Merchants of doubt

161003-merchantsOr, a spoonful of flag helps the mendacity go down

Out of all proportion to their share of the general population, four of the eight unarmed people killed by police in September were black. That’s of 127 unarmed people killed so far this year, and 814 “police involved” deaths overall. Gotta love the jargon, too, don’t you think? “Police involved.” As if police merely happen to be in the vicinity when certain people die. Or maybe we should say “when certain people transition.” (Numbers courtesy of The Counted database.)

It was particularly disappointing, therefore, to hear the President of the United States equivocate September 28 when asked about NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s ongoing silent protest against the frequently lethal treatment of black people by civilian law enforcement. Here’s from last Friday’s presidential town hall:

So I want Mr. Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat, and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain that he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot.

Why drag out the military straw man, Mr. President? Kaepernick has said repeatedly that his refusal to stand for the national anthem has nothing to do with the military, at least not unless you count the First Amendment right to protest they’re presumably charged with defending.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that veterans aren’t voicing their support for Kaepernick in droves. They are, but let’s pretend. Are we proposing a moral code of protester conduct that forbids hurting other people’s feelings? If so, Rosa Parks might have owed the bus drivers of Alabama an apology.  And what about those Native Americans making trouble in North Dakota? Maybe it’s time they made nice instead with Energy Transfer Partners, attack dogs notwithstanding. Sure, the Dakota Access pipeline is slated to cut right through their burial grounds and water supply, but if you prick an oil company executive, does he not bleed?

Note also how like a baus our Commander-in-Chief let the air out of Kaepernick’s tires: “But I also want people to think about the pain that he MAY be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they THINK was unfairly shot.” Maybe bad things happened, maybe they didn’t. Maybe somebody’s justifiably upset, maybe they aren’t. Maybe we’ll never know.

It’s a version of the tactic that Oreskes and Conway documented in their 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. Redirect, reframe, repeat.

Speaking of which, when the heck is Ralph Nader going to apologize to big tobacco? There’s a lot of pain there, I should think. And who can say for sure why all those people got sick?