TUESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2022
...helps script a mad, mad world: Within our fallen "political discourse," it's basically Nothing But Storyline Now. Our warring tribes run on the fuel of Storyline, on competing tribal narratives.
For a small example, consider the headline which appears today on the latest (weekly) "Conversation" between Bret Stephens and Gail Collins in the New York Times:
Welcome to the Madness of Our Trumpy, Trumpy World
That headline certainly catches the eye. From our perspective, it refers to an accurate fact:
From our perspective, we do live inside a "Trumpy, Trumpy world"—a world which is spilling with "madness," however defined. Tens of millions of voters disagree with our general point of view, but that's the way the state of play basically looks to us.
That headline plainly catches the eye—and in our view, it tends to capture the actual shape of our world. That said, we'll note one major problem with that headline:
That headline has virtually nothing to do with the weekly "Conversation" which appears beneath it—with the exchange which appears today between Bret and Gail.
Today, in their latest weekly exchange, Bret and Gail mainly discuss an important policy matter—the question of whether colleges should be allowed to consider race in their admissions decisions.
By the standards of this weekly feature, they produce a surprisingly decent exchange about this important question. That said, their full Conversation today has virtually nothing to do with Donald J. Trump, or with the existence of a "Trumpy, Trumpy world" which is madness-driven.
The eye-catching headline atop their piece has little to do with its contents—but it will almost surely please the Times' blue tribe subscribers. The eye-catching headline doesn't fit the Conversation appearing beneath it, but it captures our controlling tribal narrative—our blue tribe's view of the world.
In a small and tiny way, we'd say that headline is itself an example of the madness of our Trumpy, Trumpy world. In our view, very large amounts of madness do emerge from red tribe sources at the present time. But our own blue tribe has often reacted by churning large amounts of shaky or unhelpful Storyline ourselves.
These shaky, unhelpful narratives create a lesser form of "madness," one which is wholly our own. And no, this isn't helpful.
We blue voters meet our tribal tribunes on cable every night. They serve us our nightly platter of tribal reassurance, and our familiar platter of mandated tribal beliefs.
In the example we cited yesterday, Tali Farhadian Weinstein joined a cast of thousands in telling us that it's now clear that Donald J. Trump always knew, all along, that he lost the 2020 election.
For various reasons, we don't think the matter is anywhere near that clear. For one thing, we'll take the following guess:
We'll guess that Farhadian Weinstein thinks Trump is a much more rational player than we're inclined to do.
At any rate, an array of pundits joined Farhadian Weinstein last week, saying there's no longer any doubt. Donald Trump knows he lost the election—and he knew it all along!
Who are the people who tell us these things—who serve us our platter of tribal narrative? We plan to return to that question tomorrow. For today, let's consider a profile of one of the people who is currently scripting the other tribe's Storylines, viewpoints, beliefs.
We refer to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Greene was profiled by Robert Draper in Sunday's New York Times Magazine.
How much madness inhabits the Trumpy world within which our culture is swimming? In the passage shown below, Draper describes a widely discussed presentation Greene made to the Republican caucus shortly after she was elected to the House in November 2020.
Based on prior reporting, it's our impression that Draper's account of this event is fundamentally accurate. In this passage, we're hearing from one of the tribunes who is currently scripting red tribe Storyline and tribal belief:
DRAPER (10/16/22): Greene then tried to explain how it was that she came to embrace the conspiracy theories of the QAnon community that now scandalized the Republican Party and jeopardized her political career. “I was upset about Russian collusion conspiracy lies that I was seeing on the news every single day,” Greene recalled to her colleagues. “So I looked into the internet—and was like, ‘What is going on?’ I stumbled across something called QAnon. Yep, I did. I read about it, I posted about it, I talked about it, and I asked questions about it.”
Here, more precisely, is what she did:
By the summer of 2017, Greene had made contact online with a counselor in the New York public school system who shared her affinities for both President Donald Trump and dark conspiracy theories. That July, she began writing for the counselor’s online publication, American Truth Seekers, under her great-grandmother’s name, Elizabeth Camp.
Greene’s argument was that the “Russian collusion conspiracy lies” had created a kind of permission structure in her mind. As she would say on the House floor, “I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true.”
In this passive-voice explanation, Greene was “allowed to believe” that a Democratic staff member named Seth Rich had been murdered by Hillary Clinton’s top adviser, John Podesta, in order to cover up the fact that it was Rich, not Russia, who had leaked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks. (Later, Greene would modify this conspiracy theory: It was the Latino gang MS-13, “the henchmen of the Obama administration,” who had murdered Seth Rich.) Greene was “allowed to believe” that Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, was actually quietly working to bring down the Clintons. And that “many in our government are actively worshiping Satan.” And that Trump was single-handedly battling evil—that, as she reposted from the website MAGAPILL, “thousands of Pedophiles and Child Traffickers have been arrested since Trump was sworn in.” This “Global Evil,” she was allowed to believe, was all being funded by the Saudi royals in concert with Jewish billionaires: George Soros and the Rothschild family.
Greene believed all this, she claimed, not only because the media had made up lies about Trump but also because in some dark corner of the internet, an anonymous person claiming to have military intelligence “Q clearance” had said so.
She concluded her monologue to her new G.O.P. colleagues with an admonition: “Let’s make sure we keep our eyes on the enemy. Because they’re really wanting to take all of us out.” About a third of her colleagues rose to applaud her as she took her seat among them.
In that passage, we're barely scratching the surface of Draper's profile of Greene's bizarre alleged beliefs. The fact that people can believe such things is a lesson in what might be called "abnormal anthropology."
Not too many years ago, it might have seemed very hard to believe that any sane person would ever believe such an array of unfounded, implausible claims. By now, we've all been exposed to a startling anthropological fact:
Millions of people can be persuaded to believe such unfounded, implausible claims. It only takes the spirited leadership of people like Trump and Greene—and an anonymous person named Q.
If you say it, they will believe! It almost seems that someone once said that to Donald J. Trump.
By any conventional standard, Greene has apparently come to believe a wide array of apparently crazy claims. Her sponsorship of these apparent beliefs has helped spread these beliefs to many millions of people.
This is part of the world which is captured by this morning's New York Times headline—the headline which has virtually nothing to do with the material appearing beneath it.
The headline atop today's Conversation has virtually nothing to do with the Conversation's contents. In such perhaps peculiar ways, our blue tribe elites have tended to respond to the madness of the Trumpy world into which we've all been thrown.
That one strange headline will have zero effect on the prevailing public discourse. It's a tiny pebble on the beach compared to the giant world of unfounded, highly implausible claims which millions of red tribe voters have come to take as gospel.
That said, the headline struck us as instructively strange. In our tortured mind, it raises this key question:
How skillful have our tribunes been in responding to the madness of that "Trumpy, Trumpy world?"
How skillful have our own tribunes been in responding to that madness? Tomorrow, we'll return to a related question:
Who are the high-profile tribunes our tribe has come to trust? We'll start by asking a different question:
How wealthy is Farhadian Weinstein and the tribunes arrayed around her?
As we noted yesterday, Farhadian Weinstein is a highly accomplished person. Beyond that, she has always struck us as being completely sincere.
That said, we feel less sure about some of the other tribunes we see arrayed around her.
How wealthy are those tribal leaders? While we're at it, how deeply are those people connected within our nation's "power elite?"
Just how wealthy, and just how connected, are the people who promulgate our tribal narratives? Also, should you think it makes a difference—and why aren't you ever told?
Tomorrow: The apartment