Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.
Last Monday I wrote about Drag Queen Story Hour and the protest against it by 500 Mom Strong under the leadership of Anna Bohach. A careful reading of the 500 Mom Strong Facebook page forced me to realize that protest group is a prime example of current national and local politics…and for human tribal groups in general.
Visit the 500 Mom Strong Facebook page with me. It is a study in political framing. Under “Photos” on the first page we see a photo of kneeling women, one with a prominent cross and another with Rosary beads, praying. There are police in the background. The message is “we are clean, chaste, the chosen, we are holy against this horror. We are the oppressed.” The third photo in the frame sets the political scene: A placard with the title “Socialist Patriarchy” and the definition “the collection of liberal men in politics, government, and media that control the talking points and ideology of the American Left.” Socialist, control, ideology, American Left, these are all nurtured frames of evil for this group. Finally, in the lower lefthand corner we have the new object of derision, fear, and loathing, the drag queen, not just any drag queen, but a scarily dressed and made up person with the label “Phallic Cunt.” The American Left, liberals, socialists, those heathen, all people in drag, they’re all allied with this being, a being with the audacity to name itself after sexual parts. We must all rise and do battle with this horror! The framing is complete. We, the Chosen, are at war with the forces of evil! Join the fight! They are all, every last one of them, just like these photos. It is all so awful I can neither watch what’s really happening in the library, nor discuss it. The doors to our minds are slammed shut.
I am confident the vast majority of the protesters at the South Hill Library on Saturday, June 15, (and those who will take part in another protest tomorrow, Saturday, June 22, at the Downtown Library), sincerely believe they are defending themselves and their children from forces of evil.
Note the definition of groupthink posted above: “Group members…reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints…by isolating themselves from outside influences.” Anna Bohach made a point of NOT attending the Spokane library discussion about Drag Queen Story Hour held on June 13th, saying she “…felt unsafe attending and that she doubted the panel would fairly represent opposition to the drag queen readings.” She did not wish to hear an opposing viewpoint.
The result? A group of self-righteous protesters at the South Hill Library railing against something entirely different from what was happening inside the Library, protesting against overblown images on the flapping fringes of the concept of “Drag Queen” while inside the Library were people in flamboyant garb reading stories to willing families and their children. Those outside were protesting dehumanized evil as those inside were preaching tolerance and mutual respect.
I awoke this morning remembering the sense of dread portrayed in the opening scenes of the musical Cabaret (1966). In the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin in the 1930s as the Nazis were closing in, not only on Jews, but on anyone not conforming to their worldview, including homosexuals, cross-dressers, Roma, and Poles, to name only a few. The Nazis dehumanized the “other” with extensive use of fringy image propaganda not unlike the images 500 Mom Strong dredged off the internet to demonize all in drag.
Demonization of the other is a dangerous tendency among us tribal humans. It has led to unspeakable atrocities. Let us not forget.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. As an online subscriber to the Spokesman I receive an email from them each morning entitled “Your Morning Review.” In it they have a section “Yesterday’s Most Read.” They are able to track on line subscribers clicking on various stories. In Yesterday’s Most Read” they list the top ten of the prior day. The article Drag Queen Story Hour: “Love your family no matter what” was listed second for three days in a row after its publication on Saturday, right up there with the sports articles that usually take first place. Clearly, the topic attracted attention among the (mostly older?) readership of the Spokesman. I think it is impossible to predict its effect of the topic and the article on the overall mindset of the broader electorate.
The “-isms” are tough. It seems that much of the time any two people might mean very different things while using the same word, especially two people at different ends of the political spectrum. That’s dangerous to our understanding of each other.
I’ve been meaning to write about the definition of “socialism.” This last Monday Doug Muder in his email, The Weekly Sift, did it for me, far better than I could. I’ve taken the liberty of pasting his column below for any who have not already read it. I look forward to his email comments on national issues every Monday. I recommend my readers sign up to receive them.
I listened to Bernie Sanders’ speech Mr. Muder references (video, transcript). The video is 45 minutes long. He covers a lot of history, verifiable material that may not have been covered in your high school or college history class. (It mostly was not covered in mine, but I’ve learned since.) It’s worth the watch if you have the time.
