It was so absurd, so outrageous, so bombastic, so…tasteless, in another context it would have been almost funny. Like so much of the last four years, it could have been satire if it weren’t so horribly real.
The President of the United States of America had peaceful protesters shot with tear gas and flash grenades so the way could be cleared for him to smugly lumber from the White House gates to a nearby church, where he and a lineup of his atheist-hating viceroy and other flunkies could stand and pose for photos, the president holding up a big fat Bible in a ridiculous way that literally no one ever holds any book ever.
Right before this surreal photo-op, the president went full George Wallace-Mussolini-General Hux, promising to unleash the might of the military on U.S. citizens who are protesting violence. I am still dizzy from it all.
For her part, the bishop of the church, St. John’s, was aghast. The Times reports:
“He did not pray,” the bishop, Mariann E. Budde, said in an interview. Referring to the death of the black man in police custody that set off the protests, she added: “He did not mention George Floyd, he did not mention the agony of people who have been subjected to this kind of horrific expression of racism and white supremacy for hundreds of years. We need a president who can unify and heal. He has done the opposite of that, and we are left to pick up the pieces.” … “The Bible is not an American document,” she said. “It’s not an expression of our country. It’s an expression of the human struggle to serve and love and know God.”
According to Jack Jenkins at RNS, Trump’s photo-op defense force also kicked priests and volunteers out of the church to make way:
The church appeared to be completely abandoned.
It was, in fact, abandoned, but not by choice: less than an hour before Trump’s arrival, armored police used tear gas to clear hundreds of peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square park, which is across the street from the church.
Authorities also expelled at least one Episcopal priest and a seminarian from the church’s patio.
“They turned holy ground into a battleground,” said the Rev. Gini Gerbasi.
Gerbasi, who serves as rector at a different Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown, arrived at St. John’s Lafayette earlier that day with what she said were at least 20 other priests and a group of laypeople. They were organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Washington to serve as a “peaceful presence in support of protestors.” …
… But sometime after six in the evening, when volunteers were packing up supplies, Gerbasi said police suddenly began to expel demonstrators from the park — before the 7:00 pm curfew announced for Washington residents earlier in the day.
“I was suddenly coughing from the tear gas,” she said. “We heard those explosions and people would drop to the ground because you weren’t sure what it was.”
Michael Coren of Canada’s Anglican Church uses the b-word:
This was blasphemy. In the most authentic and repugnant sense, it was blasphemy.
Except offending religious sensibilities was the least problematic part of it. Whatever, you know that. He goes on:
The politics behind this sacrilegious ritual are obvious. Trump is in profound political trouble on numerous levels, and he knows that unless he can activate his base he will be thrashed at the election. That base includes the 81 per cent of white evangelicals who voted for him last time round, and many other Americans who have a sense—sometimes vague, sometimes deeply ideological—that their nation is a Godly light on the hill, a geopolitical product of faith and patriotism.
Hemant Mehta makes things painfully clear:
Imagine, just for a moment, if another leader in another country held up a Qur’an after using chemicals to clear the streets of his political opponents.
Meanwhile, another guy running for president also went to a church. Except he went inside, wore a face mask, and talked to folks about the plague of institutional racism. RNS reports:
After another night of violent protests, the 77-year-old Democrat gathered with roughly a dozen local black leaders during an intimate meeting in his hometown ahead of a virtual meeting with mayors from Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota.
“Hate just hides. It doesn’t go away, and when you have somebody in power who breathes oxygen into the hate under the rocks, it comes out from under the rocks,” Biden said, his face mask lowered around his chin, after several participants shared their thoughts on police brutality.
Where do I go from here? I guess I stay on Trump. He also wants a ban on flag-burning. Of course he does.
