GOP Risk Repeating History

If you are a sports fan, think of thrill you get when you go to see your favorite team play. (If you aren't a sports fan, just hang with me; this will make sense in a moment). You are surrounded by people who agree with you that your team is the team to support and clearly the team most deserving of victory. When your team does well, you all celebrate. When they fall short, you join together to commiserate. It's the social nature of humanity on full display, and it can be intoxicating.

Of course, the reality is that most of the world doesn't agree with you about your sports team. Even if you narrow it down to just the percentage of the population that cares about a particular sport, chances are much higher that a random sampling would find someone who is apathetic to your franchise of choice (or even finds them to be "the bad guys") than that you'd come across a fellow supporter.

So what do we do? We try to minimize the competition, to somehow claim that they aren't a true or legitimate threat to our team, which is clearly the best. I'm a Baltimore Ravens fans, and I've heard countless comments denigrating my team because our original owner "stole the team" and our star player was a "murderer." And I feel affronted every time. But then I remember the times I've called Tom Brady a "cheater" or Ben Roethlisberger a "rapist" when my emotions were running hot. "How can anyone cheer for someone like that? They can't be real fans!" Without even realizing it, I delegitimize the opinions of those who don't agree with me.

I'm bringing this up because, if there is one thing that political discourse proves time and again, it is that as human beings, we are all highly invested in the idea that our beliefs have the support of the masses. Knowing that you are right about an issue or topic is great, but nothing tops the sense of satisfaction that comes with the realization that the people (whether it be a nationwide electorate or a group of close friends) are in agreement with you. It's gratifying on a primal level. 

That's why we shouldn't be shocked when we see comments like this:

These comments reflect what appears to be a growing consensus on the right. The protests that have sprung up in the wake of Donald Trump's inauguration, whether they be the Women's March, the airport protests in the wake of the Muslim ban, or the door-busting turnout at town halls across the country, aren't real. They don't represent the will of the people, but the will of rich and shady liberal power brokers like George Soros. They aren't "grassroots;" they're "AstroTurf." 

The fact that there is no evidence to suggest that George Soros or his ilk are paying protesters to turn out and oppose Trump has done nothing to stop this belief from spreading. It has gotten so bad that even Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host and ardent conservative, debunked a widespread "paid protester" hoax on his show last month. The story had previously been covered as factual by Drudge Report, Townhall, and the Washington Times. 

Now, there are any number of political reasons why Trump and the Republicans in Congress would be anxious to downplay these acts of resistance, but a major one is the placating effect it has on the base. When you see your peers turn out in large numbers to speak out against your beliefs, it can be disheartening. To return to the sports analogy, it would be like going to watch your team play at their home stadium and finding that half the building was packed with spectators wearing the other team's colors.

As a Baltimore Orioles fan who saw Red Sox supporters turn my beloved Camden Yards into "Fenway South" for years, I can personally attest to how demoralizing that can be. I can also imagine how much I would want to believe someone who told me, "don't pay attention to those folks in the Boston jerseys. They're not really Red Sox fans; the Boston owners bought a bunch of tickets and gave them away for free to anyone who promised to show up and cheer for the bad guys!"

This is far from the first time that an American political party has worked to undermine a protest movement. Most recently, it happened in 2009 and 2010 when Democrats used almost identical language to attack the upstart Tea Party movement. They called it "Astroturf" and claimed that it didn't speak for real Americans. And Democrats (including myself) took them at their word.

And then the 2010 election happened, and it was a bloodbath. The Republicans rode the Tea Party wave to one of the biggest electoral victories since the Great Depression, shifting state and national seats red from coast to coast. Democrats were dumbstruck. The protests, the rallies, and the anger had been real all along? So much for the masses being on our side.

I bring up this memory, which is still a painful one for many progressives, because history appears to be mirroring itself. This time, it is the Republicans reassuring their base about the outbreak of protests and civic unrest. And it is progressives who are fuming as their efforts are belittled as "fake." It remains to be seen if history will continue to repeat itself, but if I were a Republican congressperson, I'd be wary about dismissing the anger of my constituents. If 2010 proved anything, it's that the angry and the dismissed tend to be the loudest voices at the ballot box.