Remember to ask anyone who uses the word “socialism” as a word of criticism to specify what they personally mean by the term. The answer might be interesting. There might be more common ground than you would think. I really like Muder’s looking at the whole public/private thing as a continuum and the argument being over the appropriate place to draw the line.
Keep to the high ground,
“Defending Freedom!” How many times have you heard that in the context of 2nd Amendment rights, the 1st Amendment “freedom” for Milo Yiannopoulos to spread his message of hate at public universities, or free market freedom by doing away with environmental regulation?
As I read the Spokesman yesterday morning (Sunday, June 16) on page one of the Northwest Section I came upon “Love your family no matter what.” The full online article title was “Drag Queen Story Hour: Love your family no matter what.,” Both came with a photo of a tall person in flamboyantly feminine clothing dancing with a toddler in a festively decorated room in the South Hill Library. What fun, thought I, naively.
The article recounted the fun inside the room, a room too small, it turned out, to hold all who brought their children to the event. The article also described the gathering of “about 200” protestors led by Anna Bohach from Spokane Valley. She was loaded for bear, already having had a “Guest Opinion” published in the Spokesman on Friday, in which she railed against such dress-up as a “sexist minstrel show” that’s “demeaning to women.” For me, she tips her hand in that guest opinion with two things: She refers to Robin Williams (as “Mrs. Doubtfire” or in “The Birdcage,” I wonder?) as performing in “disgusting parodies.” Then she pulls the usual trigger: she is “outraged” that HER taxes are being used “to further the agenda of the far left.” “I’m tired of (their ideas) being shoved down our throats all the time,” One might wonder who it was forcing her to present her throat for such treatment.
Wow. Outraged, indeed. I wonder if Ms. Bohach also objected to the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings on the grounds the books promoted satanism? Who are these people? Ms. Bohach leads a Facebook group who call themselves 500 Mom Strong, a title that might be a little disingenuous, since the page has only 339 “likes.” Moreover, they’ve been drumming up protesters from among Matt Shea’s Redoubter folk. Check out the article in Redoubt News, from June 4. Are we looking at the local extremist Christian version of the Muslim Taliban?
And what were they protesting? People in dress-up reading stories to toddlers, stories of inclusion, fanciful stories. My favorite quote out of the Spokesman article describing the event:
“He [her 6 year old son] has love for everybody,” said Justine Daily, Sean and Shannon’s mom. Her husband, Goff Daily, said he explains the protesters to their children by saying they come from a place of misunderstanding and fear.
“If Jesus was around today, he would be on this side,” he said.
Then there’s Shawn Vestal weighing in on June 12 with “Don’t compare a drag queen to a blackface minstrel,” a commentary that should be widely read and shared.
Shunning an invitation, Ms. Bohach declined to attend a Spokane library discussion about Drag Queen Story Hour held on June 13th, saying she “…felt unsafe attending and that she doubted the panel would fairly represent opposition to the drag queen readings.” according to the Spokesman article detailing the event with its 250 attendees. Ms. Bohach also declared she would lead the protest at the South Hill Library and they would bring their own “security.” “Security” for Redoubters and Matt Shea followers to whom the protest was advertised often involves open carry of assault weapons. Ms. Bohach had the gall to say, ““The police presence was a little ridiculous.” Really?
Yes, let’s defend freedom, freedom from bigotry, freedom from fear, freedom to dress as you please, freedom of self-expression, freedom to read stories to children and their parents, freedom to encourage people to accept, not hate. Yes, let’s defend freedom.
Note: A second Drag Queen Story Hour will be held at the Downtown Spokane Public Library next Saturday. June 22, at 2 p.m. They plan on a bigger room. I imagine Ms. Bohach will be working on a bigger protest.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Once upon a time I used to think people like Ms. Bohach might have a vaguely legitimate point. I used to think it might be better not to provoke them. I’m over that. Now their self-righteous bigotry just ticks me off. It all changed for me with the current occupant of the White House.
Plausible deniability is “the ability of people to deny knowledge of or responsibility for any damnable actions committed by others in an organizational hierarchy. …In political campaigns, plausible deniability enables candidates to stay clean and denounce third-party advertisements that use unethical approaches or potentially libellous innuendo.”
