It's all anthropology now: Did Donald J. Trump really say those things? Did he say the things they say he said in the wake of the Charlottesville mayhem?
Was he "talking about neo-Nazis" when referred to good people on both sides, as Anderson Cooper said last Friday night?
What did he say about the demented Charlottesville marchers who were chanting "Jews will not replace us?" Did Trump really "praise [them] as 'some very fine people,' " as Max Boot told Cooper that night?
Did Trump "call the Charlottesville white supremacists 'fine people,' " as Joan Walsh told Erin Burnett? And while we're at it, was Mark Shields' statement on the PBS NewsHour basically accurate, or was it basically wrong or misleading?
SHIELDS (3/8/19): I mean, we're talking about a president, Judy—let's be very blunt about it—who, when the white supremacists marched through the streets of Charlotte with torches, saying, "Jews will not replace us," said there's good people on both sides.We'd say that statement was grossly misleading, pretty much to the point where it's just basically false. We'd say the other three statements—and many others like them—were just basically wrong.
Before we go into more detail, let's recall what we are, and what we aren't, talking about today:
We aren't asking if Donald J. Trump offered appropriate leadership in the wake of the mayhem in Charlottesville. We aren't asking if the various things he said rose to the occasion.
We aren't asking if his remarks rose to the level of the remarks which emerged from our own flawless tribe. We aren't asking what he secretly thought, or if he was sending dog whistles.
In fact, we aren't attempting to evaluate Donald J. Trump at all! Instead, we're asking a basic question today about Shields, and Cooper and Walsh and Boot, and about a host of others.
We're assessing our upper-end journalists! We aren't assessing Trump.
In the past week or so, these journalists have paraded about, offering accounts of what Trump said concerning the chaos in Charlottesville. We're trying to assess their conduct today, not that of Donald J. Trump.
Anthropologically speaking, this presents a major problem. Let's get clear on what that problem is:
Anthropologically speak, man [sic] is the tribal animal. We humans are strongly inclined to assembles ourselves into tribal groups, and to start creating and disseminating narrative "fictions" from there.
We use the word "fictions" to recall the portrait painted by Professor Harari in his best-selling book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
Delivering body blows to Aristotle's famous "rational animal" framework, Harari says our species drove other human groups into extinction because our ancestors developed the capacity for "gossip" and "fiction," with another instinct thrown in. Let's recall what that third attribute was:
HARARI (page 18): Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark. In modern times, a small difference in skin color, dialect or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group. Would ancient Sapiens have been more tolerant towards an entirely different human species? It may well be that when Sapiens encountered Neanderthals, the result was the first and most significant ethnic-cleansing campaign in history.According to Professor Harari, Homo sapiens is not the "tolerant" animal! We'll complete his jaundiced portrait in the following way:
Anthropologically speaking, we humans are plainly the tribal animal. And once we identify a tribal enemy, we're strongly inclined to start inventing potent group "fictions" about them.
Our mainstream "press corps" rather strongly tends to behave this way. Once they've identified a tribal/guild foe, regard for fairness and accuracy may tend to slip away.
They'll invent crazy tales about the things the tribal foe said. They'll repeat these tales again and again. They seem to love this pleasing practice. Example:
Did Al Gore say he invented the Internet? In all honesty, no—he did not.
Nor did he say that he inspired Love Story, or so said the only two journalists who were present to hear what he said. But our journalists, as a group, chose to fashion the contrary tale, and they repeated a raft of such stories for years.
Children are dead all over Iraq because these "rational animals" did this. We'd have to say that people like Cooper, Shields, Boot and Burnett were engaged in a similar activity in the past week or so as they recited embellished tales about The Vile Thing Trump Said.
As we've noted, our favorite performer in this group attack was April Ryan, a CNN contributor. We single her out because of what she implicitly acknowledged that she hadn't done:
RYAN (3/11/19): Since the president did say that in Charlottesville, some "very fine people on both sides," has he, in your opinion, or has he or us [sic], because I don't remember it, condemned the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville for their actions against the Jewish Americans there?That was Ryan on Monday afternoon. By then, she'd had the entire weekend to go back and take a look at what Trump actually said.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president has condemned neo-Nazis and called them by name...
Being a journalist, she didn't do that. Instead, our journalists tend to work from the scripts that are lodged in their heads.
Trump made his statement about "very fine people on both sides" as part of a press availability on Tuesday, August 15, 2017. Ryan could have reviewed the full transcript. She could have watched the whole tape.
