The Online Rush to Judgment in the Court of Public Opinion is a Sword We Will All Die Upon
“The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not to tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers — stern and wild ones — and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”
— Nathaniel Hawthorne
On Sunday afternoon, Attorney General Bill Barr presented a summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusions directly addressing the question of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
On Tuesday, the Cook County State’s Attorney dropped all charges on Jussie Smollett after Chicago police investigated his claims that he was attacked by MAGA hat-wearing thugs and was found to have fabricated the story.
Neither the president nor Smollett were found to be innocent of the crimes they were accused of and neither were exonerated in the view of the internet-wielding public. Yet, neither will suffer the justice so many of us, armed with ill-informed opinions generated from our guts and the specious information provided by both our Faceborg friends and Russian bots, believe is due.
In January, the all-knowing public weighed in against a fucking kid in a MAGA hat smirking at a Native American elder and, without even the first color in the paint-by-numbers canvas, decided they knew exactly what was going on and were dead wrong.
And on and on.
We read tomes like Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and watch movies like Pleasantville and we feel justified that we would never be the judgmental monsters on the wrong side of those tales yet, time and time again, we find ourselves mimicking that slack-jawed, mouth breathing outrage that obliterates any notions of intelligent and critical thinking. We want desperately to believe that this is the stance of old white men trying to hold on to a value system long past expiration but we refuse to see that forcing the new values on a reluctant population cannot effectively use the same techniques as the Puritans of history. It’s as if we can’t help ourselves but form into mobs and tribes of thought and find the outcasts to shame and destroy in our righteous anger.
It’s as if we are illustriously and horrifyingly human.
Enemy of the People.
Good Night and Good Luck.
Day of Wrath.
Joan of Arc.
Far From Heaven.
Boys Don’t Cry.
So many stories in the popular lexicon that show us how not to behave. So many times we applaud those who are attacked by mobs of public opinion and win out. So many narratives that clearly demonstrate that the court of public opinion is bereft of integrity, yet we can’t help ourselves. We fall for it every time.
The Russian hackers knew this about us and, in the end, that’s why we have a lying sack of monkey shit as our president.
Ironically, every character in these stories on the side of the mob, just like every actual person involved in these sorts of mobs, believes they are 100 percent right. They are certain of it.
Certainty, however, is like patriotism — it’s a quality of the vicious. Deliberately cruel in the conviction of their dogma. None of us is immune to the maliciousness of the court of public opinion and we would all be wise to slow down, calm down and be skeptical of anything someone really wants us to believe sans evidence or scrutiny.