I was reminded of the concept of plausible deniability as a I read Jim Camden’s article “Candidates dialing up the dollars” in the Saturday, June 8th Spokesman. (The same article appeared in the online version with the title “Woodward leads in campaign money; Stuckart criticizes ‘push’ poll.”
“Push polls” are a low political tactic used on uncritical voters to instill and re-enforce biases. A caller (or an email) pretends to represent a legitimate polling organization, but the questions asked, when critically examined, are leading questions, designed to sway opinion, not elicit it.
According to the Spokesman article:
Stuckart said he was contacted by a supporter who said she was called for a survey, and after about 10 minutes of what seemed like standard political questions the caller started to ask the “would you vote for Ben Stuckart if” questions. After he posted something about the poll on Facebook, he was contacted by other supporters who said they, too, had been called.
The what if questions were in the vein of “if they knew he [Stuckart] did things like raising taxes or giving himself a raise,” questions designed to implant an idea. In the Spokesman article Stuckart is quoted, “Nobody does that [conducts such polls] for fun.” Still, Camden’s article spent paragraphs gathering denials from various potential actors connected with the Woodward campaign who might have been responsible for these “polls.”. The net effect was to cast doubt on Snuckart’s complaint while letting Woodward and her campaign off the hook. “No, no WE wouldn’t do such a thing, we’re above that,” in other words, plausible deniability.
The fact remains someone is conducting these polls and doing so systematically. No private, independent citizen is out there calling and posing as a pollster for fun.
I am reminded of the Woodward campaign’s fund raising boost delivered by the entrance and then rapid exit from the mayoral campaign last month of Andrew Rathbun, an entrance and exit that freed Woodward of municipal strictures on campaign contributions. It is hard to avoid the idea that Andrew Rathbun, now a candidate against Karen Stratton in the District 3 City Council race, was set up by Woodward operatives to crash the fund raising limits in the mayoral race while providing Woodward with plausible deniability. Rathbun later “argued that the limits should revert back to $1,000” after he left the mayoral race. In making that argument Rathbun is either covering his tracks or, perhaps worse, he is ignorant of the campaign law. Either should disqualify him for public office.
In other local race news: Woodward is taking a page out of the Trump/Shea playbook in dealing with media. The Spokesman reports Ms. Woodward has cancelled multiple interviews with The Inlander. “She told the Inlander in a phone call last Friday that she would only answer questions via email because she believed the reporter had an agenda and that the publication had covered some candidates in a biased way.” I encourage you to click the last link and read and share the Inlander article you find there. A former media person doing dodging interviews? Is she so vacuous she doesn’t trust herself to answer questions in an interview? How does she plan to serve as a mayor if she cannot think without a teleprompter?
Woodward claims the Inlander has “an agenda.” An “agenda?” The Woodward announcement was printed shoulder-to-shoulder on the front page with an article gleefully pointing out another media personality, Ron Bair, served as mayor from 1978-1982. The same article conveniently omitted that being mayor of Spokane is a wholly different job since Spokane switched to a “strong mayor” system in 2001. Prior to 2001 the mayor was mostly a figurehead, a role to which Woodward would be better suited. The Spokesman’s front page announcement of the Woodward candidacy was a blatant non-endorsement endorsement, an “agenda,” but, to Woodward, an acceptable one.
Keep to the high ground,
In the box above you should see the image of an ad with the headline “Medicare Part D Action Alert.” It comes through that way when I send to myself. If you do NOT see the image please “Reply” and let me know what device (and browser) you are using. That information will help me construct better posts.
The ad I posted above appeared as a half page in the Spokesman March 30, 2019. If you cannot see it click here to see the online generic version. It says it was paid for by the “American Action Network.” The generic online ad image stands ready to insert whichever congressperson the American Action Network wishes to give a boost. (A month ago, closer to the time the paper version appeared in the Spokesman, the online ad was not generic, it was a copy of the McMorris Rodgers ad.) The cost of placing such an ad in the Spokesman is subject to many variables, but was almost certainly in excess of $1000.
