Charlottesville, Nazis and Confederate Monuments: Myths, Lies, Absurdities and Insanities

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Another tragic demonstration of extremist lunacy. Another subsequent orgy of false equivalence and general stupidity. But this time was different. This time we had the acting president of the United States repeating and amplifying the deranged fringe media rhetoric. Here were some of the most notably absurd, delusional, hateful and downright idiotic reactions to Charlottesville:

1. “Both sides are to blame”

It’s inevitable that whenever a gaggle of right-wing miscreants get caught doing something unpleasant, their defenders will try to defend them by resorting to the “both sides” tactic. “Both sides are equally to blame”. The other side does it too. It’s a result of conflict from “many sides”.

This is never an encouraging bit of rhetorical legerdemain, but in this case it was especially chilling: the supposed leader of the free world declared — twice — that Nazis were morally equivalent to those taking a stand against them. Nazis, he insisted, weren’t all really Nazis or white supremacists, and included some “very fine people”.  As usual, he merely was brainlessly parroting his media enablers, who declared that the demonstrators had “a reason” to be there.  The White House Occupant also tried to defend the white supremacists by saying that they had a permit, and that “the other group didn’t”.  The former is irrelevant; the latter is a baldfaced lie. The counterprotesters did indeed have a permit of their own.

Coincidentally, the white supremacists who are rallying and stirring up violence around the country are the putative president’s most solid base, the main choir he is preaching to — the hardcore supporters who view him as their messiah who will lead them to their Promised Land of ivory purity. It was they, more than anyone, who praised his remarks about Charlottesville — while also praising the murderous driver and belittling and insulting Heather Heyer, the woman he killed. Very fine people, very fine.

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2. What about violence on the other side?

Hand in hand with bothsidesism, you have whataboutism. Like a schoolyard brat caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he often tries to deflect focus away from his culpability by accusing someone else of something.

What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right?’ Do they have any semblance of guilt…. What about the fact they came charging with clubs in hands, swinging clubs?

Once again he’s just echoing unfounded rumors.  There’s been no evidence of any violence by counterprotesters, nothing more than using mace to defend themselves when they were surrounded, threatened and assaulted by the “very fine” Nazis — who were the only ones swinging clubs.  The Cult Of Trumpery, however, has been so desperate to pin blame for violence on the antifascists that they have circulated a fake photo of one of them assaulting a police officer.

3. The “alt-left”

Not only does the putative president parrot the loony ideas of the fringe media, he also uses their vocabulary. There is no such thing as the “alt-left”.  What exactly would an “alt-left” do, anyway? Gang up on people and try to give them healthcare?

“Alt-left” is a label made up by the “alt-right” to help advance a false equivalence.  And while “alt-right” is itself a label of questionable accuracy (which is to say, it’s a euphemism used to cover up fascism and white supremacy), it is at least a legitimate category because it was coined and self-applied by the right-wingers themselves. There is no comparable label, or coalition, on the left.

4. Greasing the slope

It’s a very common tactic, almost a knee-jerk reaction, for right-wing extremists to attach the term slippery slope to any action that doesn’t meet their seal of approval. They never seem to apply it to any situation where it’s actually appropriate — i.e., environmental plundering or the intrusion of religion into government — but they are ever eager to apply it to situations it doesn’t fit.

If we take down Confederate statues, say the putative president and his puppeteers, then it won’t be long before we’re taking down statues of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln, and demolishing Mt. Rushmore. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that they’re comparing a group of historical figures who fought to establish, strengthen and protect the union to a group who fought to rip it apart.

The metaphor of a slippery slop works only if you are talking about a continuum of possible events along the same slope. Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are on a totally different slope, and indeed an opposing slope, from Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. No, it still isn’t comparable just because Washington and Jefferson owned slaves; Lee and Jackson not only owned slaves, they waged a war against their own country to protect the very institution of slavery.

Most preposterously, some members of the punditocracy even suggested that maybe book burning will come next on the slope. Apparently, they’re blissfully unaware that Confederate monuments are being defended by neo-Nazis; and it was Nazis themselves who were among the most infamous book burners.

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4. Those beautiful statues

Another of the putative president’s tactics was to bemoan the destruction of such beautiful works of art as the Confederate monuments. But no monuments have actually been destroyed, nor is that the plan. The plan is to move them to museums, or somewhere besides the public forum.  Even the one that was torn down by citizens in North Carolina is currently stashed in a warehouse until someone figures out what else to do with it.

And the neo-Nazi mob that gathered in Charlottesville was not there to protect statues. It was there to take a stand for white supremacy — as its swastikas, Confederate flags and chants of “We won’t be replaced” and the like make clear.

Your putative president is obviously very concerned about the preservation of beautiful historical markers. So much so that he’s willing to erect one himself on his golf course, in commemoration of a battle that never occurred. Good thing he’s so adamantly opposed to “fake news”.

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5. Birds of a feather

Those folks in North Carolina were understandably upset about the Charlottesville incident. Even so, their angry reaction was in itself rather dumb. They should have been aware that the punditocracy is constantly on the lookout for any little event they can tout as proof that “liberals” are unruly scum. And guess what? That’s exactly what happened.

It was a different group in Durham, and a much smaller one — just 10 people appear to have participated in actually toppling the statue. But the punditocracy wasted no time in lumping them all together, and declaring that they were all representative of the violent and unsavory Left in general. But they didn’t stop there; they also lumped the protesters together with the Taliban, with the Khmer Rouge, with ISIS — with anyone who’s ever taken down a statue in any manner for any reason.

