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Auntie Grizelda’s Bandwagon

Auntie Grizelda's Bandwagon

I have a beloved family member we’ll call Auntie Grizelda. We’re close, very close, and have been for my whole life. You could even say she’s like a mother to me.

Welp, Auntie Grizelda has suddenly discovered politics.  

Welp indeed.

Up until recently, Grizelda despised politics. When I was a teenager, she frequently rolled her eyes and clucked her tongue at my activist streak. She never voted and wasn’t even registered – and was proud of it. She doesn’t like or trust politicians of any flavor and thus she has always seen voting as a pointless endorsement of one lying a-hole or another.

It wasn’t that she didn’t care about the direction the country was heading. Not at all. She had strong opinions and was always expressing them. Like many women of her generation, Auntie Grizelda delighted in being an iconoclast and questioning, even outright challenging, authority. During the Alar scandal of the late 80’s, Auntie Grizelda (who had gone back to college at the time) took an apple into a classroom of people and devoured it in front of them as they all gasped and panicked. She loved it.*

Grizelda generally assumes that people in positions of authority telling her things are at best exaggerating or scaremongering, at worst, outright lying.  It’s always been one of her most delightful traits.

That having been said, Auntie Grizelda is only human and is just as subject to human foibles as anyone. She has a duality of nature that is at times puzzling to me. While she distrusts politicians and the media violently, she believes fully and immediately in folk wisdom. She accepts without question any verdict in the court of popular opinion. She operates under the assumption that if a belief is widespread enough, provided that it comes from the from the people around her and not from authority figures, it must be true. Thus, despite her cynical nature, she is extremely susceptible to the madness of crowds, and if a situation should arise where a pitchfork or torch is required, she’s already got hers ready.

As a result, Auntie Grizelda will believe anything a friend tells her or even shares on social media. And the more of her friends have a belief, the more likely it is she’ll have that belief herself. Worse still, Auntie Grizelda apparently equates following social media accounts with friendship and since she believes “friends” are trustworthy, her natural inclination towards skepticism evaporates online. Since joining social media, I’ve noticed that Grizelda believes things she never would have believed before, at least not blindly. All of a sudden there are Russians under every rock and the KKK is right outside the door and the Koch Brothers are working to bring about America’s doom (I bring these examples up not to say she’s right or wrong about these things, but simply that she never would have believed them in the past so unquestioningly as she does now. It’s very, very out of character for her.)

This is especially true when these claims verify as fact the world that she sees is the world that she expects to see when she looks at it. Auntie Grizelda has the same mostly-hippie sentiments as many her age do: Egalitarianism, justice, fairness. People should be free to love who they want and do what they want with their bodies, most of the time anyway, although drugs are bad, mmmkay? She believes that the world is brimming over with isms and prejudice and greed. The good guys are always the good guys, the bad guys are always the bad guys, and there’s no room for shades of gray in Auntie’s world. She defines herself as a morally superior, just, fair, righteous person in a world full of bad guys in positions of authority and as already established, Grizelda’s raison d’etre is to question authority.

Despite seeing herself as an avenging angel, she’s not a terribly consistent one. Most of her values are only a millimeter deep. She responds very strongly to buzzwords like “love” and “freedom” and “equality” but where the rubber hits the road, she looks out for number one. She would preach socialism and “sharing” all day long, but if someone actually came to take away anything she had to give it to another, there would be hell to pay. She proudly supports a woman’s right to choose, but when someone in our family had an abortion, she was vicious and judgmental behind closed doors. She loves immigrants in theory, but never stops complaining about the immigrant family that lives next door: ”There are SO many people living there! They’re loud! They come and go at all hours of the day and night! No one is ever watching the little ones!” She claims to be a pacifist, but I recall she took delight in calling Saddam Hussein “Madass” and said Gaddafi deserved it when his adopted infant daughter was allegedly killed in a bombing raid.  She gives lip service to racial harmony, but demands we honor our police and military unquestioningly. This creates a curious state of affairs where one day she’ll post an anti-police meme from Black Lives Matter and then the very next day she’ll wax poetic about how we need to support our hardworking boys in blue.

