Poor Marjorie Taylor Greene. On February 4, the freshman Representative from Georgia was stripped of her committee assignments by a majority vote of the House. According to Greene’s speech from that day, she’s in her current pickle because she was “allowed [she did not specify by what or whom] to believe things that weren’t true.” These “things that weren’t true,” she admitted, include statements contending that 9/11, the Las Vegas shootings, and the slaughter of schoolchildren in the towns of Sandy Hook and Parkland were faked or false flag operations, that space lasers owned by the Rothschilds were used on purpose to start California wildfires, that many prominent Democrats have committed treason and deserve to be imprisoned or executed, and that Democrats generally spend a lot of time drinking baby blood. Nutty!
Everyone probably believes something nutty, maybe related to religion or superstition, or just one of those “commonsense” things that turn out not to hold, like my conviction that carrying my bumbershoot on a walk prevents rain. Alternative facts let people rationalize behaviors that otherwise are weird or mildly self-sabotaging. For example, flat earthism as an excuse to boycott one’s physics homework would fall among the latter. But if the flat earther wins a seat on the school board and starts messing around with the science curriculum…
As Greene tells it, she couldn’t have known that the alternative facts she found on the internet were false, so her conduct after absorbing those facts into her belief system is blameless. As a parent, I’ve encountered this chain of reasoning many times, and it always makes me think of thumbprints and the War of 2008.
Thumbprints are peanut butter cookies with crunchy edges, soft in the center, topped with Hershey’s kisses that melted in your mouth the way room-temperature kisses fresh from their wrappers never do. My stepmother would bake them for Christmas and would send us home with a few dozen “extras.” Taken in twos or threes, they’re a good way to get through a gloomy January.
Our rule when Sonny was an elementary school student was a fun snack once we got back from school—a little sugar-rush before homework, and often in January this meant a couple of cookies. If he was still hungry later in the afternoon, he was supposed to ask mom, with the usual responses being “dinner’s in 20 minutes” or “here’s a piece of fruit,” (or a yogurt cup, or a couple of crackers and cheese). In January of 2008—Sonny was nine years old, in third grade—he started filching them. Grabbing a second snack, another two or three or four thumbprints, without asking, when my attention was diverted. When confronted, he approached near-Marjorie Taylor Greene measures to position his actions as nobody’s fault (“I didn’t remember to ask for more”) or somebody else’s (“You didn’t remind me that I had to ask”). Greene—who, I should note, is 46 years old, not nine—seems to be trying for the somebody else’s fault, “somebody else” being both random lie-spewing posters on the Internet and media outlets that didn’t debunk them forcefully enough.
It was always hard for Sonny to acknowledge that he’d broken a rule deliberately; maybe Greene also is trying to avoid feelings of shame. When Sonny’s face-saving energy got too high it could spark a meltdown—neither of us wanted that. I also didn’t want to lock the cookie jar or make him feel like a bad person for breaking a rule. I just wanted him to learn that thumbprints were treats rather than meals. I moved the conversation in a different direction, therefore, along the lines of hunger being a legitimate issue for a growing boy, that two cookies is okay but five cookies is too much, what a better choice looks like—and also, most importantly, what the consequences for the actions will be (he got his TV time reduced) and for the next time, if it happens again. Consequences don’t need to be terrible, but in my experience they need to be lived.
This strategy worked pretty well for us. Marjorie Taylor Greene may never clarify why she was so drawn to those antisemitic, anti-science, pro-violence, anti-democratic ideas. (Some people have divulged that in private, she didn’t seem to be so much of a true believer—that’s terrible if true.) However, she needs to accept the consequences of the behavior that she rationalized with her nutty beliefs. She used her social platforms and personal interactions to harass school shooting survivors. She inflamed hatred against Jews. She encouraged and supported people who wished violent death on politicians by liking their posts. She reinforced Trump’s Big Lie about election fraud without questioning her own victory in that same election. She flaunted Congress’s rules about carrying guns and wearing masks. And rather than being expelled from the House or being thrown off of Facebook or Twitter, she’s been given a relatively mild consequence. Consequences are important. The probability of positive change is small, but a girl can dream. Maybe, just maybe, Greene will become more thoughtful, discerning, and commit to advocating for her political positions in a way that doesn’t foment sedition, sow hatred, and glorify violence. If by some miracle that happens, then all of us can enjoy our cookies. In moderation.