This isn't a political blog, and on Monday I plan to go back to writing about Mozart. But in the wake of the Synagogue shooting here in Pittsburgh, when I felt it necessary to both show support for the victims and try to imagine what drives people to go shoot their fellow human beings, I thought I would add my voice to the concern over a really basic problem we have in this country right now. That would be the refusal to agree on basic reality.
I have two examples, the first of which is much less destructive than the second. It concerns several people on Facebook who were ridiculing a tweet that supposedly came from Nancy Pelosi. Now before we go on let me make clear that this has nothing to do with whether or not you like Nancy Pelosi. I can think of several reasons not to. Having an opinion that ranges from extreme admiration to total disgust is still an opinion, and we are all entitled to ours. Nonetheless, the proxy object of scorn was the tweet itself, which read in part "I am angry at Donald Trump for allowing Americans to keep more of what they earn."
Obviously, this was an attempt to describe the tax cut. And obviously, there is a problem with it. Nancy Pelosi did not write it.
How do we know? Three ways. The first is that this does not pass the smell test. No Democrat is going to use the phrase "allowing Americans to keep more of what they earn" to describe a tax bill that was passed by Republicans. "Asking wealthy Americans to pay their fair share" would make more sense. You can agree with the first formulation or the second depending on how you interpret this bill. But if you know anything at all about political spin and the language used by different politicians to describe the same event, you know that that first version is a Republican talking point, and makes no sense coming out of the mouth of a Democrat.
Nonetheless, people were lined up around the virtual water cooler to insist that, even for Nancy Pelosi, this was the dumbest thing she ever said.
Sigh. We really should have done a better job teaching reading comprehension in schools.
Somebody else pointed out that the website snopes, com, which makes it its business to investigate the truth of various claims, has declared this tweet to be fake.
Then another individual noticed a watermark in the corner of the tweet showing that it was from a website that allows anyone to create their own tweets that look like they came from anyone's account.
Despite and still, people kept ridiculing Ms. Pelosi on the basis of that tweet. If they'd said the tweet was fake but they still thought she was awful, that would be one thing. That they kept insisting on the tweet's authenticity shows a reckless disregard for reality. They weren't going to let a few facts get in the way of their hatefest, apparently.
For the second example I'm going to reach back all the way to the Middle Ages. It is far more sinister, and while it is ancient history, and could lead us to feel good about how we aren't doing things like that anymore, I think the recent shooting should keep us from getting too comfortable about the notion of human progress.
The Jewish people, and anybody who hasn't spent their entire life in a cave, is aware that there has been and continues to be mindless hate toward Jews, often leading to horrific actions.
One of the myths that refused to die during this time was the notion that Jews would kidnap Christian babies and sacrifice them during their strange rituals. Now, anybody who knows the slightest thing about Judaism knows this to be a steaming pile of utter ridiculousness.
In one bizarre example, a man was accused of just such a crime. He was executed for it, too, despite not only the complete lack of evidence, but the fact the nobody in the village or anywhere in the area had even reported a child missing!
The impossibility that he could have committed the crime did not get in the way of the people's need to exercise their hate on a people they believed to be a threat. They did so often. They continue to do it. The man who shot the people at Tree of Life insisted that his own people (Aryans?) were being "slaughtered." This is apparently, what in his mind justified the killing of all those people.
Most of us, from all over the political spectrum, agree that that mind is diseased. Unfortunately, there are ways, large and small, in which people are no longer able to agree over basic reality. This is clearly not something new in human history; it is, unfortunately, fairly common. But when we insist that something or someone who is basically peaceful is an existential threat to our existence despite a complete lack of evidence we go from reasonable caution to a justification for the most horrific acts of violence.
Ask the graves at Auschwitz.