A few hours later, vandals spray-painted the Lincoln Memorial in Washington with graffiti. (So, Mr. President, was the Memorial equally to blame?)  As of this writing, there is no word on who the guilty party was, or whether they had any particular motive, or what their ideology was, if any, other than destructiveness. What we do know is that this was one of a spate of such vandal attacks that have occurred in DC over the past few months; and there appears to be no rhyme or reason to them.  They have targeted the Lincoln Memorial before, as well as the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the Smithsonian Institution. Messages have included “Jackie Shot JFK” and a reference to 9-11.

No matter. As far as the reactionaries were concerned, this latest attack on the Lincoln Memorial was obviously related to Durham and Charlottesville, and was more conclusive proof that them librulz are all a bunch of lawless thugs. It never seems to have occurred to any of them that Lincoln was about as far on the other side of the racism divide as you can get.

Needless to say, we’ve seen the same tactic after a gang of hooded, self-branded “anarchists” crashed a peaceful demonstration in Berkeley more recently. There’s a big difference between anarchist and antifascist — except in the brains of reactionaries.

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6. “Erasing history”

This is the most absurd spin of all, so naturally it’s the most frequently invoked. Eliminating Confederate statues, they say, is an effort by them librulz to erase history and rewrite it to their liking. As if statues are the way we encapsulate, preserve and transmit history. As some people have noted, you’d be very hard pressed to find a monument to Hitler anywhere in the world; yet virtually everyone everywhere in the world knows perfectly well who he was, what he did, and even what he looked like. Monuments do not exist as vessels of history, but as vessels of emotion. (More about that in a moment.)

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Newt Gingrich, whose neurons have not held up well under advancing age, even proclaimed:

And you have a great deal of people on the left who if they could destroy our entire memory of America, they would wipe it out and we would have no knowledge of what it meant to be an American.

There is no reason for you to be this stupid too. So here are two facts Mr. Gingrich is trying to ignore: it was the Confederacy that fought to wipe out “what it meant to be American”.  It is the people who defend the Confederacy who are trying to destroy the memory of what happened.

Far from erasing history, removing Confederate monuments is an effort to get history straight — to cease making heroes of men who fought against their own nation in the deadliest American war ever, for the cause of continuing the practice of brutally enslaving countless others. (And yes, the Civil War really was about slavery.)  And while it’s true that the Founding Fathers also declared war against their own country and were considered traitors, the cause could not have been more different: eliminating oppression as opposed to preserving it.

It doesn’t work to glibly say “heritage, not hate”, because the Confederate heritage is a heritage of hate. And it’s especially bizarre to hear Santayana’s maxim “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” spouted in defense of mobs displaying the swastika and the “heil Hitler” salute.

7. Butwhatabout Muslims?

“Okay, so the Confederates attacked the United States. But so have Muslims. So if we’re going to remove Confederate monuments, shouldn’t we also remove mosques?” That, in all seriousness, was an argument made by an Oklahoma lawmaker, and picked up by many of his kindred spirits on social media.

Have you ever heard anyone suggest the removal of churches because the Confederates were Christians? You’d probably never think of holding Christianity accountable because millions of traitors were Christians; so why would you hold Islam accountable because an infinitely smaller handful of terrorists have been Muslim? (Particularly when terrorist attacks are carried out more often by white Christians than anyone else.)

If, though, there were statues of Osama bin Laden on U.S. soil, it might not be a bad idea to remove them. But there aren’t any. Because Americans had the good sense not to erect any in the first place. There are, however, countless statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson — who killed far more Americans than bin Laden did.  So why the preferential treatment? Are we cutting them slack because they were Americans too? That says we consider it not only acceptable but heroic and honorable to commit mass slaughter and devastation against America if you’re American and a traitor to boot; and that doesn’t speak very highly of our values. Or are we cutting them slack because they were white Christians? I shouldn’t have to tell you what that says about us.

8. Defensive about offensiveness

Also making the rounds on social media was this little gem:

Ok, I can play “Lets Erase History” Erase Welfare, Food Stamps, Free Housing & College – that’s OFFENSIVE to those of us that WORK

You have to be impressed when anyone can compress so much nonsense into such a small space. We’ve already discussed the straw man of “erasing history”. It’s unclear what “free housing and college” is supposed to be referring to but this meme is evidently changing the subject by paying homage to a number of myths about public assistance (“welfare”).

For one thing, there’s the myth that Americans can be neatly divided into either working stiffs or welfare bums. In reality, most “welfare” recipients also work — including quite a few military families. Thus, it’s absurd to suggest that working people on the whole resent “welfare” recipients. There’s also the myth that funding these assistance programs significantly drains the pocket of the average American. In reality, if you earn 50,000 a year, you pay about 10 cents a day for “welfare” — as opposed to about $16.50 a day to support corporations.

The biggest red herring here, however, is the use of the word “offensive”. The official spin is that the whole reason people want to take down Confederate monuments is that they are “offensive” to African-Americans. And hey, so what if they are thereby reminded of the bondage and torture and persecution their forebears endured? They should just get over it like us white folk have done.

It’s probably true that these monuments stir some unpleasant feelings among many African-Americans, but that isn’t the main reason for taking them down. The big problem is not the reaction they provoke among some blacks, but the reaction they provoke among some whites. Monuments, as mentioned, are not erected for the purpose of preserving history. They are erected for the purpose of preserving and inciting emotion – generally pride, honor, duty, etc.

So what response do these monuments provoke in today’s white supremacists? Exactly the response they were designed to. And that’s the main reason they need to come down.