Instead, she did what members of our species tend to do. She decided to rely on her memory—on that, and on the pleasing script her rock-headed guild had devised.
Huckabee Sanders told Ryan that Trump had "condemned neo-Nazis by name." We're sorry to be the killjoy here, but we'd have to say that Trump actually did that during that August 15 presser.
He also condemned "white supremacists" and "white nationalists" by name. In our view, it's hard to say that those were the people he was talking about when he said that there had been "very fine people on both sides."
Humanoids like Cooper once took delight in inventing wild statements by Candidate Gore. In December 1999, they even created one of their most destructive tales—Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!—out of a flat misquotation of Gore by the New York Times and the Washington Post.
The misquotation was corrected by a group of New Hampshire high school students who had tape of Gore's remarks. But so what? The Times and the Post, and the rest of these apes, decided to stick with their tale.
Children are dead all over Iraq because people like Shields behaved in these ways at that time. At one point, Shields' defense of Governor Bush was so inane and so absurd that it rocketed off the charts—but that's the way this gang of Sapiens was "fictionalizing" events of the world at that terrible time.
Children are dead all over Iraq because Shields and the others did that. Last Friday night, he was engaged in similar conduct—though this time, he was advancing a pleasing group fiction against a dangerous, disordered man.
We regard President Trump as disordered and therefore dangerous. People like Cooper and Shields have refused to discuss the possibility that this president, who holds the nuclear codes, is some form of "mentally ill."
We regard Trump as disordered; so do Cooper and Shields. Here's where the problem comes in:
Anthropologically speaking, once we humans form such a judgment, we're strongly inclined to start inventing powerful "fictions" about the person or group we oppose.
Accuracy tends to give way to the joys of tribal loathing. "Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark," but neither is adherence to Enlightenment values. Anyone who follows the work of our mainstream press corps has seen this anthropological principle acted out many times.
There are perfectly reasonable ways to criticize Trump's statements about Charlottesville. Simply put, that isn't the game our journalists tend to play.
Instead, they tend to invent compelling group "fictions" and repeat them as a group. This led to Cooper's statement last Friday, then on to Ryan's question.
Was Trump "talking about the neo-Nazis," as Cooper pleasingly said? Had he ever condemned neo-Nazis, as Ryan asked?
Concerning Ryan's question, we'll say this:
The march by the chanting neo-Nazis took place on Friday evening, August 11, 2017.
On Sunday, August 13, the White House released a statement in Trump's name: "The President said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred. Of course that includes white supremacists, the KKK, Neo-Nazis and all extremist groups."
On Monday, August 14, the White House issued another statement: "To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend's racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered...Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the K.K.K., neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."
On Tuesday, August 15, Trump held his aforementioned presser. He made his statement about "both sides," but he also said this:
"I've condemned neo-Nazis. I've condemned many different groups." As he continued that statement, he seemed to name "white supremacists" as one such group.
Later, he specifically said that he wasn't praising "the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally." Thus spake Donald J. Trump, on that very occasion.
Two years later, Cooper and Boot and a cast of thousands said Trump had been saying there were "very fine people" among the neo-Nazis. Boot said he had praised the chanting neo-Nazis. Working solely from memory, Ryan had no idea.
You can review the tape and transcript yourself to see what Trump may have meant by his statement about "very fine people on both sides."
We think he spells it out somewhat clearly, but he specifically says that he doesn't mean neo-Nazis.
Having said this, we'll offer one last anthropological point:
Your lizard brain won't like what we've said. "Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark!" Amazingly, that even holds true within our own self-impressed, highly incompetent tribe.
Within our tribe, as in all human tribes, we're strongly inclined to invent compelling "fictions" concerning those we oppose. It's amazing to think that you'd have to embellish facts to invent a critique of Donald J. Trump, but that's the way we "rational animals" are strongly inclined to work.
Your lizard will tell you that Shields and Cooper and all the others just basically have to be right. To that, we'll add this point:
Children are dead all over Iraq because of the conduct of these rational animals during Campaign 2000. But Shields is still featured on PBS as the network's official "nice guy," and we liberals were very pleased by what he told Judy last Friday.
There's no apparent way out of this mess. Next week, we'll return to the remarkably unimpressive work of the most exalted "rational animals" of them all.
This is the way our species works. There's no way out of this ballgame.
Next week: Mathematicians gone wild