The president’s technique — refined over half a century in public life — is relentless and unforgiving: Never admit any error, constantly repeat falsehoods, and have no shame about your tactics. …
… The pace and frequency of Trump’s falsehoods can feel mind-numbing — and many Americans appear to have tuned out the torrent of presidential misstatements. …
… By exploiting this sense of grievance against the Other — whether that means the other party, people of other races or ethnicities, or people with different values — Trump makes it easier for his supporters to ignore or even embrace his falsehoods.
This attitude might help explain why Trump retains such a hold over his core group of supporters, despite constant chaos in the administration, relatively few domestic or foreign policy accomplishments — and a persistent inability to tell the truth.
The way Facebook and Twitter have respectively been dealing with Trump’s lies and calls for violence has been starkly revealing. Twitter, as you know, has been labeling some of Trump’s recent tweets as problematic (and also just restricted a tweet from Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz), while Facebook has made a point of announcing that it won’t touch his majesty’s screeds.
Facebook’s employees, however, are another matter, as dozens of them staged a sort-of walk-out (everyone’s working from home, so there’s nothing to physically walk out of) in protest of Zuckerberg’s nauseating obsequiousness to the president. The Times reports:
Inside the company, staff members have circulated petitions and threatened to resign, and a number of employees wrote publicly about their unhappiness on Twitter and elsewhere. More than a dozen current and former employees have described the unrest as the most serious challenge to the leadership of Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, since the company was founded 15 years ago.
“The hateful rhetoric advocating violence against black demonstrators by the US President does not warrant defense under the guise of freedom of expression,” one Facebook employee wrote in an internal message board, according to a copy of the text viewed by The New York Times.
The employee added: “Along with Black employees in the company, and all persons with a moral conscience, I am calling for Mark to immediately take down the President’s post advocating violence, murder and imminent threat against Black people.” The Times agreed to withhold the employee’s name.
The Times‘ Greg Bensinger says neither company’s response (or non-response) is sufficient:
The solution for Twitter and Facebook is simple: remove the offending posts. After all, Silicon Valley loves rules — have you read their novel-length privacy policies? — and President Trump has violated them. Lesser offenses have prompted the companies to expel entire accounts.
But all Twitter and Facebook have done so far with their limp chiding is confirm the right’s contention that there’s an anti-conservative bias in Silicon Valley, while allowing the president’s falsehoods to gain a foothold. Removing the posts hits him where it hurts.
This job is too important for the bots. The online platforms should assign a special team to personally review the president’s daily posts and cut loose those that violate their rules or even just good taste. That’s the beauty of being the boss.
What’s a Covid?
Remember the virus? It’s still there and probably about to get a lot worse. And where’s it getting worse right now? The Times‘ David Leonhardt and Lauren Leatherby tell you what you already guessed:
The four large countries where coronavirus cases have recently been increasing fastest are Brazil, the United States, Russia and Britain. And they have something in common.
They are all run by populist male leaders who cast themselves as anti-elite and anti-establishment. …
… This pattern isn’t a coincidence, many political scientists believe. Illiberal populists tend to reject the opinions of scientists and promote conspiracy theories.
The violence of the police is going to make the virus worse, too. The Verge reports:
Experts say the danger is especially acute in black communities, which have already been hit hard by the virus, and have historically borne the brunt of discriminatory policing. In the aftermath of the police response to protests, vulnerable communities may be even less likely to trust and cooperate with health officials. That could make it harder to control another wave of illness.
“This blatant display reminds folks how bad the devaluing of black lives is, at the height of a global pandemic, and it’s certainly going to lead to less willingness to engage in the system,” says Rachel Hardeman, an assistant professor and health equity researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.
That 80/20 rule is a hell of a thing. Epidemiologists Dillon C. Adam and Benjamin J. Cowling show how 20 percent of carriers are responsible for 80 percent of transmissions, so-called “superspreaders,” usually at social gatherings in places like restaurants and bars.
Superspreaders of COVID-19 misinformation on Twitter, meanwhile, tend to be from one particular flavor of bot. The Guardian reports:
Misinformation about the origins of Covid-19 is far more likely to be spread by pro-Trump, QAnon or Republican bots on Twitter than any other source, according to a study commissioned by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology. …
… The researchers identified 10 prominent bot-like networks that were attempting to push political agendas, separate from those bot networks pushing commercial sites by hitching on to trending topics like coronavirus.
