“Protesters? Sorry, they look like looters to me.”

That was how I responded last summer when a Black Lives Matter organizer tried to justify a brutal rampage of thievery and vandalism through downtown Chicago’s ritziest shopping district as a protest against police brutality.

And that’s how I feel now about the angry tide of President Donald Trump’s supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol last week, a rampage of broken windows and pilfering that resulted in five deaths, numerous injuries and the most damage to the Capitol since the War of 1812, when British invaders set it afire.

Yet, even as the chaos was lighting up video screens around the globe, emails and tweets began to stream into my smartphone from Trumpists and other anger addicts to remind me of violent episodes last summer committed by BLM and Antifa.

Note to my friends on the left: Beware the hazards of forming new-wave “leaderless resistance” movements without media spokespeople. It leaves you vulnerable to any doofus who claims to speak for you, including those who aim to speak against you.

Sure enough, before the sun went down, internet conspiracy theories were churning up on social media to blame the Capitol Hill mayhem on Antifa activists disguised in MAGA hats.

By then, my email and newsfeed were percolating with a new what-aboutism: What about last summer’s Black Lives Matter and Antifa violence?

Among other pundits, radio right-winger Rush Limbaugh sarcastically remarked the next day: “So you can set fire to a downtown strip of any blue state city – Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, New York – and it’s called a peaceful protest. But you dare not set foot where the political class lives and works and does its job.”

Excuse me? Sorry, Rush. With all due respect to your lung cancer diagnosis (keep up the good fight, fella!), violence by one side does not justify or excuse violence – regardless of which side you’re on.

But the Anger Industrial Complex, which some also have called the Outrage Industrial Complex, doesn’t allow enough airtime in our public discourse for such simple logic.

The Anger Industrial Complex describes the tangle of social, political and media systems that find profit in whipping up public anger. Like the “military industrial complex” that outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about, it describes a necessary system that over time can be corrupted when pursuit of financial interests undermines the public good.

That’s why TV vet Trump cares so much about “ratings.”

Unfortunately, too many people don’t seem to understand the difference between news and opinion. (Psst, here’s a clue: This is opinion, folks, but it’s backed up by my knowledge of news, for what it’s worth.)

Or even when we do, we can find a bit too much comfort in tuning in only to content that supports our point of view, even when that content pushes paranoid conspiracy theories like QAnon, a goofy but popular notion that includes the viewpoint that Trump is fighting a secret war against a pedophile ring run by top Democrats. Sounds like a potentially good spy thriller. Or fever dream.

Nevertheless, this president’s claims have long ago hit a nerve with those who were most eager to believe what they wanted to believe.

Small wonder so many people join Trump in refusing to accept his Democratic rival Joe Biden’s election as fair and resounding, even after more than 50 court decisions rejected his persistent but baseless charges of widespread voter fraud.

What to do now? Trump is on his way out, whether he wants to realize it or not, but other aspiring hopefuls like Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas have been quick to perpetuate Trumpian fantasies about Biden’s “stolen election” in an apparent grab for Trump’s voters.

I hope that effort fails. Maybe only Trump can do Trump. I hope.

But I said that about Trump’s bogus claims about Barack Obama’s birth certificate, too. Trump got elected anyway. He understood a lot about how to appeal to an audience in this media age.

He’s not alone. It’s up to the rest of us to undo the rise of anger media and rediscover the art of persuasion. It may require more homework than most people want to do, but we need to do it.

– Email Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

(4) comments

Enough Already

The problem with the useful idiots on the left is their brains have been cut off from oxygen due to having their heads up their rectum. Election theft happened and refusal to hear evidence by the court system changes nothing. They evidence continues to exist in multiple forms but has been sucessfully suppressed by evil people. Congress is also complicit in the theft. One good thing may come of this if it is allowed to stand. In the years ahead we are going to see many of the useful idiots on the left bemoan the fact that their heroes on the left are destroying the country. After sucessfully being built back up by Trump before being torn down by obama, we will likely be finished off this time. It appears this cycle is about to be repeated again for what may be the last time. Now that election theft has been perfected by democrats to steal a presidential election, any state that allows these voting machines in can forget about another honest election.

Parameter Estimator

What a lie -- 50 court decisions rejected his persistent but baseless charges of widespread voter fraud. Not a single court looked at the evidence. EVERY SINGLE CASE was dismissed for lack of standing. No evidence was examined, and state laws and federal laws were violated publicly and without recourse. Trump supporters don't accept Biden because his followers believe complete fiction. Trump doesn't deserve to be president because had a militia, he could have made a speech as he promised, and all waited for the big debates in the 'hallowed halls' of government like Mr. Smith going to washington. Instead, he played everybody for chumps and proved what an inferior commander in chief he is. But the election was plainly clearly horse crap and the law was clearly violated, and it's a bana republic, and the supreme court essentially said any state can do whatever it wants and the other states can GTFO. But make no mistake, Trump supports won't accept Biden because people like the writer of the letter repeat lies constantly, like the absurd and patently false claim that any court in this nation analyzed evidence and had discovery or cross examinations. Youtube buried it. Twitter got rid of it. It's back to Venezuela land that wants to exterminate the white men again, and that's horse garbage. That's why Trump supporters won't accept Biden. Because Trump supporters understand math and logic, and Biden supports don't benefit from white men having jobs and don't understand that math applies to more situations than keeping planes in the air or self-driving tesla's in their lanes.

Enough Already

Most examinations would agree with your analysis except our Supreme analyzers, SCOTUS refused to hear the evidence. This tells you exactly what you think it does. They are complicit in the theft of the election. I believe the penalty for treason is DEATH...

Koheleth

"Because Trump supporters understand math and logic."

Assertion of facts contra evidence aka, erroneous claims counter to objective reality. In other words, callow attestations from a butt-hurt sycophant.

As above so below.

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