Taking Care of Reality

That’s it. Now it’s over. Reality has become quaint. Anyone can prove anything, or say they have, even if they haven’t. It’s all just talk. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump notes the latest bit of nonsense:

The clip that quickly traveled across social media was bizarre, as is often the case with clips that travel quickly across social media. Here was Tucker Carlson, the brightest star in Fox News’s prime-time opinion lineup, seemingly denying that QAnon exists.

“So it’s worth finding out where the public is getting all this false information – this ‘disinformation,’ as we’ll call it,” Carlson says in the clip from his show on Tuesday night. “So we checked. We spent all day trying to locate the famous QAnon, which in the end we learned is not even a website. If it’s out there, we could not find it.”

Yes, this was rather pathetic:

Stripped of context, it’s a nonsensical claim. There is probably not any actual individual who is “Q,” the anonymous source of various random allegations and cryptic comments that serve as the basis of the quasi-religious conspiracy theory QAnon. But there’s no question that the QAnon movement exists, that those edicts exist and that the effect has been poisonous to the American political conversation. “QAnon” isn’t a website, but the conspiracy theory is centered around online content and online communities.

Bump discusses that elsewhere but here notes this:

Fox News maintains that Carlson wasn’t literally looking for QAnon but was, instead, saying that CNN and others in the media do more damage than QAnon…

Carlson was making a joke about how the “disinformation” that the mainstream media laments doesn’t have a centralized source, while the media’s own disinformation does.

What? Well, that might mean this:

Carlson endorses this idea that CNN and the Democratic Party are purveyors of disinformation who should be ignored… Chief among Carlson’s political beliefs is that concern about racial bias and white nationalism in the United States is either overblown or a point of leverage for attacking him and people like him. This was the focus of his effort to prove that CNN et al. have engaged in disinformation.

He cited a report in which self-identified liberals were more likely to significantly overstate the number of Black Americans killed by police or to overestimate how many Black Americans were killed by police relative to other racial groups. This was to Carlson an example of how disinformation – here, apparently about the nature of police shootings – can “hurt people” since, among other things, it “makes people stupid.”

So he went looking for the source of this “disinformation.”

Okay. Carlson said this:

Public policy can change dramatically on the basis of things people think they know but don’t actually know, and we have seen that, a lot. Entire police departments got defunded. So it’s worth finding out where the public is getting all this false information – this ‘disinformation,’ as we’ll call it.

So we checked. We spent all day trying to locate the famous QAnon, which in the end we learned is not even a website. If it’s out there, we could not find it. Then we checked Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Twitter feed because we have heard she traffics in misinformation, CNN told us. But nothing there. Next, we called our many friends in the tightknit ‘intel community.’ Could Vladimir Putin be putting this stuff out there? The Proud Boys? Alex Jones? Who is lying to America in ways that are certain to make us hate each other and certain to destroy our core institutions?

Well, none of the above, actually. It wasn’t Marjorie Taylor Greene. It was cable news. It was politicians talking on TV. They’re the ones spreading disinformation to Americans. Maybe they’re from QAnon.

Bump is amazed:

It’s an impressive feat as a cable-news host to make a lengthy joke about how cable news is a key source of disinformation and to apparently unwittingly splice into that joke at least two bits of your own disinformation. For example, Carlson asks who is “lying to America in ways that are certain to make us hate each other” shortly after “joking” that maybe Russian President Vladimir Putin is behind disinformation. Of course, Russia was demonstrably behind a years-long effort specifically focused on trying to make Americans hate each other, an effort manifested in social media posts meant to exacerbate existing societal tensions. Russia did almost exactly what Carlson is trying to laugh off as ludicrous.

And there’s much more, probably not worth citing. Tucker Carlson thinks people are picking on him. Tucker Carlson thinks people are picking on anyone like him, his audience. Forget QAnon. These people say racism still exists here and there. These people slander the White Man. That’s all there is to all this. There’s not much else here. QAnon is, however, not important at all. Get your facts straight.

That gets harder all the time. No one can agree on anything. Aaron Blake notes that that’s what happened here:

When members of a party’s congressional leadership hold news conferences, there is a premium on working from the same playbook. That is decidedly not what happened Wednesday with House Republicans.

