line for his target, breaks it, and then makes another bee-line straight out of the scene, leaving other protesters a bit surprised and even confused. We’ve seen that here too, and (this time at least) we’ve seen protesters actively try to stop them. Watching such videos, it isn’t hard to see that such individuals are up to something very different than the average protester. What that is, isn’t so clear, at least not so long as the individuals get away. Of course others will say such incidents are proof positive that a Boogaloo-ANTIFA-Rogue-Cop-Boi is at work, and his actions confirm whichever conspiratorial narrative they happen to favor.
In the coming weeks, we may learn the details of a few of these stories. We may find a conspiracy of sorts explains a burned building here or that beaten man there. We may find cops provoked violence in this city, or the protesters really were just terrible in that one. We may find reason to believe lots of shameless people saw in these protests an opportunity to score some loot from a local store, that some folks will do things they never imagined when they are surrounded by enough angry people doing the same thing. The racists will have plenty of black perpetrators to point at even as others get reason to believe white privilege sometimes carries a spray can or a stick for bashing windows. Those who hate protesters will find plenty in this to vindicate their contempt, and protesters will find plenty of cause in these evenets to take to the streets again some other day.
What we probably won’t have when these riots end (at least I would be damned surprised to find that we do) is evidence that a single one of these narratives explains the whole of the violence occurring in American cities right now. We may well see each and every one of these explanations play out in different stories of the rioting. We won’t get one explanation for all of it. Instead, will will get a range of different stories, each pointing at a different source for the violence. Most likely, people will then cherry pick the evidence to support the narrative best suited to their politics.
Another thing we won’t get in the wake of this, (and please let me be wrong about this!) is a clear course of action for resolving the conflicts that led to these riots.
One other thing we will have, I suspect, is a lot more Covid19 cases.
In the end, the same divisions that pushed so many of these protests into violence will still be with us. The facts won’t tell us once and for all who is to blame, and even if they did, there are too many people who benefit from clouding the issue. So, the same violent people who found each other in the last few days will be looking for each other in the future. The stories they will tell about this round of violence may yet fuel the next round of it, and we will hear the same violent chorus again sometime on down the road.
Unless somebody figures out a few things BEFORE the next George Floyd. There is a real problem here. That problem didn’t begin with the protests much less the riots, and that problem wouldn’t go away even if we did all get a single villain to blame for all this violence. Someone with the will to make things better and the power to do something about it needs to act.
I’m still trying to get used to seeing Jim Bakker in the news again. I’m old enough to remember when his initial scams were alive and well. I remember how painfully obvious his deceits were. I remember the outrageousness of it all, not just his own lies, but the utter gullibility of his followers. I distinctly remember realizing with some degree of sadness that his followers must not merely have been fooled. To say they believed in this man (and his wife Tammy Fae) required a trace of dishonesty in itself. They couldn’t simply be fooled. They had to be lying too. I remember the scandal that finally broke Bakker’s financial empire, and I remember his statements about Jessica Hahn. Like so many of those uttered by God’s top salesmen, Bakker’s confessions were littered with excuses and self-serving narratives that showed little contrition and plenty of bad faith all around. It may have been a sex scandal that broke his old over PTL ministries, but it was fraud that sent Bakker to prison, fraud perpetrated in the name of Jesus and sold primarily to retired pensioners who could ill-afford to bankroll the lavish lifestyle this man enjoyed at their expense. But here we are. Bakker is back, and he is selling Jesus once again.
Because people never really seem to learn from history.
Not the lessons that matter anyway.
Is this a newer an wiser Jim Bakker? Can we trust him now? Is he a better man than the one who clearly did have an affair, and quite possibly raped the woman he had the affair with? Is he more honest than the one who bilked his followers out of millions with the promise of lifetime memberships in PTL and membership benefits he never even tried to deliver?
That’s not really the question to ask though, is it?
Bakker is who is he, who he always was. That should be perfectly clear.