9. Confederate flag and rainbow flag

Meanwhile, back at the loony bin of fairandbalanced Fox “News”. Star Parker declared that the Confederate flag and the rainbow flag “represent the exact same thing”. Parker, by the way, is both a right-wing extremist and an African-American; as such, she’s a popular token black on outlets like Fox, much like the appropriately deranged fellow who keeps popping up at presidential rallies. You have to hand it to them for doing their part for racial equality by demonstrating that African-Americans can be just as dopey as anyone else if they put their minds to it.

10. Butwhatabout Black Lives Matter

Speaking of African-Americans, there’s been another popular thread among reactionaries in comparing the antifascists to Black Lives Matter. And the comparison is somewhat valid, but not in the way they intend. The antifascists are peaceful protesters, and so are those affiliated with Black Lives Matter — which, unlike the guy in the White House, denounces violence promptly and unequivocally.

11. False flag

It goes without saying that, as usual, the right-wing loony fringe media from which your putative president obtains his Real News went ballistic with the conspiracy theories.  The organizer of the Nazi demonstration was actually a “liberal” spy. It was all a setup by Democrats. Obama was behind it. Hillary was behind it. Black Lives Matter was behind it. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe was behind it. Jews were behind it. Extraterrestrial lizard people were behind it. Etc., etc., etc.

12. What matters to the putative president

And of course in delivering his remarks about Charlottesville, the putative president made certain to emphasize what mattered to him most about the community: he owns a house and a winery there. And it is, naturally, the biggest and best winery in the whole fucking galaxy.

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The Myth Of Red State Repression (and “Coastal Elites”)

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The good news is that Americans are having conversations about the steep ideological divide that threatens to rip the nation asunder. The bad news is that the discussions invariably revolve around the same absurd narrative: that the interests of Red State voters have been long ignored, repressed, marginalized, swept under the rug. The official spin on the surprise outcome of the 2016 presidential election is that folks in the Heartland were “sickandtired” of being snubbed by the “coastal elites” — so they voted for a self-absorbed billionaire from the rolling plains of Manhattan.

Even Blue State progressives have had a hand in spreading such arrant nonsense. TED Talks hosted a discussion titled Political Common Ground in a Polarized United States. And whom did they choose to have this forum with? Right-wing pundit David Brooks and, for balance… right-wing pundit Gretchen Carlson. In a way, this makes sense. The TED audiences tend to be overwhelmingly progressive (that’s “liberal” to those in the Red States), so yes, maybe it would be constructive for them to hear from the other side of the fence. And as right-wing pundits go, Brooks and Carlson are extremely civil, sane, congenial, and even likable. Just think, TED could have invited Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter instead.

But even though their message was delivered politely and with humor, it was still at heart the same message one normally hears steeped in lye: “you guys need to bow down to us more. Just let us have everything our way, and we’ll all get along”. When one person in the audience asked them to explain how Blue Staters could understand Red Staters better and what evidence there is that Red Staters are trying to understand Blue Staters, Brooks replied:

I would say — and this is someone who has been conservative all my adult life — when you grow up conservative, you learn to speak both languages. Because if I’m going to listen to music, I’m not going to listen to Ted Nugent. So a lot of my favorite rock bands are all on the left. If I’m going to go to a school, I’m going probably to school where the culture is liberal. If I’m going to watch a sitcom or a late-night comedy show, it’s going to be liberal. If I’m going to read a good newspaper, it’ll be the New York Times. As a result, you learn to speak both languages… The problem now that’s happened is you have ghettoization on the right, and you can live entirely in rightworld, so as a result, the quality of argument on the right has diminished, because you’re not in the other side all the time. But I do think if you’re living in Minnesota or Iowa or Arizona, the coastal elites make themselves aware to you, so you know the language well, but it’s not the reverse.

Even while acknowledging in an unguarded moment that the real problem is “ghettoization on the right”, he couches that offhand admission in a by-the-numbers commentary that may not have been the most inane of possible responses, but certainly was in the running. The irony appears totally lost on him of having a person who works in, and distributes right-wing commentary from, the New York and East Coast media (one of a swarm of locusts who do so), bemoaning the “coastal elites” and the leftist media oligarchy that stifles the right-wing message.

And does he really believe that white rural Bible Belt neo-Confederates “speak both languages” just because the nation’s leading newspaper (which they never read) is supposedly left-leaning, or because instructors at major universities (which most of them don’t attend) insist on presenting pesky facts that refuse to fit right-wing ideology, or because most of the pop culture they consume is created by individuals who hold progressive values in private life?

Evidently Brooks, while claiming to listen to musicians besides Ted Nugent, has never noticed that most of them don’t go around singing about their librul lifestyles and convictions. They’re far more likely to sing about their struggles to get there, and their roots in the cotton fields, coal mines and lumber yards. They usually sing songs about the triumphs and tragedies of ordinary everyday people, Blue State and Red State and Purple State. Likewise, most of the movies and TV shows don’t present stories about being glamorous movie stars; they present stories about working folks from all walks of life, all regions of the country. Indeed, many of those stories are specifically Red State stories and/or cater to a specifically Red State audience.  So once again, Mr. Brooks, what exactly do the Texas cattle ranchers and West Virginia miners and Alaska fishermen do that is comparable to this in terms of reaching across the divide?

In addition to buying into and promoting the Red State Repression Myth and evidently the Liberal Media Myth, Brooks also apparently subscribes to what we might call the NewYorkandCalifornia Myth. The aforementioned Hannity, recently exhorting his viewers to harass any media outlet who dared to question his beloved president, urged his minions to remind the librulmedia that there is a world beyond DC and New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco. Punchline: as he sat in his plush studio in the middle of the Big Apple.

