Dangerous tribal times: "May you live in interesting times!" According to an old urban legend, it's an old Chinese curse.
It seems that the old urban legend is wrong. That said, we're living in a time which has become increasingly dangerous—a time when the veneer of civilization, of rational practice, is being scraped away.
How dangerous are these times? Consider what happened yesterday:
First, Donald J. Trump tweeted an on-line video ad which is ugly, deceptive and vile. It concerns an unauthorized immigrant who murdered two police officers and says he'd like to kill more.
CNN responded with this lengthy on-line report. At that link, you can see Trump's ugly ad.
CNN's report about Donald Trump's tweet drops bushels of R-bombs all over the land. But good lord! Despite its length, it made zero attempt to address the factual claims included in Trump's ugly ad.
("Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay.")
This terrible horrible "news report" points to an emerging age—an age in which the swapping of insults and accusations replaces the search for information and facts.
How interesting are these times? In our view, these devolving times have helped us see how we humans—we rational animals—are strongly inclined to behave.
"It's all anthropology now," we've thoughtfully said—and as our discourse falls apart, it becomes increasingly clear that we humans are really the tribal animal—the animal that tends to split into tribes and build pleasing novelizations in place of considered facts.
For the record, this behavior is happening Over Here, within our own liberal tents, as well as within Trump's world. Reports of our own overwrought behavior is often fed to viewers Over There as evidence that they should never believe the various things we liberals say.
The Others are told that they shouldn't believe us. All too often, they're afforded fairly good cause. Consider what happened when Rachel Maddow gave us our fourth accuser.
Warning! This takes us all the way back to the days when Brett Kavanaugh was being accused, perhaps correctly, of sexual misconduct during his high school and college years.
Christine Blasey Ford had alleged a sexual assault by Kavanaugh when the two were in high school. Eventually, everyone from Trump on down would say that her claim was "credible," though it should be said that "credible" isn't the same thing as "true."
How accurate was Blasey Ford's charge? In the end, we have no way of saying.
That said, there followed a rather fuzzy New Yorker report in which a second woman seemed to make a charge about misconduct by Kavanaugh during a drinking game at Yale. Then along came Avenatti the Great, promoting a third accuser.
Avenatti's client made dramatic charges on which she soon started to backtrack. Avenatti bombastically said that he'd provide corroborating witnesses.
When he did, two of the five corroborating witnesses were dead. A third said he didn't know Avenatti's client. The other two witnesses failed to respond.
Or at least, that's what Chris Hayes said. According to Hayes, there were no corroborating witnesses.
As usual in these "corporate tribal" times, we liberals have largely been shielded from knowing how embarrassing this whole episode was—how poorly it reflected on NBC News and on our tribe's "cable news" channel. At any rate, Avenatti had temporarily provided our third accusation.
On Wednesday evening, September 26, Maddow made it four.
Maddow began with a pleasing review of the three existing accusations. She stresses this quote from Avenatti:
"There are multiple witnesses that will corroborate these facts."
You can read Maddow's full account in that evening's transcript.
Maddow quoted the claim from Avenatti—the claim which turned out to be wrong. Having summarized the three accusations, Maddow then made it four:
MADDOW (9/26/18): Well, now, tonight, there's a fourth one. This one reported out by NBC News. You see the headline here: "Senate probing new allegation of misconduct against Kavanaugh."To watch this whole segment, click here.
This was reported tonight just after 6:30 Eastern Time by Kasie Hunt, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Heidi Przybyla and Frank Thorp.
Truth-seekers, can we talk? We think Hunt, Caldwell, Przybyla and Thorp embarrassed themselves in that credulous news report, which dealt with an unsigned letter from an unknown, anonymous person.
That said, Maddow was now serving us the product we very much love. As she continued, she gave us our fourth accusation:
MADDOW (continuing directly): Quote: The Senate Judiciary Committee is inquiring about at least one additional allegation of misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, according to a letter obtained by NBC News and according to multiple people familiar with the process.That last quotation came from the letter itself. Did we mention the fact that this letter was unsigned, and identified no one by name?
According to an anonymous complaint sent to Republican Senator Corey Gardner of Colorado, Brett Kavanaugh physically assaulted a woman he socialized with in the D.C. area in 1998 while he was inebriated. The sender of the complaint described an evening involving her own daughter, Brett Kavanaugh, and several friends in 1998.