The researchers found a coordinated effort to promote the conspiracy theory that Covid-19 was a bioweapon engineered by China.
The researchers identified a co-retweet network of 2,903 accounts with 4,125 links between them.
Within this network, the researchers found 28 to 30 clusters of accounts which identified themselves as pro-Trump, Republican or associated themselves with the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory.
(By the way, MSNBC did not air footage from World War Z as though it were real news.)
Google, which says it’s trying to help, also isn’t. Bloomberg reports :
It has begun labeling misleading videos aimed at U.S. audiences, and has joined with other major internet companies to coordinate a response against what the World Health Organization has described as an “infodemic.”
But Google is also placing advertisements on websites that publish the theories, helping their owners generate revenue and continue their operations. In at least one instance, Google has run ads featuring a conspiracist it has already banned. …
… The Global Disinformation Index, a research group, recently reviewed 49 sites running baseless claims about the virus, including the stories about Gates and 5G networks. Alphabet Inc.’s Google placed ads on 84% of them, generating the majority of the $135,000 in revenue the sites earned each month, according to the Global Disinformation Index’s estimate.
And misinformation aside, Julia Marcus of Harvard Medical School writes at The Atlantic that Americans aren’t getting any useful day-today information about how to go about their lives:
Americans are receiving very little help in resolving any of the countless practical dilemmas they are encountering every day. …
What’s the safest way for your family to start socializing with other households? How can you begin seeing friends or dating again while still minimizing your risk of contracting or transmitting the coronavirus?
Creating nuanced public-health guidance that can help answer these questions is no easy task, but it can be done. In fact, it is being done—just not in the United States.
This Never Gets Old (Yes it Does)
Oy and we’re still arguing about opening up churches. Carole Levine at Nonprofit Quarterly says the back and forth of guidance and non-guidance from the CDC and the White House about church openings is going to overwhelm anything the Supreme Court has or had to say.
Debates over church openings have allowed leaders of all faiths to get back to doing what they used to do so well: fight with each other. The Economist reports:
COVID-19 has exacerbated not only tension between churches and states, but also disagreements between different religious tendencies. Religious figures have denounced one another, either for being too reckless or for being too meekly compliant with government orders. …
… To understand the biggest chasm, imagine two camps that are defined by what they fear and dislike most. In one are religious groups whose strongest impulse is to improve the material lot of humanity, by fighting poverty or pollution. They are open to working with secular agencies, including governments and supra-national bodies, where they can be a force for the common good.
In the other camp, faith communities believe the main challenge is secularism, the watering-down of old certainties, the threat posed by new thinking about sex and gender — all perceived evils deemed to be perpetrated by liberal elites and secular government authorities.
And yet it remains that among the American population at large, there is no meaningful debate, as the vast majority supports keeping things closed do stay safe. Kraig Beyerlein and David Nirenberg at USA Today explain how the manufacturing of a debate makes things worse:
It is the responsibility of our leaders in a democracy like ours to adjudicate between the public good and individual rights. But there’s not really a conflict between public health and freedom of religion — at least in the eyes of the vast majority of the public, including many evangelical Christians and political conservatives. …
… This is probably not the last pandemic, and the dangers posed to public health by infectious disease will not go away. To meet the challenges ahead we need to resist the political tendency to amplify tensions between different rights by turning them into conflicts.
Well, no chance of that.
We’re keeping track of COVID-19 pseudoscience, snake oil, fake cures, and more at CFI’s Coronavirus Resource Center. Separate fact from fiction and inoculate yourself from misinformation at centerforinquiry.org/coronavirus.
Linking to a story or webpage does not imply endorsement by Paul or CFI. Not every use of quotation marks is ironic or sarcastic, but it often is.