According to Red State mythology, the Heartland is peopled by God-fearing, hard-working True Americans (the only True Americans), while NewYorkandCalifornia is populated with terrorists, criminals from Mexico, black hoodlums, communists, “coastal elites” (including, presumably, folks in BuffaloandBarstow), welfare cheats, and above all, Them Librulz. Thus, it’s very important to protect the Real America from NewYorkandCalifornia, which among other things is supposed to justify clinging to the dinosaur of the electoral college. Interestingly, those who fear being dominated by the heavily populated NewYorkandCalifornia and endowing its “coastal elites” with a strong voice in public policy seem to have no concerns at all about the second most populous state: the fast-growing Republic Of Texas, which not only has its own share of wealthy snobs, but even its own coast beside which they can practice their elitism.

In the real universe (with which Fox “News” talking headlesses have barely a passing familiarity) NewYorkandCalifornia consists of two very different states on opposite sides of the continent. What they have in common is a lot of people, an astounding variety of people, including rednecks and racists. They may not be people who work in wheat fields, but they work in an amazing variety of other fields; and many of them have worked in the wheat fields in the past. Coastal cities are filled with people who are refugees not only from other countries, but from Red State America, which they’ve often left to pursue economic opportunity or freedom from persecution. It may not be fair to say that NewYorkandCalifornia, as opposed to KansasandNebraska, is the Real America, but it certainly is a much richer cross-section of the diversity that comprises America. (And I speak in part from personal experience, having spent 15 years in San Francisco and the better part of 3 in L.A., as well as a fair amount of time in both the state and city of New York.)

As for the claim that Red State America has been snubbed and underrepresented in government and public policy, that’s the most laughable notion of all, as a few basic and irrefutable facts will establish.

FACT: In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million votes more than her opponent. But he still was awarded the White House, thanks to an archaic system designed specifically to skew elections in favor of (what would become) Red State voters.

FACT: This electoral system is so lopsided that at present a presidential vote in Wyoming carries nearly 4 times as much weight as a vote in California (which is part of deep blue NewYorkandCalifornia). And the disparity is growing worse — or better if you’re a Republican.

FACT: The previous Republican president also lost the popular vote and, in all likelihood, the electoral vote as well. But he was awarded the White House by a wide-reaching network of family connections.

FACT: Since they seized control of Congress in 2010, the GOP has indulged in ferocious gerrymandering, which methodically carves up districts so that minority voters (who overwhelmingly vote Democratic) will have minimal impact on the election outcome. This might very well guarantee a permanent majority in the House, even if Democrats get more votes.

FACT: Republicans in recent years also have undertaken a massive, systematic campaign to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters on the pretext of preventing (virtually nonexistent) voter fraud. This was a major factor in the 2000 election, before which the state of Florida purged tens of thousands of supposedly suspected former felons (and probable Democratic voters) from the rolls. A study conducted after the 2016 election found that in Wisconsin alone (which went red by a margin of 22,748 votes) about 200,000 perfectly qualified (and likely overwhelmingly Democratic) voters were prevented from casting a ballot.

FACT: During the last year of Obama’s administration, the GOP refused to even consider a Supreme Court Nominee. Then, as soon as they got one of their guys in office, they exercised the “nuclear option” on his nominee, to prevent Democrats from delaying his confirmation.

FACT: After consolidating its grip on the government in the recent election, the GOP has dramatically ramped up its efforts to make cities “less liberal” with preemptive and vindictive measures designed to prevent cities from enacting laws that protect the environment, laborers, the LGBT community, or anything else the GOP views as a “liberal” cause.

FACT: Republicans make up considerably less than half of the voting population (about 29 percent actually registered Republican, and another 10 percent or so who lean Republican).Yet they control the White House, the House Of Representatives by a 47 seat margin, the Senate by a 4 seat margin, the Supreme Court, 34 governorships, 31 state Houses, and 35 state Senates.

In short, Republicans enjoy an advantage in government at all levels that is far out of proportion to their representation in the general population. And they have made it very clear that they will do absolutely anything it takes to not only maintain that power but expand it. There is indeed a huge swath of the country that is being repressed, suppressed, oppressed and marginalized. But if you really believe that swath is tinged crimson, then you are severely colorblind.

The Swiftboating of CNN: “Working the Refs”

 

 

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He’s at it again. Apparently immune to self-humiliation, a certain self-described “citizen journalist” with a long history of producing dishonest and deceptively edited videos has released another one. His previous efforts have gotten him arrested, sued, forced to pay $100,000, and repeatedly debunked and proclaimed a sham even by (some of) his fellow right-wing fanatics. But he still gets plenty of media exposure for being a fraudulent hack, so he still keeps doing it.  And this time he has a target that his fans are particularly eager to pounce on: CNN.

It’s astounding, and slightly amusing in a perverse way, to hear how often people peg CNN as a staunchly “liberal” network, whatever that means. Mention to one of your right-wing friends or relatives what a cesspool Fox “News” is, and chances are the Pavlovian response will be something like “Oh yeah? Well what about CNN?” During the recent presidential campaign it was common for reactionaries to refer to it as the Clinton News Network. And the current White House Occupant himself, who simply parrots brainlessly whatever he hears from the loony fringe media, has declared the network to be “fake news” and barred it from media conferences.

All of which is supremely ironic; CNN is also a frequent target of criticism by Media Matters, which is devoted to exposing “conservative misinformation”.  In fact, almost every day, Media Matters documents at least one instance of right-wing bias at CNN — evidently the highest frequency of any non-Fox media source. Furthermore, CNN has hired two of the White House Occupant’s lackeys as commentators. And lest we forget, it gave us a decade or so of Lou Dobbs, who, while nominally a centrist, railed against President Obama in a manner reminiscent of Father Coughlin railing against FDR, and now has found a home at Fox. CNN also has offered a frequent platform to the likes of George Will, Robert Novak, Charles Krauthammer, William Bennett, Jonah Goldberg, Tucker Carlson, and even Pat Robertson and Ann Coulter.

