FRIDAY, JANUARY 7, 2022
I respect you Trump voters too: We start today with two cheers for Marc Thiessen, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post.
We offer those two cheers for a very specific reason. Thiessen doesn't believe—indeed, he flatly rejects—the set of unfounded claims which are often called "The Big Lie."
Thiessen flatly rejects "The Big Lie!" You can see him reject those claims right here, in his latest column:
THIESSEN (1/6/22): At the time of the [January 6] riot, a Post-ABC News poll found that 70 percent of Republicans believed Trump’s claims that Biden’s win was illegitimate. And a year later, multiple polls show that belief has not diminished. How can that be? Trump’s claims have been thoroughly examined and discredited. Nearly every court case Trump brought was rejected not just on procedural grounds, but on examination of the facts. Even his own attorney general, William P. Barr, said there was no “fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” And yet millions of Americans still believe the election was stolen.
In Thiessen's view, Trump's claims have been "thoroughly discredited... And yet millions of Americans still believe the election was stolen," he accurately says.
Why do so many people believe that? As he continues, Thiessen blames it on the mainstream media. He says mainstream news orgs have earned the way they're distrusted by the bulk of the pro-Trump world.
We'd say there's an element of truth to that claim. On balance, we'd have to say that Thiessen is a bit too generous with the spoonfuls of blame to dollops to the mainstream media—but he does have a definite point.
Why do so many people believe the election was stolen? In the main, we would say that they believe it because that's what they've been told by the major figures they trust.
That list starts with Donald J. Trump, and proceeds from there. This phenomenon takes us back to the trolley car full of tourists with whom Ted Koppel spoke.
Koppel spoke with the tourists in June of last year. He spoke with them in Mount Airy, North Carolina, spiritual home of the still-beloved Andy Griffith Show.
The (short) discussion was broadcast on CBS Sunday Morning a few months later, in September. The tourists said they believed the 2020 election was stolen, and they seemed to be wholly sincere.
To our eye and to our ear, it seemed clear that they did believe that the election was stolen. In Thiessen's view, that's a thoroughly discredited claim.
Back in June, the tourists said that the election had been stolen. Koppel never challenged their claim or asked them to state the source of this view.
At one point, though, a woman who seemed completely sincere did in fact describe the shape of a major national problem. This was the tourist's tale:
SECOND WOMAN: We don't even watch news on TV any more. We don't feel like we're being told the truth. And we find our truth in other ways. And I won't say what those other ways are, but I feel like we're not being told the truth, because we're trying to be swayed in a direction that we know is not the right direction.
According to this woman, the pro-Trump tourists don't watch news on TV at this point. They don't feel they're being told the truth by such news programs. They feel that they're "trying to be swayed"—that mainstream TV news programs are trying to sway their beliefs.
We'd have to say there's a germ of truth to that woman's perception. On the other hand, her sense that she can't trust TV news—presumably, mainstream TV news—likely means that she's "finding her truth" in the endless pronouncements of people like Donald J. Trump.
As Thiessen notes, Trump's pronouncements "have been thoroughly examined and discredited"—but as of last June, the woman with whom Koppel spoke showed no sign of knowing or thinking any such thing.
As Thiessen further notes, recent surveys show that tens of millions of people remain in that same trolley car, or boat. This helps define the shape of a major national problem.
The politics of the past thirty years have provided us with a major learning experience. A major phenomenon has gone on display—the capacity of us the humans to believe almost any damn fool thing, no matter how unlikely or crazy it may be.
As it turns out, we humans are able to believe the darnedest things! To wit:
Some of us have been able to believe that Hillary Clinton was running a child-trafficking ring out of a pizza joint. A larger number were able to believe, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, that Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya.
Long before that, many people believed Jerry Falwell when he (literally) peddled the idea that the Clintons had conducted a bunch of murders. And an endless line of major journalists all seemed to believe these claims:
Al Gore said he invented the Internet!
Al Gore said he inspired Love Story!
Al Gore said he discovered Love Canal!
Al Gore said he grew up on a farm, even though he really grew up in a fancy hotel!
There's nothing so dumb that we people won't say it in groups! It all depends on what tribe or guild we're in, and on what our tribe or guild is expounding at some point in time.
There's nothing so dumb that we won't believe it; nothing so stupid that a large group won't say it. For those of us in the anti-Trump tribe, we can see the foolishness of The Others, but we're almost surely unable to see the mountains of bullshit being sold to us rubes Over Here.
In our view, no one in the modern age has been more disordered than Donald J. Trump, but we in our tribe come remarkably close. Our tribal behavior has often been ugly, stupid and vile—and we're wholly unable to see this.
Brief as it was, we thought Ted Koppel's colloquy with those tourists was a fascinating TV event.
We don't know why no one was wearing a mask on that small, crowded trolley car. We don't know how that particular group of tourists had been assembled.
But it seemed obvious to us that those tourists widely held the views which Thiessen says have been debunked. Also, that those tourists were completely sincere in their (mistaken) beliefs,
Koppel never challenged their claims. At one point, a different woman said this:
KOPPEL: I won't be offended. I've been a journalist all my life. When President Trump talked about the press being "the enemy of the people"—
SECOND WOMAN: They are! And I love President Trump. And I love that man. I do.
THIRD WOMAN: I just hope when this airs, it won't show Southerners as a bunch of dumb idiots like so many parts of the country do, you know? We have a lot of love in our hearts. We love our country. We love our fellow man.
Those tourists seemed to love Donald J. Trump—and they said they were good, decent people. Over Here in our self-impressed tribe, we tend to find it very hard to put such claims together.
Yesterday, President Bidne pushed back aggressively against the discredited claims of Trump. Many people are glad that he did. On balance, we share that view.
People routinely talk about Trump's "Big Lie," but we've never been completely sure that his claims are a "lie" at all.
We regard Donald J. Trump as hugely disordered. It has never been clear to us that he doesn't believe the things he says—and our mainstream press corps, childish to the very end, has steadfastly refused to discuss the questions of Trump's possible mental and cognitive health.
(They refused to do so even when his niece, a trained psychologist, wrote a major best-selling book which explicitly brought such questions to the fore. Simply put, our upper-end press corps persistently works at a remedial level. In almost every way, they're geared to dumbing things down.)
At any rate, Ted Koppel's trolley talk brought a major national problem into view. Our nation is split into two large tribes—and those tribes can't agree on what's true.
A large modern nation simply can't function this way. We think President Biden is right to challenge Trump's discredited factual claims. But what should he say to those people on that trolley?
I respect and admire you Trump voters too. I think you've been misled this time, and I very much want to tell you why I say that.
That said, you're my neighbors and you're my friends. You'll always be my fellow citizens, pretty much all the way down.
How about something like that? Given the dumbness of our tribe, why can't the people on that trolley walk away with some small respect too?