Better to ask if we are a better and wiser society?
Have we done anything to protect ourselves from the likes of Jim Bakker, or is America just as wide open for this sort of scam as we were back in the gullibility jubilee that was the Reagan era? Are we still going to humor two-bit huxters with the miraculous power to turn thoughts of Jesus into perfectly material cash? Do we have any means of holding the likes of Bakker accountable for their perfectly antics?
Or are we still unable to do anything about them?
Take no solace in your own intelligence!
People like to imagine that those who fall for the likes of Bakker are simply stupid, that the sort of crime in which he engages amounts to a sort of poetic justice. “Anyone dumb enough to fall for that sort of thing deserves what they get,” so I am often told. But that’s just an evasion.
Critical thinking skills won’t save any of us, especially not in our twilight years. Televangelism is a business that works by catching up on the tail end of our own better judgement. Many of those who give to the likes of Bakker better might have known better at some point in their lives. Many would have laughed him out of the room in their younger days. This is one of the main features of televangelism. It’s a business model that can wait for us to lose our our intellectual edge, to give up some of our skepticism, and to embrace hopes we might once have shunned.
…and to accept the token promise that giving our hard-earned money to some perfectly mortal human with grifter written all over their every word and deed we can somehow make good with a divine force capable of making everything right in the end.
We may know better now.
Make no mistake.
The likes of Bakker can wait until we don’t.
Does it need to be said?
Bakker is hardly alone. I don’t know about you, but I’ve long since lost track of the number of times one of God’s surrogates has been caught making off with money meant for him, …pardon me, Him. I can’t easily count the number of His faithful who’ve been caught in the wrong bed, hotel room, or sex club either, to say nothing of the number of those denouncing homosexuality, or offering some cure for it, who found their way into the arms of someone of the same sex. Time and again, it turns out that the message of god just doesn’t fit well in the mouth of its mortal medium.
No, the problem isn’t simply that Christians are just as human, and just as flawed as the rest of us; it’s that Christianity (or at least some versions of it) often proves to be the worst thing about these people. Left to their own vices, many of these people would prove little less than perfectly human, but high on God, they are a hazard to others, and a constant threat to many more harmless than themselves.
I can understand someone whose love life is a train wreck, but when that person makes a living promoting a more perfect vision of what that life should be, damned right I expect them to live up to that vision. Or to give it up when that vision proves fatally flawed. When selling that message becomes a multi-million dollar business, I am just a little less forgiving about the whole thing.
Bakker isn’t a fluke. He is poster boy for a type of business that has always been fraudulent to its core.
Yes, I said ‘business’. Televangelism is a business. It may enjoy non-profit status, and it may generate all kinds of god-talk, but it is absolutely a business. The likes of Bakker prove this time and time again. These men are in it for the money. That should be perfectly obvious to all concerned.
Jim Bakker is a business man. His business is Televangelism.
Right now, that business is good. With Kanye West celebrating his new Jesus-flavored branding scheme in Texas with Joel Osteen and Paula White enjoying a gig as the spiritual advisor to Donald Trump, it does seem to be a good year for huxters with open wallets and talk of God falling out of their open mouths. Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Franklin Graham have certainly been enjoying their renewed access to the worldly powers made possible by the Orange man in the White House. Of the course the common element in all these sordid stories (and countless others) is Donald Trump himself.
Few things could be more odd than the way conservative Christians have embraced Donald Trump, this man who has never shown the least bit of interest in anything but worldly pleasures and worldly powers. The allegiance that so many of America’s entrepreneurial Christians have sworn to this man seems like a clear and loud confession to their own hypocrisy. You couldn’t possibly ask for a more blatant condemnation of conservative Christian politics, than the support these charlatans have shown to Donald Trump. It makes no sense at all.
Well it makes no sense if you take their messages seriously.
