I don't know if anyone's noticed this, but there's a lot of dishonesty -- a.k.a. falsehoods, a.k.a. lying -- in American politics right now. And, yes, too much of it comes from the very highest levels. Example: Just today, President Trump told active duty troops and military brass at a base in Tampa that terror attacks have "gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that. "
As a clueless member of the American news media, I actually don't understand what the president is talking about here. The "Bowling Green massacre"? That tragic murder of six Muslims in Quebec, which unlike other incidents around the world doesn't seem to be on Trump's radar screen? The president's deliberate falsehood here -- part of his (fairly successful) campaign to de-legitimize the media -- is outrageous.
And yet, there's a Big Lie making the rounds these days that's even worse:
That the only people out there protesting must be getting paid.
Look, it's not surprising when this canard makes the uninformed rounds on conservative talk radio, but now it's being adopted by elected officials who should know better and are using the dueling myths of "paid protesters" and "outside agitators" to duck their responsibility to hear from their actual constituents. It probably won't surprise you to learn that one of the propagators of this myth is the Pennsylvania Dodger, Sen. Pat Toomey.
Toomey's been deluged with phone calls and -- when that stopped working -- faxes (faxes!...what's next, people sending Toomey 8-track tapes?) begging him not to vote for the uniquely unqualified Betsy DeVos for education secretary. Last week, he blamed "people from outside of our state" for clogging his offices and making it hard for actual Pennsylvanians to reach him. That prompted a predictable backlash on Twitter, with a #RealPA hashtag, from the score of local grandmothers, teachers, artists, etc., etc., who've been protesting Toomey right here in person.
Other senators -- like Colorado's Cory Gardner -- have been more blatant in blaming "paid protesters" for jamming his phone, and have faced an even bigger backlash. I just fail to see the logic in this. Why do conservatives -- who, for better or worse, have been insisting for decades that there's a massive "5th column" of leftists in this country -- now suddenly believe that no one would protest their white nationalist president unless they were making a buck? Seriously?
I've been covering mass movements on both the right and the left for the last eight years; I published an (over-reported) book on the Tea Party in 2010, an e-book on Occupy Wall Street in 2011, and in the last year I've been to massive rallies for Bernie Sanders and for Trump, as well as the anti-Trump resistance. I've never met a person who received one thin dime for doing those things -- most (including folks in the Tea Party) probably suffered a financial hit for the personal time they invested in politics.
Yes, protesters have allies -- the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity on the right, labor unions on the left -- who offer support (buses and what not) and there's the everyday folks who chipped in a few bucks for things like Occu-Pies. But that's not getting paid to protest -- often in brutal cold or heat or other unpleasant weather conditions.
It's a sad commentary on the state of modern politics when we believe no one could hold an opposing viewpoint unless they are bought off. In the matter at hand -- Mr. Trump -- we have a new president who said he feels entitled to grab women by their private parts, who's banning Muslims from this country and insulting Latinos and the disabled. You honestly think people need a check for $55.17 to protest that?
The thing that bothers me most about this falsehood is when politicians like Toomey or Gardner use this as an excuse to hide from their constituents. In the case of Toomey, this is a senator who hasn't held a town hall meeting since 2013. You can't really blame "people from outside the state" until you've met the people from inside the state.