Can we be brainwashed by newspaper op-eds?

Of course not. Are you crazy even asking me that question?

Oh, sorry. You didn’t ask; I asked on your behalf.

I bring this up because of a major, major upheaval — on Twitter primarily — against a New York Times opinion piece today.

It’s a silly piece, called “Trump’s ‘Purple’ Family Values,” which attempts to explain how — well, never mind my description. The writer encapsulates his purpose in this sentence: “Baffling as it may be to elites, Mr. Trump embodies a real if imperfect model of family values [to conservatives in his home state of Nebraska].”

Baffling? Any piece containing that sentence would make any rational person yell, “WHAAAAAA?” And after I did exactly that, I read through the piece.

But on Twitter today! OMG. Highly intelligent, respectable people I follow are going haywire, blaming the New York Times for the op, accusing the Times — remember, this is an outsider’s view, not the paper’s — of normalizing Trump by publishing this dimwitted slop.

As if by printing this, the Times has conspired with the writer (more about him in a second) to BRAINWASH US READERS INTO ACCEPTING TRUMP.

I know, I know. All of us are swimming around in deep conspiracies, trying to keep our nostrils above the muck. And I’m not sure why the Times put this particular inanity on its op page. But the Times does occasionally publish half-assed and earnest apologias and/or sales pitches from some regular columnists, as well as from dubious sources, Reason Magazine, for one. As I know well, Reason is published by the Cato Institute, the Koch Bros’ “libertarian” “think tank.”

If you want to peruse really slimy stuff, do read the ops from Reason, which — very much like conservative opinions spewed from the Five on the Supreme Court — set out a fact-free “libertarian” thesis and work backward, twisting like mad to produce what they think is an adequate simulacrum of persuasive logic.

Here’s my approach to stuff like this:

  • I first take a look at the association(s) of the writer. In the case of Trump’s royal purpleness, the writer Matthew Schmitz is a senior editor at something called First Things, “America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion and Public Life.” Its credo?

First Things is published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and educational 501(c)(3) organization. The Institute was founded in 1989 by Richard John Neuhaus and his colleagues to confront the ideology of secularism, which insists that the public square must be “naked,” and that faith has no place in shaping the public conversation or in shaping public policy.

So it’s trying to shove faith into our faces. That’s who Matthew Schmitz is. So right away, I shrug. Guy is selling religion through an institute which pays no taxes. Couldn’t be more disgraceful.

  • Then I read it, using my irritation as a prompt to activate my brain. I don’t just get mad; I make my mind assault the writer with objections, with logic. I put my arguments and my contempt into words. Having thus exercised my brain, I…
  • Go into the readers’ comments, where I often find my own objections or get to exercise my brain some more.
  • Having stimulated my intellect and expressions first thing in the morning, I collapse in exhaustion.
  • I drink more coffee.

So there you go. Far from washing my brain into flaccid idiocy, far from epiphanizing me into belief in supernature, the Times has awakened me, made me crisp and ever more rational.

And to all my Twitter compatriots, many of whom I love and admire: It’s OK. I haven’t been duped, I haven’t gone soft, I haven’t forgotten we’re in a nightmare that is continuing longer than often seems bearable, but we bear it because it will be over eventually.

We will all wake up and then we’ll have a hell of lot of work to do.

And P.S. Where will we get the facts of life if not from the Times?


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