Of course, the network also has its instances of left-wing bias. But that’s just the point. Whatever its shortcomings may be as a journalistic source (and it does indeed have some) it’s rather balanced ideologically.  The Pew Research Center ranked it slightly left of center based on the ideology of the average viewer:

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And bear in mind that such a criterion as viewership probably makes CNN seem more left-leaning that it really is, since progressive (“liberal”) viewers face more limited options — as witness the domination of the media landscape by a rabid Fox,  which sends other networks scrambling to match its strides.

So why would the right-wing punditocracy single out such a relatively middle-of-the-road network to externally brand as the flagship of the legendary (and largely mythical) librulmedia? Simple: precisely because it is relatively middle-of-the-road. Establishing CNN as a benchmark for “liberal bias” by playing up its leftward tilts and ignoring its rightward tilts, the manipulators hope to utterly discredit anything even slightly left of center.

Immediately after the fraudulent anti-CNN video was released, White House spokesbot Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared that any media criticizing her president is “fake news” and in almost the same breath urged everyone to watch the video, “whether it’s accurate or not”. The head can’t stop reeling from the bombardment of irony these days.

Meanwhile, the White House exploited the video in a fundraising letter (Fundraising?? Wasn’t the point of electing a pampered billionaire so the president wouldn’t be so dependent on the public’s money?), citing it as proof that CNN is “pushing phony news stories to boost their ratings, rile up their (wait for it) rabid liberal base, and take us down”.

It’s a tactic that Eric Alterman describes nicely in his book What Liberal Media?, which is well summed up in a column at The Nation. (It is Alterman, by the way, from whom I have borrowed the strikingly appropriate term punditocracy.) He quotes then-chair of the GOP Rich Bond:

If you watch any great coach, what they try to do is ‘work the refs.’ Maybe the ref will cut you a little slack on the next one.

Right-wingers have carried this strategy to outrageous extremes. They howl about the “liberal bias” of the media any time there is a news report that does not reinforce their narratives and beliefs. It’s all part of a strategy to work the refs, shift the goalposts and tilt the playing field. And it’s paying off handsomely.

The ultimate objectives in crying wolf over the librulmedia are twofold: first, to bully media outlets into being even more right-leaning than they already are, and second, to have mainstream news outlets branded as radically leftist in the mind of the public; and by comparison, then, an unhinged right-wing outlet like Fox will be perceived as … well, fair and balanced.  And we’ve already traveled very far down that Orwellian road.

 

“Snowflake”: Anatomy of a Slur

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The popularity of “snowflake” as the cutesy insult du jour is both very interesting and rather disturbing. It’s used, of course, by the Cult Of Trumpery to belittle those who refuse to join the cult, but it’s particularly intended to single out them librulz — on the apparent assumption that nobody else possibly could be alarmed by the rise of fascism in America.

One fascinating thing about this epithet is its astronomical irony. Calling someone a snowflake is meant mainly to suggest that they are fragile, overly sensitive, easily damaged or offended. But the people applying the label are doing so in defense of a petulant toddler who, among many other things, threw a tantrum against Nordstrom for dropping his daughter’s merchandise; against the cast of Hamilton for supposedly booing Mike Pence (they didn’t); against Saturday Night Live for lampooning him almost as well as he lampoons himself; and against the media and even the National Park Service for accurately reporting the size of his inauguration crowd (just let that one sink in).

And his fans themselves are often prone to gross overreactions even as they berate other people for being “snowflakes”. Recently there was a viral story about a Massachusetts man who wrote a letter to the editor of his local paper expressing his disgust with a yard sign that said “Hate has no home here”.  A 13-year-old boy penned a response that was absolutely priceless, and gives a person hope that the U.S. may have a future after all. He closes his letter by pointing out the absurdity of someone (supposedly an adult) becoming unhinged over a benevolent yard sign, and then disparaging others for their “snowflake sensitivity”.

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Another characteristic of (literal) snowflakes that may be suggested by this appellation is their uniqueness — it’s become proverbial that no two of them are alike. And there is speculation that the current application of the word was inspired by a line from the 1999 film Fight Club (based on the vastly superior Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name):

You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.

And consider the irony of this: if members of the Cult Of Trumpery really are ridiculing dissenters for their supposedly vain perception of personal specialness, they also are tacitly acknowledging that they themselves subscribe to a mindless herd mentality.

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What’s most disturbing about “snowflake”, however, is its white nationalist connotations. It has been widely reported that the term originated in Nazi Germany, where it was applied derisively to Jews because the ash from the crematoriums reminded soldiers of snow falling.

Mind you, there is no solid evidence that this story is true. But then, the Cult Of Trumpery has been more than willing to buy into all manner of unfounded beliefs and rumors: Obama is a Kenyan Muslim; Hillary caused the deaths in Benghazi; the Clinton Foundation committed fraud; climate change is a hoax; millions voted illegally; Muslims cheered on 9-11; immigrants pose a threat to the economy and to safety; Obama “apology tour”; death panels; etc., etc., etc., etc. So it’s not very likely that they’ve questioned this myth, either. In other words, it appears that many of them have called people “snowflakes” while believing that the term has its roots in the Third Reich.

Furthermore, there is a troubling etymology that is much more substantially documented. During the Civil War era, it was common for white racists to refer sarcastically to African-Americans as “snowballs” — a usage which already had been around for a century or so — and this later morphed into “snowflakes”. Unlike the Nazi narrative, this one is unquestionably true. (We might note that abolitionists also applied the term to those who supported slavery; but in this usage it was deriding people who perceived themselves as superior rather than deriding people whom the user of the label perceived as inferior.)

