THURSDAY, JANUARY 21, 2021
Joe Biden and Limbaugh instead: On this one somewhat happier day, we hate to return to the question under review:
How much harm has been done to the good, decent children of Flint?
We'll push our discussion back one day, For today, we'll focus briefly on Joe Biden and Rush Limbaugh instead.
Yesterday, a bit before noon, Biden became the American president. He then delivered his inaugural address. We'll note a few things he said.
We'll note this part of his speech as we start. The president's highlighted statement is accurate, but it's also remarkably limited:
BIDEN (1/20/21): Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine, a saint of my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love. What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans? I think I know. Opportunity. Security. Liberty. Dignity. Respect. Honor. And, yes, the truth.
Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders—leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation—to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.
"There is truth and there are lies," the new president said.
Each part of that statement is accurate. But the overall statement is remarkably limited, and it invites us to fail in a daunting task, a task the new president urges.
Concerning the existence of truth, Boise is the capital of Idaho; two plus two does make four. These are clear examples of "truth." There's plenty of truth in the world.
There are also plenty of lies. But as people have understood until recently, there are also a wide array of misstatements which aren't, or may not be, lies.
There are false statements made in good faith. Such errors are made all the time.
There are also misleading statements which are technically accurate. There are ironic statements, perhaps even jokes, where the speaker's intention may be misunderstood.
There are pleasing narratives, Storylines, which distort our wider vision. And, as people once understood, it's often very hard to know if some other person is lying.
In recent years, we liberals have loved to accuse the others of lies. In doing so, we create debates we can't hope to win. In the process, we tend to heighten the tribal divisions Biden has said we should end.
In truth, the new president's highlighted statement was strikingly simplistic. That said, it fits a simple-minded view of the world we have adopted, here in Our Town,very much as our own.
The new president went on to say that there are "lies told for power and for profit." Undoubtedly, that statement is true, and it leads us toward Rush Limbaugh.
In this morning's New York Times, Jeremy Peters reports some recent remarks by Limbaugh. In fact, the remarks were made yesterday afternoon. Here's part of Peters' report:
PETERS (1/21/21): Rush Limbaugh, broadcasting his weekday radio show a few miles from the Palm Beach retreat where Mr. Trump is spending the first days of his post-presidency, told his millions of listeners on Wednesday that the inauguration of Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris did not make them the rightful winners of the election.
“They have not legitimately won yet,” Mr. Limbaugh said, noting that he would be on “thin ice” for making such a claim. He then gave his listeners a false and inflated vote total for Mr. Trump and predicted the Democratic victories would be “fleeting.”
“I think they know, with 74 million, maybe 80 million people who didn’t vote for Joe Biden, there is no way they can honestly say to themselves that they represent the power base in the country,” Mr. Limbaugh said.
Biden and Harris "have not legitimately won yet,” Limbaugh is quoted saying. From there, Peters' account of what Limbaugh said gets a little bit fuzzy.
According to official totals, 74.2 million people voted for Trump. We're not sure why Peters says that Limbaugh gave "a false vote total for trump."
According to the leading authority, almost three million additional votes went to candidates other than Biden. That moves the total who didn't vote for Biden closer to 89 million.
That said, why hasn't Biden "legitimately won?" Did Limbaugh try to support his claim?
Peters never attempts to explain. What follows was somewhat clearer:
PETERS (continuing directly): On One America News, viewers saw a lengthy documentary-style segment called “Trump: Legacy of a Patriot” instead of the inauguration. One of the network’s commentators, Pearson Sharp, provided the voice-over and offered only flattering words about the former president while he leveled false claims about voter fraud.
Mr. Sharp repeated many of the discredited excuses that have formed the alternate version of events that Mr. Trump and his followers are using to explain his loss. The host claimed, for instance, that Mr. Trump couldn’t have been defeated because he won the bellwether state of Ohio and carried so many more counties than Mr. Biden did. “And yet somehow we’re still expected to believe that Joe Biden got more votes than any president in history,” Mr. Sharp said.
Did OAN's Preston Sharp (actual name!) actually make those ridiculous (paraphrased) claims? Did he really say that Candidate Biden couldn't have won because Candidate Trump won Ohio?
Did he really say that Biden must have lost because Trump won more counties, presumably nationwide? Those would be transcendently stupid claims. Sadly, though, we know of no reason to doubt that Sharp (real name!) may have made them.
This sort of thing has been going on roughly forever. Utterly ridiculous claims have been broadcast for many years. Along the way, these ridiculous claims have been tied to oodles of profit.
As has become abundantly clear, many people believe such absurd misstatements. For roughly the past twenty years, we've said this about that:
When people like Limbaugh and Hannity broadcast such claims, it should be treated as front-page news. Today, the New York Times placed Peters' report deep inside, on page B4.
For the record, when people believe and repeat such claims, they're emitting absurd misstatements. But unless we've decided to change the English language, such people are not "telling lies."
In recent years, the children who live in the streets of Our Town have been eager to change the language. Because we're almost as dumb as the others, we seem to think that accusing people of "lies" is more effective and accurate, in some undisclosed way, than accusing them of having made "absurd / unsupported misstatements."
That's how childish we've turned out to be over here in Our Town! And since the L-bomb is a fairly obvious "fighting word," it seems to us that we harm our own interests when we play the tribal game in this pleasing way.
The statement by Biden posted above is, in a word, simple-minded. It's true that the world is full of "lies." But as Hamlet thoughtfully said, "There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
The world isn't just truth and lies. It's also damn-fool stupidity and gross self-regard, each of which is widely observed here in the streets of Our Town.
We end with a second statement about Biden's speech, and with a statement about Rachel Maddow and the children of Flint:
The president went on make these remarks. They shape the key message of his address. We agree with every word:
BIDEN: I understand that many Americans view the future with some fear and trepidation...
But the answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you do, or worship the way you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do.
We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility.
As my mom would say just for a moment, stand in their shoes. Because here’s the thing about life. There’s no accounting for what fate will deal you. Some days when you need a hand, there are other days when we’re called to lend a hand.
Biden suggested at several points that we must learn to stand in the others' shoes as we seek to rebuild our national unity. At each juncture, it seemed to us that those in Our Town might hear that as advice delivered to the others, not to us right here in Our Town.
In Their Town, many people believe the things they hear from Limbaugh and OAN. Over here, in the streets of Our Town, we seem to trust Rachel Maddow.
What happened to the "poisoned" children of Flint? We return to that question tomorrow.
Coming tomorrow: Kevin Drum's statistics. Also, what The New Yorker said