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.
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.