How many reading this are sure James Comey and Robert Mueller are close friends? Or know those who believe that to be true. It has been repeated often enough. And yet, the foundation is little more than the allegations of pundits founded upon a job recommendation and work contacts. But it has been so oft repeated there are many who state it, not even as an allegation, but as a certainty. Just like the “Clinton Murder List”, or Seth Rich’s “assassination”, the friendship between Mueller and Comey has entered the realm of certainty, at least for some, regardless of the absence of any evidence.
Before anyone reading this feels too superior for not buying into those myths, let me point out another. Time after time, I have heard it repeated that Democrats, or the left in general, might fight hard during primaries, but come general elections they move in lockstep. This too has become a”truth” for many, a simple excuse for poor performance of the right in elections. I was even willing to accept it, until I went to a left-leaning news site and heard someone mention how the right “fights among themselves, but joins ranks during elections.” It seems the same myth the right invented to excuse defeats enjoyed currency on the left for the same purpose.
Of course, in that case there is a grain of truth in the myth — as there usually is behind the best fabrications — both sides do come together during general elections, at least to some degree. It is the entire purpose of parties. Where the myth falls apart is the claim that one side or the other is more likely to enforce such discipline, or that one or the other is more prone to fragmentation during the general. I am sure such stories make the losers in elections, and their supporters, feel better, but in truth, neither party is much better than the other at maintaining discipline, and fragmentation tends to vary with candidate and race much more than by party.
It is not strange that the two sides of the political aisle should see things differently, that is part of what creates the two sides. What is interesting is when each side is certain they have the “big picture”, while having an impression the opposite of the other side. For example, just today I saw a liberal site claiming that Trump’s administration was a triumph of the “neocons” and an era of warmongering because of a few small troop buildups and Trump’s warlike rhetoric. And this does seem to be the general impression on the left. (Oddly, it is also the belief among Trump’s supporters, though they paint it in a more positive light, as “Trump being a fighter” and the like.)
On the other hand, Trump critics on the right tend to paint a picture the exact opposite. Despite tough talk and saber rattling and name calling, Trump is projecting a global image of weakness. He makes empty threats, he withdraws from global contact creating power vacuums, his favoritism — even if off and on — toward Russia is enabling Putin’s expansionism, and so on. In short, far from being a warmonger, Trump is actively withdrawing from the world stage, leaving room for the more aggressive nations to expand their influence.
Strangely, but not surprisingly, both sides believe their view is not only right, but should be obvious to all. Each imagines there is simply no other way events could be interpreted, and thus their view is what everyone knows to be true.
I know there is a cottage industry on the internet publishing click bait articles on why “everything you know about X is wrong!” And in general I am not fond of this sort of pop revisionism, as quite often it rests either on claiming everyone knows overly broad generalizations or misinterpreting the conventional position, or perhaps the evidence, or, every so often, blowing up the claims of a single researcher into the absolute truth. Still, despite my dislike for such efforts, they do point out something we would do well to recall, what “everyone knows” is sometimes far from correct.
I am not suggesting we should approach every issue with limitless skepticism, or demand 100% certainty before believing anything. However, I do think those writing and commenting on the internet would benefit from a little bit more wariness, and perhaps a touch more common sense. For example, when the breaking news on CNN proves to be wrong, perhaps it was simply a mistake and not some effort to persecute the right. (Even if CNN or MSNBC or others make errors that consistently lean to the left, that still doesn’t prove much beyond the fact many reporters share liberal views.) We should reserve judgment on such things, gathering evidence and weighing it carefully, rather than relying on the pronunciations of politicians and pundits, no matter what credentials they might have. And most of all, we must not confuse repetition with truth. Things can be said many times, by many different people, and still be incorrect. Ubiquity is an attribute of falsehoods just as much as truths.
Perhaps, in the end, some of the claims that seem far fetched might prove to be true. Almost certainly some of the things I believe now will eventually prove to be incorrect, or at least incomplete. That is inherent in the nature of our incomplete knowledge of the world. What we need to do is accept that sometimes we just might not know, or our first impression may be wrong, and wait on passing judgement. It is tricky, the human mind wants to know, it wants patterns and certainty, but many times that, otherwise admirable, desire can lead us into pretty peculiar assumptions about what everyone knows to be true.