On another level, it should come as no surprise at all that a man who once bilked countless pensioners out of their life-savings in a fake university would find common cause with an entire industry that thrives on the life savings of the old and infirm. It should come as no surprise that people who spend their entire lives talking about an absolute authority with perfect power to determine matters of right and wrong would jump at the chance to support a man who recognizes no authority other than his own whim. That those who conceive ultimate authority in the form of a ‘Lord’ would prove unwilling to defend the checks and balances of a constitutional republic from a political movement recognizing no power capable of saying no to ‘The Leader’. If you pay any attention to the way that America’s political Christians think about power and authority, their willingness to support Donald Trump should prove no more surprising than the fancy cars and homes enjoyed by evangelical leadership. The Televangelists who turn this mentality into big business are acting in perfect concert with their normal MO when they line up to bend the knee before their perfectly mortal savior. With or without Jesus, Donald Trump is the answer to their prayers, and they know it.
Jim Bakker is back, and he is now enjoying a resurgence of his own media popularity. Much like the Reagan era, this is his time. He isn’t back because he has changed his ways, much less because he or any other televangelist gives a damn about Jesus. He is back because the rest of us haven’t done anything about the particular kind of crime at which he excels. If we had, Hell trump would be in jail right now, as would so many other big business pastors.
America is still wide open for any thief smart enough to allude to the promise of eternal salvation instead of foolishly offering a quid pro quo in explicit and concrete terms. We are still willing to watch the elderly lose their life savings to these crack-pot con artists, just as we are willing to tolerate so many other crimes whose victims don’t have enough power and money to matter. They have an ally in the White House now, and these people who sell Jesus for a living grow bolder every day. What they deliver to Donald Trump is a political base willing to take his word (and theirs) on any of the controversial issues of the day. What Donald Trump offers them is the support of worldly powers, powers left unchecked by the very gullibility of a political base that would donate money to the likes of Jim Bakker or spend it on an institution like Trump University. It’s a good time to be shameless. So, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me to see the likes of Bakker back in the news.
No doubt, we will see much more of him in the future, and of others just like him.
Yesterday, the Idiot-in-Chief retweeted this little bit of tripe from one of the lesser grifters riding his crappy coattails to fame. This retweet an entire Gish Gallop in a single tweet. Seriously, you could write a book on the many ways in which this is simply stupid.
Idiots will idiate!
But the particular idiocy that I keep coming back to is this. This is the President of the United States, and Epstein was a high profile suspect in a Federal institution. Epstein’s welfare was the direct responsibility of federal officials, and those officials answer to Trump. If Jeffrey Epstein was killed by ANYONE, it is ultimately the responsibility of Donald Trump. More to the point, that Epstein died in this facility absolutely IS Donald Trump’s responsibility. No hypotheticals needed! Yet trump sits there, just like any other couch-potato, musing on the possibility that something awful might have happened as if he were not himself implicated in the very rumors he is spreading.
Donald Trump is arguably the most powerful man in the world. (Well, to be honest, that status would probably belong to Putin, but that aside,…) Trump is arguably the most powerful man in the United States, and yet he still reacts to major political events as though he is simply Archie Bunker sitting in the comfy chair with nothing better to go on than his first impression of a news item and no more responsibility for the events in question than any other guy who just walked into his living room tired from a long day of work and sat down in a chair to learn about events well beyond his scope of power and expertise. The problem here is that Donald Trump isn’t just another guy sitting in a chair learning about the news from the pundits of his personal choice. He is in charge of the institutions in question and this death happened on his watch. Ideally the President of the United States should do more and know more than this President appears to, and there is every indication that this appearance of a hapless hackwit with neither self-awareness nor public consciousness is absolutely the underlying reality of this living facade.
There is no underlying truth to anything Trump says or does, no deeper meaning or real intention underlying the many misleading slogans which constitute the entirely of his political engagement. Donald Trump is the surface impression he creates, nothing more and nothing less.