She’s actually a lovely and kind person. She’s just a rebel without a clue.  Her little quirks of inconsistency were never particularly irritating when she wasn’t interested in politics.  But now, Auntie Grizelda is INTERESTED in politics. Suffice it to say, reading her Facebook feed these days is enough to give a person whiplash.

Auntie Grizelda, perhaps predictably, despises Donald Trump.  It’s not only what her friends have suggested, but it also fits the worldview that she believes best defines her.  “Racist rich men are in authority and we’ve gotta bring them down!” That’s Auntie in a nutshell. You could not have brewed up a better arch-nemesis for Grizelda than Donald Trump. He confirms every one of her priors regarding her hated authority figures. He’s mean, he’s a bully, he’s racist, he’s rich, he’s a man, and most importantly, all her friends and the Facebook accounts she follows tell her to hate him. So she’s happy to oblige, even though she’s never cared a fig about politics, has never paid a lick of attention, and as such, is extremely gullible, falling for the fakiest of fake news stories again and again. You could tell her that Donald Trump was caught on tape stomping on baby kittens for the KGB while Putin cheered him on, and I have very little doubt she would believe it without question.

In her thirst to #resist she is ready, willing and able to believe the worst of anyone.  She recently posted on Facebook an article with a blurry picture of Republican House Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers.  She captioned it “Really, Cathy?” The title of the article seemed to be saying that a PAC was running ads claiming Republicans were suggesting lynching if Democrats win.  You can see it for yourself here – it was this exact article, with the same title in the thumbnail.  “PAC Won’t Pull Ad Suggesting Lynching If Democrats Win”.  And Auntie Grizelda’s caption seemed to link McMorris Rodgers to this ad.  Disturbing stuff, right?

But if you read the actual article, you may be shocked, as I was, to find Cathy McMorris Rodgers was not mentioned in this article.  Nor did she – or the Republican Party – have anything to do with the ad. McMorris Rodgers simply had the misfortune to be photographed standing behind a man who ALSO didn’t run the ad and in fact had disavowed it.  The ad was actually run in Alabama, 3000 miles away from McMorris Rodgers’ district, not by any Republicans or candidates for office at all, but by a private organization called “Black Americans for the President’s Agenda”.

Obviously, the title of the article was terribly misleading (shame on you, PBS).  But Auntie Grizelda simply could not have read a word of this article before sharing it. She simply saw a picture of Cathy McMorris Rodgers, read a misleading title and was so caught up in her mythology that Republicans are actually planning to lynch people, that she publicly accused a totally innocent woman of calling for lynching. Regardless of one’s political views, I think we can all agree that tossing about such a serious accusation lightly, without any evidence whatsoever is a really outrageous thing to do. Particularly with tensions already running so high. The last thing our nation needs is gasoline thrown onto the smoldering embers of incivility.

Russian bots on Facebook are about the least of our problems. Fake news is being spread by millions of Auntie Grizeldas on both sides right here and now. Millions of people are out there spreading rumors and making claims that are misrepresentations, even outright fabrications, thinking they’re fully justified in doing so because everyone else is.  This type of behavior is contrary to the very spirit of democracy.

As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

We’ve done a lot of talk about tribalism in America 2018. But there are many other flaws of character besides tribalism that we humans are subject to, and many of them have recently emerged from the shadows to have their day in the sun. There are undoubtedly a lot of Auntie Grizeldas (and it isn’t just Democrats, of course, very far from it) who have recently emerged from a cocoon of ignorant apathy, bursting forth into political activism only to be blinded by glittering generalities. Love! Hate! Jobs! Security! Vulnerable people who know nothing about politics, nothing about world affairs, nothing about history, who make snap judgments and happily jump onto bandwagons because this time we’re living in feels important to them and they honestly don’t know any better.  