In a scene that quickly became awkward, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was asked whether former president Donald Trump should speak this weekend at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). McCarthy didn’t miss a beat, responding, “Yes, he should.” But then the question was posed to the No. 3-ranking Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who had been one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last month.

“That’s up to CPAC,” Cheney said, offering the kind of diplomatic response one would expect. But then she went on: “I’ve been clear on my views about President Trump and the extent to which, following Jan. 6, I don’t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.”

McCarthy smiled and shrugged but there is a problem here:

Cheney is the one proposing the big break with Trump. Among the historic-but-still-relatively small number of Republicans to truly try to leave him behind, arguably nobody has risked so much. She comes from the most pro-Trump state in the 2020 election (Wyoming voted for Trump 70 percent to 27 percent) and one of the most pro-Trump congressional districts as well. She also could have bided her time as she sought to climb the ranks and waited for it all to pass one day, but she has chosen a far different course and clearly isn’t backing down.

McCarthy presents a more middle-ground approach (to the extent that exists in the modern GOP). While saying Trump should speak this weekend, he often faded into the background during Trump’s challenge to the 2020 election results, and he has rather clearly just been trying to hold on to control of his party.

But that won’t be easy:

The minority leader is hardly known as a conservative ideologue, and he even said Trump bore “responsibility” shortly after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. But he hasn’t gone nearly so far in condemning Trump as Cheney or even his Senate counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He also joined his vote against Trump’s impeachment with a vote to support Trump’s far-flung challenge to Congress accepting the election results (albeit while claiming his name was initially, inexplicably, left off the list of more than 100 House Republicans).

He’s trying to work out a plausible position here, but he may be too late at that:

The final member of the triumvirate is the No. 2 GOP House leader, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.). This weekend, Scalise appeared on the Sunday shows and made big news by straining to avoid saying President Biden actually won the election, fair and square. He said Biden’s win was legitimate because that’s what the electoral college decided, served to lend legitimacy to Republican efforts in states across the country to curtail voting rights, despite the lack of actual evidence of massive fraud… But others saw another potential motivation for Scalise: Staking out the most pro-Trump position among members of House GOP leadership. A huge majority of the House GOP and other GOP officials including attorneys general, after all, supported the efforts to overturn or at least question the election results. To the extent the party stays with Trump, Scalise seems to be aligning more with that effort than McCarthy.

That’s what he’s up to. Trump really should still be the president even now, somehow. Scalise wants McCarthy’s job, but the rest is unclear:

To the extent Scalise has eyes on leapfrogging to that post – and he has in the past been deferential to McCarthy – he would be banking on the distinct possibility that McCarthy might again be viewed as too squishy by the party’s conservative flank. Whether that matters in two years, it’s obvious that, at least right now, the House GOP caucus is erring much more in Trump’s direction than against him.

Cheney, meanwhile, has charted a much different course than either of them and has stuck by it. It’s difficult to see that paying dividends in the near term, and it would be pretty shocking if that’s her calculus, but who knows about the long term?

And regardless of all those potential political calculations, for the speakership or otherwise, their leaders are not exactly presenting a distinct path forward for the party.

But there’s the original question, should Trump speak at CPAC this year? Greg Sargent asks around:

If you need another sign of the deterioration of the conservative movement and the GOP, here’s a good one. The former head of the group that runs the Conservative Political Action Conference is skipping this weekend’s big gathering, because of fears it will devolve into a festival of Donald Trump’s lies about the election.

Al Cardenas, who once ran the American Conservative Union – the parent organization of CPAC – is also suggesting that these very same lies could inspire more domestic terrorism.

The former president is scheduled to speak at CPAC this weekend. He is expected to try to assert his control over the GOP, which will undoubtedly mean he’ll again amplify the claim that the election was stolen from him.

Sargent notes what Cardenas said in a recent interview:                       

“Disrespecting the outcome [of the election] is disrespecting the rule of law, and it weakens our democracy,” he said. “Anyone who continues to claim the election was rigged is in essence creating a sense of doubt in America that your vote counts, and that, in my opinion, is destructive.”

Cardenas worries about the risk of further violence following the Capitol attacks last month.

