PATIENCE IS A FINITE RESOURCE

Posted in Rants on March 20th, 2017 by Ed

Many years ago I saw a judge at on academic panel making a great analogy in defense of laws that punish "sovereign citizen" and Tax Protester types for filing frivolous lawsuits based on their gibberish-level understanding of the law and a whole lot of nonsense they find on the internet.

Imagine that a man in attendance at an academic conference raises his hand to ask a question to a panel of astronomers. He steps to a microphone and asks if anyone on stage can prove that the moon is not made of cheese. Laughter ripples through the room. He smiles and waits politely for it to die down. "I am waiting for an answer," he says. Only light laughter this time, as everyone realizes that he might be serious. He waits. Someone on the panel will eventually say, with tenderness due a person who may not be quite All There mentally, that multiple space programs have flown to the moon and taken samples and conducted observational studies of the moon and ran tests that demonstrate, with complete confidence, that the moon is made of rock.

Still, the guy persists. No, that is all fake, nobody has ever been to the moon, and the moon is actually cheese. Now there is no laughter from the audience and the panelists are probably getting a little cranky. No, they say sharply, you are proposing a conspiracy theory. It is easily debunked and there are literally millions of pieces of information, freely available, that demonstrate the fact that the moon is a rock. "No, it is similar in color to cheese," he says. "Therefore it is cheese." What started out as polite amusement devolves into a general frustration at wasting time. Having politely played along for a bit, now they just want someone to drag this guy out of the room so they can get back to doing something more useful (or at least more interesting; useful might be a high bar for an academic panel to achieve).

Consider at this point the number of things our political system and government have had to devote time, money, and attention – all valuable and finite resources – to things Donald Trump insists are true that are not. Birtherism. Mass voter fraud. Having a record inaugural crowd. The size and historic nature of his victory in the election. And now this ridiculous two week long fiasco about being wiretapped. Despite the continued partisan nature of the reaction – at the Comey hearing on Monday the Republicans asked questions exclusively about leaks, ignoring the Trump-Russia ties more broadly – there is a sense of weariness from everyone involved at playing this game. In less than three months in office, even Republicans and people generally friendly to Republicans appear to have found this exercise useless and frustrating.

It was cute the first time, maybe. The birther thing didn't waste the time of members of Congress. Trump was just Some Guy back then. Now the need to respond to his fantasies and conspiracy theories eats into their time directly, time they would prefer to spend raising money, distributing the benefits of being in power, and passing some legislation. Every moment they have to devote to explaining with practiced patience to the President of the United States that, no, that thing he saw in the comment section on Brietbart is not actually true is a moment they have wasted.

Without a doubt there will be some new and equally baseless conspiracy theory from the White House before we know it, and the hearing that took place on Monday – not to mention the time the FBI was forced to waste "investigating" his delusions – will be repeated in the future. One certainty is that patience for playing a redundant and pointless game is not infinite, at least for an adult. A toddler will throw his sippy cup on the floor a thousand times just for the joy of watching you have to pick it up. At some point you simply stop giving it back.