So the big question here (aside from why such folks consider it so important to ridicule other people at all) is this: given the widely reported belief that “snowflake” is of Nazi origin, and given its unquestionable racist associations, why do so many people nonetheless embrace it so wholeheartedly?

Protests Against Logical Fallacies

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By any measure, the Women’s March that occurred on Jan. 21 was a resounding success, with an estimated participation in Washington of some 470,000 and an estimated participation worldwide of about 4 million in more than 100 countries. Accordingly, it has come under attack from Trump supporters –even though the event was not specifically geared as an anti-Trump protest — who have summoned a smorgasbord of logical fallacies as justification for their criticism.

Many Internet memes making the rounds suggested that the marchers were just spoiled whiners and sore losers; one compared the circumstances of American women to the plight of women elsewhere in the world, including:

Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive, no rights and must always be covered.
China and India, infantcide (sic) of baby girls.

Afghanistan, unequal education rights.
Democratic Republic of Congo, where rapes are brutal and women are left to die, or HIV infected and left to care for children alone.

Mali, where women can not escape the torture of genital mutilation.

Pakistan, in tribal areas where women are gang raped to pay for men’s crime.

This is an example of the fallacy of relative privation , more colloquially known as the “not as bad as” fallacy. Its premise is that you have no right to complain if other people have it worse than you. By this reasoning, you have no right to seek medical attention for a broken arm because other people are dying of cancer. And ultimately, you have no right to seek redress for anything, because there’s always theoretically someone who has it worse.

There was also the corollary of this premise, which we might call the fallacy of relative merit or the “not as good as” fallacy. For example there was this photo:

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With the caption: THESE ARE THE WOMEN REALLY MARCHING FOR YOUR RIGHTS.

The implication is that because the march on Washington didn’t require the kind of courage and risk that attends putting on a uniform and putting your life on the line, it’s not a valid campaign for human rights. Again, we could say that essentially nothing is as worthy an action as something else, and thus nothing ever should be done. Fortunately, when this meme made the rounds on Facebook, at least one person responded in this fashion:

EXCUSE Me!!! I am a Veteran…I wore the uniform for 24 years. The only reason I was able to serve is because at some point in history…someone MARCHED to allow me to serve as a BLACK and as WOMAN!!! I take nothing away from those serving today… So there is NOTHING wrong with marching.

The relative privation narrative above even mentions protesters showing up with a “5 dollar Starbucks” in hand, suggesting that if anyone can afford such indulgences, then they have no cause for complaint. That’s a huge non-sequitur, of course. But even if it were perfectly true, it’s based on the false assumption that each of the marchers is there representing only herself/ himself. Which is hardly the case at all; the march was on behalf of all disadvantaged people all over the world.

Another web virus was a video clip of a man purported to be a veteran (which evidently is supposed to make him an authority on these matters) that actually appears to be a commentary on other protests, but it’s been applied to the Women’s March as well. Upbraiding the “crybabies”, (who, in typical cart-before-the-horse fashion he proclaims are “the exact reason Donald Trump won the election”), he throws in several straw men that have no relevance to the actual grounds for complaint, including “You’re causing all this destruction just because your candidate lost” ; “You don’t always get your way”; “Ain’t nothing free”; and “But you want everything”.

His reference to protesters causing destruction could be considered an instance of the fallacy of composition –.a scant handful of protesters (actually masked interlopers who were not a part of the protest proper) had been destructive, so he’s applying that property to all of them. It’s unclear whether he is presenting himself as a phenomenally gifted psychic or a sociologist who’s actually studied the demographics of the crowd, but in either case he’s horribly inept:

None of you put on a uniform, but you’re quick to disrespect the flag, to not wanna say the Pledge Of Allegiance, not wanna recognize the Bible.

In fact, a great many of these protesters have put on uniforms of various kinds, including (as he evidently was referring to) military uniforms. Veterans are often involved in protests, because they often feel (perhaps justifiably) that they’ve been given the short end of the stick. But what difference does it make how many veterans were there? Does this social critic mean to suggest that nobody has a right to exercise constitutional rights who has not personally defended them in warfare? That has never, ever, been a condition for the rights and privileges of citizenship in the U.S.

Whom did he see “disrespect the flag”? What the hell does the Pledge Of Allegiance have to do with anything, and how would he know how many people in the crowd say it and how many don’t? And the Bible??? Who doesn’t “recognize the Bible” when they see it, and how is it in any way relevant to what is going on here? And how does he presume to know the religious convictions and practices of half a million people? It would be hard to cook up a bigger pot of red herrings.

One valid point he makes is that the demonstrations make people late for work. Or is it so valid? One sermon that the critics keep preaching to demonstrators is “you’re responsible for your own circumstances so quit your bitching.” Which is not only irrelevant, but not quite true — it’s hard to blame people who voted for Hillary Clinton as creators of the Trump presidency. But pretend that we all are one hundred percent responsible for our own circumstances. That means that people who are late for work can’t blame it on activity in the street — particularly when they have the capability of finding out about those activities in advance and planning accordingly.

In fact, sometimes we are tardy for our appointed rounds due to circumstances beyond our control. But that applies to a great many types of events, including not only protests but inaugurations. If we used inconvenience to the general populace as a criterion for prohibiting events, we’d never have any large-scale outdoor functions of any kind.

It’s also common for people to respond to the Resistance by saying, “hey, Trump was elected so let’s give him a chance. Every 4 years, people complain about the outcome of the presidential election. Why can’t we all just forget our differences and work together?”