“I’m hoping these domestic terrorist groups are not incentivized by elected officials, and I’m hoping everyone understands the danger of what certain words mean to people,” he said. “These groups have proven before that they’re willing to undertake violence to prove their point.”

Sargent comments:

What’s striking about Cardenas’s warning – that when officials broadcast the claim that the election’s outcome was illegitimate, it could inspire more violence – is that the coming installment of CPAC is itself going to feed that claim.

The CPAC gathering is planning numerous panels devoted to variations of the idea that there was massive voter fraud, that numerous states failed to adequately run their elections, and that judges and the media have refused to adequately vet the evidence of all those failures.

Cardenas has long been a critic of Trump. But this latest turn nonetheless represents yet another marker in the conservative movement’s ongoing descent.

And there is this:

Four of the eight GOP senators who objected to certifying Joe Biden’s election victory were given speaking slots, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, while just five of the 42 other GOP senators who voted against the anti-democratic effort will appear.

Not a single one of the GOP lawmakers who backed Trump’s impeachment will speak, including conservative Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, both of whom have addressed multiple past CPAC conferences. But almost every one of Trump’s House ringleaders will speak, including Reps. Mo Brooks of Alabama, Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida, and Jim Jordan of Ohio.

Sargent then adds this:

Despite all this, it is possible to look at what is happening now and see signs that the MAGA movement and its conservative allies are actually facing a moment of serious weakness…

Trump himself is a diminished figure. He just suffered a string of humiliating defeats and has been hounded off social media. And the role that Trump and the GOP played in inciting the insurrection is overwhelmingly obvious to the country.

If so, then this CPAC celebration will look less like the show of force Trump hopes it will be, and more like a series of strange rituals conducted by a dwindling band of Lost Cause of Trumpism cultists.

Joe Scarborough sees that:

The damage inflicted on Republicans since 2016 cannot be overstated. Even before his disastrous handling of the pandemic, Trump’s impulsiveness, ignorance, racist screeds and gratuitous personal attacks offended enough suburban Republicans and swing voters nationwide to cause disastrous election results for the party in the 2018 midterms. In 2018 and 2019, Democrats won gubernatorial races in the bright-red states of Kansas, Louisiana and Kentucky.

Trump’s subsequent loss of the White House in 2020 was made worse for Republicans by his manic promotion of numerous conspiracy theories, all pointing to widespread voter fraud as the cause for Joe Biden’s victory. Trump’s lawyers then spent the next two months having those conspiracy theories tossed out by more than 60 courts, many of those controlled by Trump-appointed judges. And still the failed president pushes the Big Lie, hoping to undermine more Americans’ faith in democracy while keeping his cult-like followers in a constant state of delusion.

But he did lose, everything:

Democrats love the madness of it all. They know it was Trump who made it possible for Pelosi to become speaker of the House yet again. They know it was Trump’s idiocy during the Georgia runoffs that made Schumer the Senate majority leader and put Bernie Sanders in charge of the Senate Budget Committee. It was Trump who offended enough suburban voters to elect Democrats to both Senate seats in Arizona and Georgia, and allowed Senate Democrats to begin filling federal court vacancies with liberals.

Because of Trump, Democrats own all the levers of power in Washington. After years of legislative gridlock, Biden’s party can pass whatever it wants, should it choose unilaterally to do away with the legislative filibuster. And unlike Trump, Biden will not be content to govern by meaningless gesture or mean tweet. Instead, expect the new administration to put vaccines into the arms of millions of Americans, pass the most expansive relief package in U.S. history and reverse Trump’s most damaging policies. Biden will do it all while benefiting politically from the stark contrast between his presidency and that of his unhinged predecessor.

Someone has to take care of reality. The other side has this:

As senators on Tuesday worked to unpack the security failures that allowed a pro-Trump mob to storm the Capitol last month, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) offered a wholly different take on what had happened: that “agent provocateurs” and “fake Trump protesters” were to blame.

Critics, including some within his party, promptly slammed Johnson over his unfounded suggestions that the Jan. 6 insurrection had been a “jovial” protest and that rioters who stormed the Capitol were not supporters of Donald Trump.