…all of which is why it is so disturbing to see the President talking as though he were not implicated in events unfolding under his own authority. Donald Trump is the proverbial man (as in ‘the man’) talking about the politics of his day as if he were just another underdog, just another guy trying to make sense of another scandal, a scandal in which he doesn’t seem to see himself, even though he is all over it.
It’s an iconic moment, this tweet. Trump at his Trumpiest. It is also the present GOP and its most GOPest, a party completely devoid of any sense of responsibility for anything it or its members do.
I suppose Republicans have played the underdog for as long as I can remember, but that particular theme wasn’t always quite so prominent as it is now. There was a time when it was substantially overshadowed by themes of respectability and adherence to time-honored traditions. When I was in college Republicans were more likely to hold themselves up as the standard of moral and intellectual propriety from which liberals sought to free themselves. Back then the proverbial Man was understood to be a conservative Republican, and Republicans typically assumed a level of authority across the board which is fundamentally inconsistent with the ethos of rebellious underdogs fighting the powers that be. They were the ones telling the rest of us how to live, and quite often they were happy to tell us why they had the authority to do that.
If you ask me, it was Rush Limbaugh. It was Limbaugh that taught conservatives the joys of playing the smartass in the back of the room instead of posing as the Professor and then having to answer somebody else’s smartass questions. Limbaugh never tried to assert the authority of tradition; he always preferred to mock the efforts to liberals in whatever they happened to be doing. He set aside the authority tat was once so central to ‘conservative’ politics and instead opted to play the underdog fighting against somebody else’s authority.
It was also Limbaugh that taught bigots and bullies all over the country to think of themselves as conservatives, and to filter their hatreds through a political lens. You don’t hate blacks or Mexicans or women or homosexuals, or any of these people, so went Limbaugh’s message. No, you hate liberals, and you can always identify a liberal by their willingness to advocate for any of these groups. What looks on the surface to be hatred of an oppressed minority is instead, according to Limbaugh, rebellion against the oppression of those who would tell you how to think and act. That was a powerful message, a bigotry-laundering, and a successful one at that. Today’s bigots don’t just come out and say that they hate this group or that group; they consistently tie their contempt to some narrative about liberalism. It’s liberalism that they really hate, so they want to believe, even if their anti-liberalism means consistent attacks on underprivileged minorities.
In point of fact, Limbaugh’s hyper-politicization of prejudice goes hand-in-hand with his assumption of under-dog status. In retrospect, this was the real-pay-off for decades of PC-bashing. It enabled ‘conservatives’ to disavow any sense of responsibility for the real world outcomes of anything people experienced as a result of the culture wars. In their rejection of political correctness, hateful words directed at the powerless became spirited rebellion aimed at the real powers that be, and those who sought to help the unfortunate became oppressors in the new plantation system. (Don’t laugh, the DNC as a plantation system is a prominent theme in republican circles. It’s shit, yes, but the deplorables are eating that shit right up!)
What Limbaugh did was to help the racism goes down by teaching conservatives to think of someone else as the real authority. That authority could be the liberals, the Democrats, the coastal elites, Hollyweird, or whatever else you care to imagine as the over-arching power behind any policy that might help the underprivileged. Either way, someone else always had the power, and the expression of prejudice became, under his influence, resistance to that authority. When you use the N-word, you’re not really attacking African-Americans. No, you are just offending liberals. If they weren’t so touchy, then you wouldn’t have done it, right? How many times has Limbaugh played this gambit and countless others like it? And how many of those now flashing the ‘OK’ sign in racist circles have done so just because it would offend liberals, not because they endorse white supremacy.
…supposedly at any rate.
Anyway, my point is that all this PC-bashing which has long since become central to ‘conservative’ Republican thinking effectively transformed the GOP’s relationship to power and authority. They are no longer the 80s-era Christians telling us who to marry or what books to read or how we should dress. No, now they are the ones defying authority. And thus punching down has come to look an awful lot like standing up to the Man in the rhetoric of cultural conservatives.