This would have been an excellent speech 4 years ago or 8 years ago, when people were indeed raising a ruckus just because they had an irrational hatred of the guy who won. But it’s the most glaring of false equivalences to try to make a similar case now. The resistance to Trump is not just because the protesters’ candidate lost; it’s because Trump has made it very clear, with virtually everything he says and does, that he is grotesquely unfit for office, and a very real danger to the country and the whole world. It isn’t just a matter of ideological differences; and suggesting such is an effort to “normalize” someone who is anything but normal and healthy. “Working together” with him is “working together” with someone who is doing everything he can to prevent us from all working together.

If you pay careful attention to these attacks on anti-Trump protesters, you’re likely to find more species of faulty logic than you can shake an alternative fact at.

Simple Steps to Overcoming Trumpery: an Action Guide

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This time it’s not mere partisan hyperbole. Fascism really has come to America. (If you still have any doubt, look at the role of Steve Bannon.) And it’s not going to be pretty, even if you’re white, Christian and middle class. But you needn’t despair. There are steps you can take that will lessen the damage, and get the country on a healthy course again. It’s possible not only to survive Trumpery, but to “overcomb” it.

People who say that we should “give Trump a chance” are really, really missing something. He’s already been given a multitude of chances, and he’s blown them all to smithereens. All throughout the campaign, he was very consistently an absolutely horrible person. Since the election, he has consistently continued to be an absolutely horrible person. And he immediately began making absolutely the most horrible decisions imaginable. How much damage should we allow him to inflict before we speak up?

Following are 20 points of action. These are steps that just about anyone can take, though some require more time and effort than others. Some are general approaches that you can follow all the time.  Others are specific actions that you should do as often as possible. Only the most dedicated full-time activist would be able to pursue all of these actions; it’s fine if you single out one or two to devote your efforts to. The important thing is to act.

We will begin with the most obvious and progress to the less obvious.

1. Protest

This is the most obvious, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Donald Trump has made it very clear, for his entire life, that he will do absolutely anything he can get away with. We can’t afford to let him forget for one minute that we’re still out here watching his every move. And we must make it as difficult as possible for the media to ignore us. That means that a large crowd of dissenters needs to greet every one of Trump’s public appearances, and respond to every one of his horrendous actions in office.

Bear in mind that if you protest without a permit, you may provoke the displeasure of law enforcement, and may even risk arrest. And it should go without saying that you should be on your best behavior. If there is even one unruly or destructive individual in even the largest group of protesters, it is one hundred percent guaranteed that this person will be singled out as representative of the entire crowd.

Trump supporters are very eager to label dissenters as “whiners”, “crybabies”, “sore losers”, “welfare bums”, etc. etc. Make sure that such labels are absolute bullshit.

2. Bug the hell out of your elected representatives

Yes, it really does work. Even, sometimes,  if the representatives are of the opposition party.  Phoning is more effective than writing, and better still is dropping in at the representative’s local office. In no case will you be able to actually talk to your congressperson or senator, but their staff will pass along your concerns about proposed government moves. Be presentable and be prepared. And let them become well acquainted with you. You can also connect with them at town hall meetings. If nothing else, picket their public appearances with signs conveying a crucial message.

3. Pressure the media

This is perhaps the most crucial step of all, since the media have had, to an ever greater degree, an influence on the public’s beliefs and actions. The media put Donald Trump in the White House in the first place, ignoring his excessive faults and flaws while greatly exaggerating and over-covering false narratives about Hillary Clinton. Since then, he’s been viciously biting the hand that fed him, maneuvering to stifle media scrutiny and dissent. It’s essential that we have their back, and call them out on every single shortcoming.

Monitoring the media can be an enormous task for one person, but you can form teams to divide the responsibility. You can keep track of media missteps via watchdog sites like Media Matters for America, which sometimes even issues action alerts advising you to contact media outlets and urge them to correct their course. Be courteous and precise, letting the media know how they have let the public down, and suggesting an appropriate corrective action. (“Hate mail” is counterproductive.) Specific journalists often list their email addresses to facilitate feedback.

4. Write letters to the editor

Many people read them, and they can have an impact, particularly in newspapers with large circulations like The New York Times or USA Today. Focus on facts rather than opinion; anybody can form an opinion quite easily, but solid facts are often in short supply.

5. Use social media — but use discretion

Facebook, Twitter, etc. are excellent vehicles for keeping people informed and mobilized. Unfortunately, they’re also awash with misinformation and useless prattle. Many users are suffering from political burnout, and may just unfriend you or tune you out if you overdo it. Post only the most relevant and crucial material, and intersperse it with more lighthearted fare, so people don’t come to think of you as a gloomy Jeremiah.

(continued on next page)

Fake Fake News, Real Fake News and Fake Real News

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On a day in December, a would-be hero from North Carolina left his home and drove all the way to New York, where he fearlessly strode into a pizza parlor amid a barrage of pepperoni, pulled a gun and confronted the management. He was there to rescue the children, you see. The children who were being exploited in a sex trafficking ring by Hillary Clinton and her evil accomplices. He knew it was happening because he’d read it on social media. He’d no doubt even read about how the placement of symbols on the pizza joint’s menu was really an elaborate code for pedophilia practices.

The story sounds like it might have been scripted by writers at Saturday Night Live or maybe by the Coen brothers on acid. Yet it nearly led to violence because this fellow believed it totally. And he’s not alone. Millions of people out there buy into fake news stories. Facebook has finally taken measures to reduce the fake news traffic on its highways, but it’s too little too late, for it already hath wrought the election of Donald Trump.

