Gianforte is not an outlier. He’s the new normal.

Greg Gianforte, who is poised to become Montana’s next Republican congressman, was charged with misdemeanor assault this morning after he choked and body slammed a reporter to the ground yesterday, shouting, “I’m sick and tired of you guys! . . . Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of here!”

The reporter, Ben Jacobs, made an audio recording of the assault, and eyewitnesses confirm that Gianforte assaulted Jacobs, broke his glasses, and began punching him when he was on the ground, after Jacobs repeatedly asked questions about the new report on the American Health Care Act.

Gianforte’s office claims that it was Jacobs who initiated the aggression. Eyewitnesses say this is not so. Here is the audio recording of the incident:

A little more about Gianforte. He’s the founder and CEO of the Gianforte Family Foundation, an organization which, among other things, bankrolled the donation of a T. rex and acrocanthosaurus exhibit to the Dinosaur and Fossil Museum in Glendive, MT in 2009. The Billings Gazette reported that the museum teaches that dinosaurs coexisted with humans.

The museum’s founder and director, Otis E. Kline, Jr., says of one of the exhibits in his museum:

“There’s two ways these fossils could get to Kansas, and one is the evolutionary way; the other is the biblical creation way,” Kline said.

“The evolutionary way says there was an inland sea that came from the Gulf of Mexico. But the biblical creation way says it was the flood of Noah’s day.”

The Gazette reports:

The funds [for the museum] were raised through a nonprofit Kline created, the Foundation Advancing Creation Truth.

Not, you notice, a foundation for advancing the truth about creation, but a foundation for advancing a certain story of creation, even though there is no evidence for that story and plenty of evidence against it (and even though serious Biblical scholars, including Josef Ratzinger and John Paul II, affirm that Genesis was never meant to be a scientific treatise!). Rather than looking hard at measurable evidence of how the world came into being, they’re creating a false, emotionally appealing dichotomy of faith vs. science, of us vs. them, rather than of true vs. untrue.

Why is this anecdote relevant? Because the GOP has steadily, aggressively working to earn a reputation as the party that not only doesn’t care what is true, but will bowl over anyone who tries to report what is true; because it’s not a matter of true vs. untrue, it’s a matter of us vs. them. Who do you want to win? Them?

Remember, Trump spent his campaign training his fans to bleat, “Fake news!” every time they heard something they didn’t like, even when it was manifestly not fake, just unfavorable to him.

Remember, during his campaign Trump called to “open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” and in March, as president, he tweeted “Change libel laws?” suggesting that New York Times reporters should be sued for reporting unfavorably on his policies.

Remember, Trump suggested to James Comey that he should jail reporters who published information that Trump himself saw fit to discuss with the Russian ambassador.

Remember, it was the Trump administration that introduced the nakedly Orwellian phrase “alternative facts.” To paraphrase Groucho Marx: These are the facts. If you don’t like them, well . . . we have others.”

That Trump and his admirers and wannabes lie when convenient is a given — and that’s certainly not confined to the GOP. All politicians, left and right, lie left and right, and they mostly get away with it. This is nothing new.

But what we are seeing is something more: an open campaign to keep those lies afloat by damming up the sources of unfavorable information — threatening them, encouraging legislation against them, or just plain knocking them to the ground and punching them because you’re tired of their questions.

This is a phenomenon to watch very carefully, in big government and in your local government, too. If you’re an American, remind yourself frequently that our founders spilled their own blood to escape from monarchy — to extricate themselves and us from being ruled by someone who was above question and above reproach, whose word was truth.

It’s well and good not to blindly trust the media, and it’s excellent to read, watch, and listen critically, asking yourself frequently, “How credible is this story on the news?”

But if “Don’t trust the media!” is your clarion call, ask yourself whom you do trust, instead. Where are you getting your information from? From the guy who’s trying to shut the media down, sue them into oblivion, break their glasses? Why would you do that? Who behaves that way, if not the guilty?

As Trump supporters have said in a different context: If they haven’t done anything wrong, they have nothing to fear. If it’s true for Mexican immigrants when ICE is in town, surely it’s true for our president when the microphones come out. If he’s done nothing wrong, why is he so afraid of the press?

Don’t let yourself say things like, “Well, that reporter was being very aggressive; he got what he deserved.” That’s his job. Don’t let yourself repeat, “This is what they get for writing all those negative stories.” That’s their job. Don’t allow yourself to say, “I never trusted the media anyway, so it’s no great loss if they’re not allowed inside the White House.” That is their job. Make them do their job. Insist that they be allowed to do their job.

I would have been thrilled if the New York Times et al had done their job better when Obama was president, and had held his feet to the fire the way they’re doing to Trump now. Now they’re doing their job. Better late than never. Better now, before it’s too late, and we lose our hunger for the truth altogether.

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Image of First Amendment under scaffolding by tacomabibelot via Flickr: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

Daddy is an innocent man

Next thing he knew, he was lying in a pool of his own blood, and in his ear was the voice of his beloved wife, softly whispering, “How do you reload this damn thing?”

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

photo credit: Kaptain Kobold 13/05/2008 (Day 2.134) – Godzilla Family via photopin (license)