These people seem far more dangerous to me than tribalists. Tribalists are, at the least, informed.

Maybe tribalism is not our primary problem after all. I would suspect that those of us who associate strongly with a political philosophy tend to have more consistent, time-tested beliefs and better informed opinions than those who value an idea’s popularity over its intrinsic value. These people tumble whichever way the wind is blowing. 

Could it even be easier for bandwagoners to believe the worst of “the other guys” than it is for us long-time tribalists?

I wonder. When I hear people of my tribe say something ridiculously false about the other tribe I quickly disregard it because I know so many good people of the other tribe and enough of the historical context that I can quickly judge that an unbelievable claim simply isn’t true. Auntie Grizelda doesn’t have any of that going for her. She only knows what the people around her for the past two years that she’s been paying attention have told her to be true. In her mind, Republicans are capable of ANYTHING, anything at all, and so it’s entirely plausible to her that Republicans are holding Satanic mass on the Capitol Mall at midnight and sacrificing innocent donkeys to satisfy their dark lord Trump. She’d believe anything, I think, at this point, if enough of her Facebook “friends” told her it was true. And again, it’s not just Democrats that are experiencing this problem. Another guy hears that oh, I don’t know, a rumor like Comet Ping Pong is Ground Zero in a child sex ring, and because he doesn’t know anything beyond what he’s been told by the sketchy jerks around him, he is incapable of judging that claim to be the nonsense it obviously is. He’s easy pickings. He doesn’t know anything, he would believe everything, he just jumped on the bandwagon.

I don’t know who will come out of the upcoming election the victor. Somehow I think none of us will. Because there are too many Auntie Grizeldas out there. Too many people who are voting for all the wrong reasons, out of fear or ignorance or because everyone else is doing it. Too many people voting based on misinformation or no information. Voting because they’ve suddenly decided it’s a part of their identity, to stand for “something” or against “someone”, or voting because they’re adopting some kind of self-image by identifying with a particular political group even though they never did before.  Virtue signaling, or as an Ordinary Times resident smart guy once put it, vice signaling depending on the way their individual mind works. Jumping on whichever bandwagon they identify with.

People keep saying this is the most important election of our lives. I don’t disagree. It’s important. But the deciding votes will not be cast by the Red Tribe or the Blue Tribe. Our country’s future will be decided by Auntie Grizelda’s bandwagon.

Are you as scared as I am?

*Never seen her eat an apple before or since, by the way.

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40 thoughts on “Auntie Grizelda’s Bandwagon

  1. So, just to let you guys know, I wrote this.

    I didn’t want it searchable under my name because this is a real person who I do care about and who does know I write here sometimes. The editors were kind enough to publish it anonymously for that reason.

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  2. I was so worried that this would be a story about an elderly aunt’s mindless support of Trump when I started reading it and I’m *SO* relieved that it was, instead, about her political awakening and her finding her political voice!

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  3. The election of 2016 was decided by Uncle Griswold, doing much the same thing. As I’ve said before, when a political strategy is successful, it will be imitated.

    I have one friend on social media – a programmer. The links about programming and science he shares are really good and interesting and he’s down to earth. But the links he shares about Democrats and Democratic policies are insane. They come from sites I’ve never heard of, and involve only half-truths and distortions in the best of times. Otherwise they are outright lies. The strangest part of it is that he doesn’t like Trump very much. But somehow, Democrats are always worse.

    And yeah, I see other people sharing stuff that is very hyped but favoring Democrats. It gets people excited, and they reshare it.

    This is a national disease, and plenty of people are salivating at the prospect of getting their pitch shared from one friend to another on social media, namely Facebook. Because it makes it seem so authoritative.

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    • Yep totally a national disease. It’s interesting to me that as maligned as ‘tribalism’ is, in many ways it almost seems more desirable than this kind of weird bandwagoning even otherwise very smart people seem susceptible to.