But he was having none of that:

As security officials testified about the intelligence lapses that allowed an armed group of insurrectionists to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, Johnson repeated unfounded claims about the riot that have become a familiar refrain from those who want to minimize the event’s seriousness and distance the worst participants from Trump.

Quoting an article published on a far-right website, Johnson claimed the “great majority” of protesters had a “jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor” and blamed the violence that turned deadly on “plainclothes militants, agent provocateurs, fake Trump protesters, and disciplined uniformed column of attackers.”

In fact, more than 200 rioters have been criminally charged by federal prosecutors, including many who have self-identified as Trump supporters and who have documented ties to far-right extremist groups. Federal officials have said there is no substantial evidence of left-wing provocation or that anti-fascist activists posed as Trump supporters during the riot.

But that doesn’t matter. He’s not alone:

Conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza joined Laura Ingraham on Fox News on Tuesday night to baselessly suggest the riot was little more than “a bunch of rowdy people walking through a hallway” and to belittle the congressional staff members who have sought therapy following the violent insurrection. Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggested Monday night that there is “no evidence that white supremacists were responsible for what happened on Jan. 6,” despite evidence that members of hate groups and dozens of people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list were in D.C. during the riots. Interviews with Capitol Police officers have also revealed that rioters hurled racist slurs during the attack.

But wait… “Not one appeared angry. Many of the marchers were families with small children. Many were elderly, overweight, or just plain tired or frail, traits not typically attributed to the riot-prone. Many wore pro-police shirts or carried pro-police black-and-blue flags. … A very few didn’t share the jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor of the great majority. Some obviously didn’t fit in – plainclothes militants, agents provocateurs, fake Trump protesters and then a disciplined uniformed column of attackers – the people that probably planned this.”

That was Ron Johnson reading excerpts from I Saw Provocateurs at the Capitol Riot on Jan. 6 into the record at the Senate hearing on the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and this is Alexandra Petri riffing on that:

It was a wonderful day at the Capitol! The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the large, jovial crowd was dressed in their very best, most jovial, most pro-police attire. Some carried flags. Some carried signs! It was beautiful!

They were at the Capitol because they were feeling very jovial and friendly about the result of the election. They wanted to overturn it, very gently, like you might overturn a Jell-O mold and then tap on it, very gently, until it came out just the way you wanted.

Some of them had even brought baseball bats, just in case anyone wanted to play baseball later, and pepper spray, in case anyone needed a snack. They also brought and erected a small rope swing, although it was not a very good or convincing rope swing and looked more like something else. But some people brought pyrotechnics, which were very convincing! It was a jovial, friendly, earnest bunch.

You had never seen a more convivial crowd. Everyone was jovially smiling and laughing. Sometimes they laughed so loudly and with so much joviality in their voices that it sounded as though they were chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” But if so, they were chanting it in a loving, jovial way that gladdened the heart of all who heard it.

But then there were the bad guys:

Some people were not so jovial. Some people were not there for the right reasons. They were there to make mischief, unlike the happy, wonderful, friendly crowd who just wanted to casually tip one or two barricades as though they were excellent waiters, and perhaps break some glass, as you do in moments of celebration, and possibly write some loving messages on the desks of senators they particularly admired (although the messages mostly turned out very, very, very, very, very misspelled so that their original meaning was lost).

These other people were agents provocateurs and villains, which they demonstrated by chanting the exact same things that the rest of the crowd was chanting and breaking into the exact same places that the rest of the crowd broke into. But when they chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” they meant it in a bad way, unlike the rest of the crowd, which was being jovial.

It was these bad seeds, so cunningly hidden in the crowd as to be scarcely detectable, who were responsible for all the bad things that happened!

But they didn’t matter:

Mostly it was a wonderful day at the Capitol for everyone there. Some people walked through a hallway and made loud noises to show how jovial they were! Some people brought some old-timey flags to the Capitol to show how much they appreciated their history. Some people called out “Nancy!” in the hope that they could get the House speaker to come join in the good, funny times with them…

It’s your fault if you see the people who were beaten and crushed and hurt and scared and killed and you think it might not have been quite such a jovial day at the Capitol. You are not looking at it the right way.

Isn’t that what they’re saying? Someone has to take care of reality. It isn’t them.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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