Notice the content. Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi are depicted in dark tones with red lettering and red “X”s marking statements of alleged malicious intent. Polling-tested Republican/Libertarian trigger words appear: “Government bureaucrats, interference, higher premiums, liberals”. No facts are offered. Similarly, there is no substance offered to support the assertion that the congressperson of the day, in this case McMorris Rodgers, is working for: “savings..affordable premiums..and access.” No bill numbers, no reference to a detailed policy position. In contrast to the dark upper half of the ad featuring unappealing countenances, McMorris Rodgers is presented as sweetness and light: a blue stripe with a bright photo of her signature toothy smile.
The ad is is an appeal to pure emotion at the most raw level: evil vs. good. It is fact-free pure emotional propaganda, meant to re-enforce prejudices long nurtured by right wing media. In Finland, teaching students to recognize and dismiss such propaganda is part of the basic public school curriculum, a curriculum designed to foster an informed electorate. We need a similar program here.
The American Action Network, the money and brains behind the ad, is a right wing “issue advocacy” non-profit with a 2017 balance sheet of 42 million dollars. It is organized as a 501(c)(4). Organized in this way, the American Action Network is able to hide the identity of its donors (although that is set to change after a 2018 Supreme Court case). Currently, FEC.gov offers no data on the donors to the American Action Network. Their funding is classic “Dark Money.”. How much more blatantly political must an ad be to avoid being labelled as “electioneering?” After all, this is hardly “issue advocacy,” it is blatant fact-free emotional propaganda.
I called 1-800-756-6191, as the ad requests. An automated digital voice at the American Action Network Hotline told me to “press 1” to connect with the capitol switchboard. (No doubt AAN is collecting statistics on the response to their ads.) Eventually I was connected to Matthew Cardenas in McMorris Rodgers’ Washington D.C. office. Matthew was understandably puzzled when I asked him how CMR was “protecting Medicare Part D” as the ad suggested. Finally, he gamely offered a link to an internet article posted on the “National Association of Chain Drug Stores” website as evidence of her efforts.
How convenient that thousands of dollars in “independent” expenditures are made by opaque political action committees to foster an impression and garner votes, even as assistants of the lauded representative are nearly clueless of the actions their employer is supposedly taking.
Ads like this one from the American Action Network ought to be seen as tainting the candidate not supporting them. Finland has the right idea.
Keep to the high ground,
Last week on June 6 the U.S. and Europe marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing. It was a time to pause for reflection over a piece of our history that is rapidly fading from living memory, fading as the last veterans of World War II take their final leave. As our bloated, draft-dodging, White House occupant incongruously paraded in Normandy with Western European leaders I tried to put things in perspective. World War II was an immense chapter in world history, a war fought against doctrines of nationalism and cultural and racial superiority we find abhorrent…even as they rise again in our own nation and our own region.
As our cultural memory of World War II fades we recall family stories of loss, soldiers our parents knew who lie in European cemeteries, other men who could only voice the horror of their war experience on rare occasions when their tongues were released by alcohol, and others we’ve known with family histories tied to the holocaust. Through these stories we still carry a link to the scars of that war, a link growing more tenuous with each passing year.
We know these personal histories and we remember cultural accounts of collective effort, Rosie the Riveter, victory gardens, war bonds, gasoline rationing. The blood, treasure, and effort, the shattered lives…our investment as a nation in World War II all seems immense…and yet…and yet, how does it compare to the effects on countries on whose territory the war was actually fought? Casualty data tell a story few Americans grasp.
We humans tend to make up our minds based on emotion, emotions based on stories, on recollections of our latest encounter, not on numbers, even less on dry statistical analysis. But what if we were provided a way of visualizing numbers, of seeing numbers as part of the story?
In my digital ramblings I recently stumbled upon a video available on youtube entitled The Fallen of World War II. I urge you to click and watch. The young man who put it together, Neil Halloran, describes it as “an animated data-driven documentary about war and peace,” This 18 minute video offers me hope that more people might perceive reality as more than personal emotion.
I fear many now pretending to lead us, especially the current White House occupant and Rep. McMorris Rodgers (R, Eastern WA) have little or none of the perspective these numbers reveal as they lead us down the road to the next conflict. Share widely.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Neil Halloran has a Twitter presence and a website, but no Facebook or wikipedia entry I can find. He raises funds for his efforts through the web with a presence on Patreon, something else I’d never heard of. As a believer in data and education I want to support his effort and believe the wider circulation of his work is important. I am encouraged that The Fallen has more than 6 million views on youtube alone. I am further heartened by recognition that people younger than I are probably better acquainted with Halloran’s work than I am account of their involvement with electronic media like Twitter, media with which I am only marginally familiar.