Not surprising, then, that Trump’s cheerleaders, upon hearing complaints about fake news, shifted into gear with their defense of the phenomenon — which included ridiculing the complaints, redefining fake news and denying that it even exists. They’ve brushed it off with the glib comment that “fake news is a fake story”, and have even suggested that even if it exists, it’s harmless because most Americans recognize it when they see it.

Which does not jibe at all with the statistics: about a fifth of Americans think Obama is a Muslim, most think he has raised their taxes, about 40 percent believe in “death panels”, about 25 percent think evolution is a false belief,  about half think Saddam was behind 9-11, and 52 percent of Republicans believe Trump won the popular vote.

An ever-dependable, perennially flatulent AM talk show host characterized fake news as “satire and parody that liberals don’t understand”. Which brings up two questions: (1) Is he really so stupid that he can’t distinguish a Saturday Night Live skit from a supposedly serious report about “Pizzagate”? (2) Is he really so stupid as to think it was “liberals” who were taken in by all the phony (and often bizarre) stories about Clinton and Obama?

Like many other right-wing fanatics, he wants you to believe that the real fake news is actually the real real news — you know, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, etc. etc. He even offers some examples of fake news stories:

[Quoting someone else: “You want to hear fake news?  Fake news is every story you read reporting Obama said you keep your doctor if you like your doctor. You get to keep your plan if you like your insurance plan. Your premiums are coming down $2,500 average, every year, under Obamacare.”]  That was fake news, and that’s exactly right.

Yes, you heard that right. Accurately reporting what someone said — at least if that someone happens to be someone you loathe — is what he and his kind consider fake news. Another example he cites of his brand of fake news is the Obama administration saying that a video helped inspire the attack in Benghazi — which in fact is quite true; but since it doesn’t support the right-wing narrative, it must be fake anyway. Got it?

He does the same thing for the “hands up” narrative. It’s fake news, he says, because an investigation later appeared to contradict the witnesses who had said Michael Brown was trying to surrender when he was shot by a cop. (He doesn’t mention that the investigation also found there were strained relations between Ferguson police and the African-American community, the real point of the “hands up” meme.) Even though the media accurately reported what witnesses had said, it was fake news, just because he says so.

Media Matters reports on this habit of turning reality on its head:

Other conservatives are even using fake news to describe reporting from credible news outlets with which they disagree. Fringe right-wing conspiracy site Infowars.com declared that “The mainstream media is the primary source of the most harmful, most inaccurate news ever,” and included outlets such as The New York Times,The Washington Post, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, and Politico (and Media Matters, for good measure) on their “full list of fake news outlets.” Fox contributor Newt Gingrich lamented the Times’ reporting on the fake news phenomenon, arguing,“The idea of The New York Times being worried about fake news is really weird.The New York Times is fake news.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham — a contender for Trump’s press secretary — lashed out at CNN while appearing on Fox News’ Hannity, stating “the folks over at CNN” and “the kind of little games they’re playing are so transparent … they’re the fake news organizations.”

 

These comments exhibit two tactics you will see reactionary propagandists exercising over and over and over again: projecting their own sins onto someone they want to demonize, and redefining terms to suit their purposes. “Fake news”, like any other word or expression, comes to mean whatever they want it to mean.

But despite such attempts by the punditocracy to muddy the waters, the complaint from “liberals” about fake news has never been about bias. Most “liberals” (and even a lot of “conservatives”) realize that news is always biased in some manner and to some degree. Nor is it a matter of accuracy; accuracy is certainly important, but errors invariably creep in from time to time, even in the most conscientious journalism. And fake news quite often is constructed at least partially with actual facts.

We previously mentioned an internet story claiming that President Obama took a separate plane along on his vacation just for his dog. Part of the story was true: the president did take two planes, and the dog flew on a separate plane from the family. But the plane was not deployed just for the dog; it was carrying crucial personnel and the dog just hitched a ride.

Fake news is determined neither by bias nor error; it is determined by a false narrative that serves as the spine to which bias and error  are so often attached, along with real facts. The “War On Christmas” narrative is a good example of fake news because it uses a phony narrative supported both by lies (President Obama, contrary to Fox claims, wished Americans a Merry Christmas on numerous occasions) and facts (some people really do say “happy holidays” instead).

It may not always be easy to classify a story as fake news. Should every false rumor be tossed into that bin? Sometimes false rumors begin with an honest misunderstanding of the facts. One likely specimen is the rumor that only 5 (or 6) percent of the Clinton Foundation’s proceeds actually go to charity. This probably stems from ignorance about what kind of organization the Clinton Foundation actually is. Despite its rather misleading name, it’s not really a foundation at all, but a public charity. That means, among other things, that it performs its own charitable services rather than acting as a conduit for funds (as a foundation would do). And 89 percent of its proceeds go toward that function. Additionally, the organization donates 6 (or 5) percent of its proceeds to other charities. Some people just assume that’s all it does, because that’s what they want to assume. (Incidentally, contrary to additional rumors, the Clintons don’t make a dime from it.)

It may be questionable whether that story should be classified as fake news or merely a false report. In many other cases, however, there is no doubt. These occur when the perpetrator either deliberately creates a false narrative or creates a narrative without due regard to whether it is true or not. This applies to all of the manipulative videos distributed by James O’Keefe. It also applies to a story recently posted at Breitbart about a mob of Muslims attacking a German church.

Breitbart is uquestionably one of the prime purveyors of real fake news.  And its chairman, Steve Bannon, is going to have a special role in Trump’s administration. Which is altogether appropriate, since the election of Trump is the culmination of the work that fake news and distorted news outlets have been doing for some three decades. They have created an alternate universe for their fans. And now the rest of us must live in it as well.