      I personally saw this disease prior to the election of 2016 though. Facebook is a cesspool and has been for quite some time. I’m not sure who’s imitating who or if it was a simultaneous discovery stemming from the use and abuse of social media.

      Thanks so much for commenting.

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  4. My mother was turning in to a rightward-leaning version of Auntie Grizelda before she passed away a few years ago. Turns out watching a lot of FOX News will do to a mind something similar to what Grizelda’s Facebook memes have done; not being much of a Facebooker myself I don’t know how active my mom was with her account. I had no idea what to do about it or even if I should try. After all, she was an adult, and her mind was sharp, so she was making her own decisions — she was just getting nudged in those decisions frequently.

    My father, gratefully, is also right-leaning but retains a reasonable amount of skepticism — he does actively distinguish between news reporting and commentary, and periodically grows tired of the heapin’ servings of hot steaming Right Wing Outrage served up by the conservative media to seek out contrasting opinions and consider them for himself. He still mostly comes down to the right, but resists the demonization component and will once in a while offer a bit of pushback to his even-more-right-of-center-than-him friends when they start pushing the envelope. Perhaps this is (partly) because he Facebooks less than my mom did or Aunt Grizelda does. Fewer nudges.

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    • While I came about this post totally organically (far more interested in the bandwagoning aspect than any “representin'”, it was just that the only example intimately available to me, was Auntie G)
      the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon came into play and I started seeing TONS of “Uncle Grizwold watches Fox News and it’s rotted his brain” articles. So just want to be clear that I am not in any way saying this is a one sided occurrence, not at all…but I am somewhat pleased to have approached it from the opposite angle because I hadn’t read any articles doing that before (Now watch, I’ll see 700 of them. Baader-Meinhof, do your stuff!)

      But yeah. Totally a two sided thing. This is like a race of chickens involving bandwagons.

      Something I did not explore but have wondered about is our beloved elderly relatives and their possible mental changes happening that possibly predispose them to this kind of thinking. In my (unfortunately extensive) experience, the mental changes of dementia mostly just make people act exactly the way they always did, only more annoying. I’ve wondered if this could be a sign her mind is not what it was.

      I do see plenty of younger people leaping onto bandwagons though so who knows.

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  5. From the files of “you can’t make this sh– up”:

    Word for word FB Auntie Grizelda FB post (attached to a Snopes article about caravan members burning the American flag) hot off the presses:

    To those who have been posting these photos, perhaps you should have fact checked before posting. We need truthful statements, NOT MISCAPTIONED ones.

    Seriously, she posts non-fact-checked articles 50 times a day. For realz. I have Snopes on speed dial FOR HER. I should be paid a full time salary as a fact checker for her FB feed alone.

    I don’t think I’m gonna live through this election day with my sanity intact. And Thanksgiving is coming…

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  6. I think the “bandwagoning” philosophy is very close to the old saying “there’s no zealot like a convert.”

    I know people who just regularly send Snopes links to relatives about every bit of misinformation they get and share.

    I liken it to how medical reporting is done in this country – one week coffee will kill you, the next it will save you from several chronic diseases. The actual truth is probably somewhere in the middle, or is “none of the above.”

    I will note I also dislike the theme of “start a fight at the Thanksgiving table if one of your relatives disagrees with you politically.” Really? ‘Cos that’s a way to get the less-politicially-invested ones, or the ones who really just are there for the mashed potatoes, to decide to stay home.

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  7. I do not like or even quite get meme culture. I find that it leads to cult like behavior and unthinking even when I kind of agree with the meme’s message. During the time of the Kavanaugh hearings, there was a meme shared of Dr. Ford’s head with something like a halo around her and a bunch of hands raise bellow her with the words “I believe her” between Ford’s head and the hands. I’m generally sure that the accusations against Kavanaugh were accurate but creating some sort of veneration cult around Dr. Ford was a bit much even if it was temporary. There seems to be something infantilizing about meme culture.