Quote: When they left the bar under the influence of alcohol, they were all shocked when Brett Kavanaugh shoved her friend up against the wall very aggressively and sexually, and there were at least four witnesses, including my daughter.
Unsigned letters about high-profile events will sometimes be the product of people who are mentally ill. The evidentiary value of such letters is nil. You'd almost think that someone like Maddow would understand such obvious facts and would want to warn viewers about them.
You'd think that Maddow would know these things! But as the program continued, she devoted two lengthy segments to this unsigned letter. As she continued, she used the word "importantly" then blew past what it meant:
MADDOW (continuing directly): Now importantly, the writer of the letter provides no names, but says the alleged victim was still traumatized and had recently spoken about the incident to somebody else who knew about it and had decided to remain anonymous herself."Importantly, the writer of the letter provides no names," Maddow managed to say. But she never told viewers why that basic fact was important. Nor did she ever behave as if she herself found it important.
NBC further reports, quote: Republican Senate investigators asked Kavanaugh about the new complaint during a phone call yesterday between Kavanaugh and committee staff. Sources told NBC News that Kavanaugh denied this latest allegation in the letter.
You can watch Maddow's opening segment here. Later, she devoted a second segment to an interview with Caldwell, one of the four reporters who embarrassed themselves with their report about a highly fraught letter which was unsigned and named no one but Kavanaugh.
Anyone can write and send an unsigned letter. When a letter like that is composed, the anonymous, unsigned writer can say whatever he or she wants.
You'd assume that every journalist would know this. Further, you'd assume that every journalist knows why such letters should be regarded with extreme skepticism and should, as a matter of basic fairness, be regarded as basically worthless.
People with mental health issues will often write letters like this. You'd think that every police officer, and every journalist, would understand this fact.
That said, Maddow ran with the unsigned letter. We'll offer some thoughts about that:
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee had questioned Kavanaugh about the unsigned letter. They'd then released transcripts of what had been said.
They may have done so for a reason. Here's what we mean by that:
Blasey Ford's charge against Kavanaugh was widely described as credible. That doesn't mean that her charge was true. But it means that it very well might be true.
Republicans adopted a basic strategy in reaction to this problem. They seized upon the implausible claims by Avenatti's client to muddy the water concerning Blasey Ford's more credible accusation.
They also floated the transcript about this fourth accusation, and about several more. Around the conservative echo chamber, these less credible accusations were soon being mixed with the third accusation to create an air of implausibility concerning all the charges, including Blasey Ford's. (The fuzziness of the New Yorker report was an additional help.)
Avenatti's client was soon backtracking on her accusations. When Avenatti released his worthless list of corroborating witnesses, the sense that he was staging his latest gong show only increased.
People were told about these events on Fox. On our own tribal channels, we were largely shielded from awareness of these embarrassments.
Avenatti's gong show was highly useful to Kavanaugh's defenders. But in the end, Maddow was useful as well. A coda to this pathetic performance occurred last Monday night. Here's what happened:
Laura Ingraham quoted an anonymous charge of sexual assault against Cory Booker. Deliciously, it wasn't just an anonymous charge of sexual assault. Deliciously, it was an anonymous charge of sexual assault against a man!
So delicious! But Ingraham then cleverly said that charges like these aren't worth the unsigned paper they appear on. She said she'd only mentioned this anonymous charge to show how pointless it was when "NBC News" did the same thing in the Kavanaugh matter.
Ingraham was making a slippery play against Booker. That said, her assessment of "NBC News" was basically correct. She didn't mention Maddow by name. In our view, she should have.
Trump is peddling ugly bullshit this week. Maddow peddled a somewhat milder related product back then. Liberal viewers take pleasure when Maddow feeds us such porridge. But there's often a price to be paid.
Quite routinely, The Others are told, over on Fox, about the various ways our own cable stars behave. Often, they're shown videotape of our cable stars making unfortunate statements.
Frequently, the presentations are embellished, phony and fake. All too often, the complaints about our stars have merit. In the process, The Others are told that these presentations illustrate why They should never trust Us—why our various complaints and claims should simply be ignored.
In our view, Donald J. Trump is a deeply disordered person. This was already obvious back when he was Joe and Mika's best friend.
That said, the culture has also been breaking down within our own liberal warrens. This has been true for a great many years despite what your lizard may say.
CNN's report included no facts. We're living in dangerous times.
Tomorrow: As seen through the eyes of the Times