Suggestion Versus Truth - by Greer Clem
In today's political climate, with Roseanne's racist Twitter attack generating more headlines than the real death toll in Puerto Rico, not to mention more of a response from the president, I begin to wonder how we're supposed to parse out actual news and opinions from the greater cloud of bullshit? We're living in a Twitter world with a 24 hour news cycle, and, as they say, opinions are like butt holes: everyone's got one. This is not to say racist remarks by anyone should be tolerated or go unpunished, but rather that the facts of a story get watered down by a cacophony of tweets and screeches. The inevitable problem then arises as to how to get the truth out to our citizens; how do we let the rest of the country know what is real and what is actually fake?
Democratic pundits seem to adhere more to the burden of proof method, that is to say our party does not go forward and state things as fact unless they can be backed up. Sounds simple, right? In theory, yes, the truth should be easy to sell. But the GOP, in large part following Trump's lead, has taken a different approach, or what I will refer to as the "Ancient Aliens Method." Allow me to elaborate: on every episode of the History Channel's hit show "Ancient Aliens," the narrator will use the phrase, “Some ancient alien theorists believe” to introduce an implausible theory. Once the theory has been introduced, the narrator asks something along the lines of, "Could it then be that the Black Plague really originated with extraterrestrial pathogens?" Notice that the rhetoric of speculation allows for a theory to be introduced while leaving enough space for plausible deniability. After all, they're just asking a question, right? There's no crime in suggestion. The method of introducing a concept as a question and not a certainty means that one can essentially postulate on anything without fear of genuine rebuttal.
Does this method remind you of anyone? It should, because the power of suggestion is how Donald Trump has been successfully slandering his political and personal enemies for decades. For example, his accusations that Barack Obama was not an American citizen were vague and hypothetical enough that he could later excuse himself. He said, “There is something on that birth certificate - maybe religion, maybe it says he’s a Muslim, I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that. Or maybe he doesn’t have one.” The conversation then becomes whether or not Obama is Muslim, whether or not he is a citizen, what is religion is etc. Before long, we don't remember why this speculation began, we just know it's making it impossible for real news to rise to the surface. Trump has set the bar for news at "entertainment propaganda level," meaning that real news, such as a military strike targeting Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, pale in comparison to the show Trump puts on.
Trump is as reliant on the Ancient Aliens Method with his personal affairs as he with politics. For example, in a 2016 interview with CNN, Trump said, “I’m always audited by the IRS, which I think is very unfair — I don’t know maybe because of religion, maybe because of something else. Maybe because I’m doing this (running for president). Maybe because of the fact that I’m a strong Christian and I feel strongly about it, and maybe there’s a bias.” Now, the obvious reason Trump would be audited by the IRS is because he runs a multi-million dollar company that has connections to international oligarchs. This interview came when the demand for him to release his tax returns was highest, but instead of releasing the returns he turned the conversation into an issue of him being unfairly targeted by the IRS because of his religious values. This suggestion is just absurd enough that you then forget the initial purpose of the conversation and walk away feeling as though you’ve been whacked over the head. You, the advocate of truth and seeker of facts, are left balking at the absurdity of the response. And therein lies the beauty of this method.
I don't mean beauty in an admirable way; it scares me that this rhetorical tactic works. But it does work. I myself get caught up in the noise and moronic dribble generated by Trump and his supporters, sometimes so much that I lose focus of the issues at hand. Then I sometimes think, "Well everyone has access to the internet. We all have access to the same materials, so shouldn't everyone else be able to parse out real news from this nonsense?" And now we've reached the "work" problem. Man oh man, the work. The searching, the scrolling, the source vetting, the comparing; it could be a full-time job just figuring out where our politicians stand on the issues. Why do that when Trump will Tweet you what you need to know? He'll let you know when to be mad and who to be mad at. And when Democrats respond in kind, he'll retaliate with "Hillary Clinton, Benghazi, witch hunt, strong army," and we will be right back where we started trying to drown out the bullshit long enough for someone to hear us.
So what do we do? Do we in turn start spewing irrelevant accusations? Do we suggest our opponents are worse than they actually are (if that is even possible)? When we take the truth and get loud, we're called erudite and elitist. When we're silent, we're ignorant or uncaring. I wish I had a solution to all these problems, something that could heal our perception while getting our message across, something for us to do now, in this moment. But the truth will out. Years from now, when we teach our children about the errors of today, the proof will lie in those facts we carried over our heads as the rising tide of accusational bullshit grew higher and higher. Somewhere, maybe one person will listen. And they will tell a friend. Someone will be unhappy with Trump and the GOP; they'll realize they don't have their best interests. And a humming will begin. It will spread across this country and grow louder. It will fill the rooms of every government building until the ceilings are ready to burst. And we'll lend our voices to this rising tide because we've been waiting to be their advocates. We have been their advocates; they just didn't know it yet. And that's not a suggestion, it's a promise.