Donald Trump took over the market for this message in his Presidential campaign. PC-bashing was a big part of his act from the very beginning. Nobody has ever inhabited the role of the politically incorrect rebel with such abandon. Under Trump, defiance of political correctness became everything from the usual racial epithets and sexist slurs to outright violence against protesters or explicitly discriminatory policies. In being politically incorrect, Trump wasn’t just hurting people’s feelings; he was declaring his intent to hurt people in very real and very tangible ways. Lest we dwell on his victims too much, trump has always (true to form) called our attention to some external power, some liberal authority, that is always the real reason things had to get so ugly. Trump’s every exercise of power counts now as defiance of the ultimate power, the ‘deep state.’ With such a fictional power somewhere out there, how could any mere mortal be anything but an underdog?
…unless of course that person was an emissary of the deep state!
But that role, the role of a deep state emissary, is of course reserved for Trump’s enemies. By definition, they are the real powers that be. If someone gets in his way, they are the ones working to maintain the status quo. And Donald trump’s every abuse of authority takes on the significance of fighting the power of that deep state and its surrogates. The children who have suffered in his internment camps are really the victims of that deep state, so the deplorables tell us, just as those who died in those camps are really victims of the deep state. Everyone he hurts is really the victim of that other power, the shadowy deep state that made all of this necessary. That is reality as Trump and his ilk understand it. So when this faux-Underdog in orange is sitting on his ass learning that his own people have let an important prisoner die, then he too can imagine that it must really be the fault of someone else.
Someone with REAL power!
It stands to reason that Trump would blame the Clintons. Of course they too may have reasons for wanting Epstein to be silent, so he can make a case for it, but Trump has other reasons for pointing at the Clintons; those that have more to do with story-line. The notion that the Clintons did it fits the narrative he has been using since the 2016 campaign. Far from diminishing her authority, Trump inflated it. He made Hillary into a surrogate for anything the government had ever done that his fans might have found objectionable. Whatever powers she might have had as a Senator or a former First Lady, they were dwarfed in comparison to the power that trump attributed to her in his campaign rhetoric. I lost track of the number of times Trump blamed Hillary for anything that did or didn’t happen in Congress when she was there (and even when she wasn’t). Trump held Hillary personally responsible for things well beyond her control so many times in the actual debates it was laughable. As if she, simply by being a Senator, were directly responsible for everything Congress (or the President) did. I wondered then, as I do now, how anyone could be so gullible as to believe him? But I also knew it was a powerful story-line. It made Hillary a symbol of government, of the establishment, of anything that disaffected Americans could imagine themselves to be up against.Trump then had only to oppose her to become a hero to many.
…even to those who would be hurt by his policies.
In Trump’s rhetoric, Hillary (and the Clintons in general) came to represent the government as it is and he came to represent government as anyone might imagine they wanted it to be. (That Trump never really provided policy details or even finished his own damned sentences certainly made it easier for others to imagine the details as they wished.) The logic of Trump’s rhetoric has consistently made Hillary (and the Democrats) responsible for actual policy and real-world consequences. He in turn occupies an ideal world of government that is divorced from anything, even his own policies. So, I suppose it really shouldn’t surprise us that the Democrats in Congress have been responsible for every failure of the Trump administration. Neither should it come as any surprise that we’ve been hearing “What about Hillary” for close to 3 years now. To the deplorables, she is still government as they imagine it to be, or at least everything that’s wrong with it, and Trump is still government as they might hope it will be. Anything bad that actually happens is still her fault. This symbolism just isn’t affected by facts. It never was. And that is why countless people look to her whenever something goes wrong, even if it is directly the result of something Trump himself has done.
It’s also why a President whose own Department of Justice somehow took one of the most important prisoners off suicide watch can sit there on his ass and wonder out loud if the Clintons didn’t really do it.