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    • I read this article about “deepities” the other day. Things that feel true, even profound on some kind of a knee jerk level, but then are actually very trivial or outright false when you stop to think about them (not doing this justice, but it was very interesting.) While I enjoy some of the funnier stuff, political meme culture is like what you’d get if you based a philosophy on deepities.

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    • I liked meme culture better when it was just cats asking for cheeseburgers.

      But it went way too fast from “this is dumb and funny” to “this is dumb but we’re going to use it to score political points because we, the meme-makers, think we’re smarter than everyone else, and that we can convince people of stuff by a 100% appeal-to-emotion”

      I also agree the accusations were more likely than not correct (having grown up in a similar milieu to the ones the players in the Kavanaugh/Ford case came from), but I also really hated where the whole thing went, and the other places its momentum seems to be taking it. You’re right about the infantilization.

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    • So you’re ok with mobs of ignorant people voting as long as they agree with you? Got it.

      You see the problem with that approach, I’m sure. Whatever’s attracted Auntie G to the coalition in this particular election won’t hold, some other demagogue will happen along and say slightly different magic words than Trump did. That demagogue very well may attract both Auntie G and Unkie D because they have no underlying philosophy or set of ethical values to serve as a compass for them. And that demagogue may actually be even worse than Trump (yes, it’s entirely possible.)

      Relying on mobs on your side, is like having a piranha butler, they only serve you till they decide they’d rather chew your face off. (ps that’s totally a deepity)

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  8. I remain, oddly, somewhat sanguine about the whole affair. That isn’t to say I disagree with your characterizations; in fact I don’t think I have any quibble with them at all. It’s just that I don’t think the conclusions one can draw from this phenomenon are particularly alarming. Yes, the internet has allowed mindless memes to proliferate visibly in a manner that outsiders can see whereas prior to the internet the memes were more localized and were mostly invisible to people outside of those localities. Yes, I think a lot of people (potentially the majority of people) vote based on habit, knee jerk assumptions or fact free facts. That certainly doesn’t say much good about the electorate but I still find myself generally unruffled. Why? It seems to me that, still, the stakes remain rather low.

    A person who is swayed by these memes isn’t going to have the gumption or follow through to do much beyond maybe vote or wave the flag online about pretty much any issue. The Auntie Grizeldas aren’t going to form a mob and torch the local constabulary; they probably can’t be bothered to even look up where it is.

    I grant that the Antifa imbeciles and the Proud Boy type loons they feed (and vice versa) exist but in pretty starkly small numbers in the grand scheme of things. They aren’t even present in numbers that compare to the ‘Nam era for violence. The Weathermen actually sent out bombs that exploded back then and the KKK certainly didn’t forget their matches and ropes. I wasn’t alive during that era myself but looking and reading back on it I cannot escape the the nagging impression that a lot of the sturm und drang on the internet that we see is more one cohort trying to recapture that vibe they remember from their youth and another much younger cohort trying to imitate the energy they have heard existed in an earlier era. Again this doesn’t strike me as something that can escape the internet to frolic in the streets as a real life bout of old fashioned civil disorder, you don’t get a mob that’s all moving with walkers and electric wheelchairs nor will youngsters take up the torches if they’re worried more about how it’ll impact their transcripts or employment the day after.

    Personally I don’t expect violence outside of the raging ID’s on display from the execrable twitteratti. I don’t think War or Divorce is likely. Probably just gridlock and attrition until one side fizzles out as time marches relentlessly on and the disasters and dooms they forecast stubbornly refuse to manifest. I’m not sure if that makes me a cynic or a Pollyanna; can one be both?

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  9. So tonight is a big night of MAC football on ESPN 2. Kent State vs. Buffalo. Kent is a feisty 2-7 team while Buffalo is…..well it’s in Buffalo. Should be barn burner.

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