Several times I have written that Mitch McConnell (R, KY, U.S. Senate Majority Leader) deserves a special place in hell. McConnell has respect for only one thing, shoring up Republican/Libertarian political power. That will be his legacy. He stiff armed the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in the last year of the Obama presidency on the excuse that “the voters should decide.” Now his slimy obeisance to his wealthy donors and his disrespect for traditions of governance is on full display. On May 28 he said (with his signature smirk) to a Paducah [KY] Chamber of Commerce Luncheon “if a Supreme Court vacancy occurs during next year’s presidential election, he would work to confirm a nominee appointed by President Donald Trump.” Coming from this man does this surprise anyone?
A group called “Ditch Mitch” is already running running an ad to defeat him in 2018. You can watch it here.
That’s not all. McConnell is using his position as Senate Majority Leader to stonewall virtually all legislation coming from the House of Representatives. He has reduced what some have called “the greatest deliberative body in the world” to the status of a cheap road block. The only business that now occurs in the Senate is McConnell’s streamlined process of approving conservative, Federalist Society approved judges to fill as many vacancies as possible. Other legislation is not discussed. McConnell and his slim majority of Senators (who represent a minority of U.S. voters) are acting like the cork in a bottle. With McConnell in control no piece of legislation that lacks the approval of a majority of Republican Senators will ever reach the floor of the Senate. No debate occurs. Nothing gets deliberated. Neither Democrats nor any Republicans with slightly more centrist views are allowed a voice.
McConnell may be a brilliant political strategist, but he is acting the part not of a statesman, but a hyper-partisan ass.
Here’s a tally of the House legislation McConnell is stonewalling, courtesy of a group of political volunteers with whom I’m in contact in Idaho:
About All the HOUSE bills that are being held up in the SENATE! (Kathy, Diane, Mary via Nick at 5 Calls: https://5calls.org/)
It’s important to note that the House has passed 152 pieces of legislation that the Senate has not even considered yet due to Mitch McConnell’s refusal to allow House bills to be brought up in the Senate. These include important issues on voting rights, LGBTQ equality, climate change, gun safety, gender pay equality, healthcare, and many more. Below is a list of some of the most beneficial bills for the American public passed by the House that have yet to see the Senate floor. You can click on any of these topics to see updates and sample scripts.
Suggested script: I am (name, zip) asking you to insist that Mitch McConnell bring forward the 152 pieces of legislation that have passed in the House so that Congress can accomplish what needs to be done to make our democracy work! These are the bills that I wholeheartedly support (list the bill numbers from the list below and ask the staff person to note them in your message to the Senator)
Talking points: Click on any of these topics for talking points.
H.R. 1 – the For the People Act
Our governance is broken, and Mitch McConnell is key to keeping it that way in a desperate bid to assure partisan control of the judiciary for a generation. Is it any wonder the Congressional Job Approval rating is currently around 20%? (See the P.P.S. below.)
The Senate was meant by the founding fathers to deliberate, to engage in at least a form of representative democracy. McConnell has shut it down. Tell your friends and acquaintances.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. For a fascinating podcast detailing Mitch McConnell’s history and tactics click Mitch Part 1:” Win this Thing.” from NPR.
P.P.S. Broad polling data show the Congressional job approval rating currently around 20%. The last time it was higher than 22.8% was during Barrack Obama’s first term. At that time, in March of 2009, when Democrats held a majority in both chambers, congressional approval stood at 37%. We were in the depths of the Great Recession, Obama had just taken office, and Congress was working toward passage of the Affordable Care Act. Compare that 37% Congressional approval number in the early days of the Obama administration to the subsequent high of 22.8% approval in the early months of the Republican federal trifecta in 2017 as they geared up to repeal the Affordable Care or the 15% as they rammed through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in late 2017. Apparently, not all Congressional aspiration and successful legislation is viewed with the same enthusiasm….