Innovation Ecosystem/Opinion

Can we talk?

A chance encounter with two MAGA women during Happy Hour at a bar reveals the power of disinformation

Photo courtesy of Toby Simon

Two for one mango margaritas at a pool side bar in Aruba.

By Toby Simon
Posted 5/8/23
The conversation during Happy Hour in Aruba and the encounter with two MAGA women revealed how the spread of disinformation has poisoned our political discourse
Is there a way to find common ground with people who don’t want to listen and instead, talk at you? When will journalists in Rhode Island stop serving as willing mouthpieces for Gov. Dan McKee? What scared Fox News the most about the private communications about women and race revealed by Tucker Carlson as part of the Dominion court case? Do you know someone who ran in the Providence Marathon this weekend? Do you know someone who participated in the Jane’s Walk events this weekend?
There is an old saying attributed to Voltaire, that a person lies most effectively to themselves about themselves. The behavior of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni, in procuring favors from rich conservative donors, apparently in quid pro quo for votes in cases before the Court, has challenged the integrity and honesty of Judge Thomas and Judge Sanuel Alito and Judge John Roberts. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has been a courageous voice in the desert that is the U.S. Senate, challenging the ethics of the Supreme Court justices.
There is a scene from “Almost Famous” where rock musicians and roadies engage in a game of Liar’s Poker to determine who will have access to a groupie, Penny Lane, in a perverse show of sexism and misogyny.
For this week’s dinner table conversation, I envision a gathering of some of the biggest liars in today’s political world – Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump, Rupert Murdoch, and Gov. Ron DeSantis – and put them under oath before a panel of truth-tellers from Rhode Island – including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Acting AG Adi Goldstein, science writer Rebecca Altman, and Womxn Project’s Jocelyn Foye. What better way to hold big time liars accountable?

WELLFLEET, Mass. – It was a tell. “New York State is too liberal,” she said, during a 2-for-1 happy hour in Aruba.

Sitting alone by the pool bar while my husband Peter was inside napping, I consumed both of the frozen mango margaritas.

Our conversation began benignly enough. It was about Provincetown, where she had briefly lived and worked 30 years ago. When I asked her where she lived now, she mentioned a large city in upstate New York, not far from the Canadian border.

And then, the tell. She added: “But we want to leave New York State because it’s too liberal.” She wants to move to Tennessee.

I should have just said, “See ya!” Instead, I stayed and had my first real conversation with a MAGA woman. I’ve certainly had my share of “conversations” with MAGA people but it’s always been one way: when they appear on TV in a news report, I, like countless others, start swearing at them.

But there was none of that with this woman. Perhaps it helped that I was quite relaxed after the two margaritas. Perhaps it was her temperament; there was something decent about her. Or maybe, just maybe, I was so stunned to actually hear some of what she was saying, that I froze, like my margarita.

Oddly enough, I found myself calm and not at all disagreeable.

Covering the political waterfront
We covered a whole range of topics, from climate change [she said it doesn’t exist and told me our government has created it with daily spraying of airborne chemicals] to COVID treatments [she and hubby took Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID, and she and husband are currently taking Ivermectin as a preventive measure while in Aruba]. She told me her doctor is a conservative [D’uh!] person. I think her physician should be reported for malpractice.

We moved from topic to topic. She asked about my career. When I mentioned something about sexuality education, she got a bit animated.

“Well, I don’t think it’s right that kindergartners and other little ones are exposed to pictures of oral sex,” she said. “And that there are books depicting this in school libraries.”

Calmly I said that they weren’t, that there are no elementary school libraries with books depicting oral sex.

Gender blender
Next, she wanted to know why we even had to talk about gender with young kids. “Can’t we just let boys be boys and girls be girls?”

This was a decent question, and she listened to what I was saying about gender, not interrupting or resorting to name-calling. In fact, we both listened to one another. We agreed that parents should be the primary sex educators of their children. Not sure she followed my explanation that sometimes parents are ill-equipped to do this and that schools, churches, synagogues all have a role.

The next topic was more challenging. She’s staunchly anti-abortion, but then she told me that 20 years ago she had had one because she found herself knocked up by someone she didn’t have feelings for and wasn't ready to be a mom. And that she regrets the decision.

She admitted to being unsure about making someone who is raped or a victim of incest, give birth. Unsure about it but not that moved to change her stance.

Then she told me she thought it was disgusting to do abortions when a woman was nine months pregnant.

You mean they’re lying to us?
It was at this point that my patience was wearing thin. Still, I was calm as I explained that nowhere in the United States are doctors performing abortions on women who are nine months pregnant. “That’s murder and doctors don’t do that,” I quietly said. She continued down that path, thinking it was a common practice, and each time I replied: “No, it doesn’t happen.”

She then said: “You mean to tell me that they’re lying to us?”

And I said, “Yass!”

By now, Peter joined me at the happy hour. Problem was he got stuck with MAGA woman Number Two, who suffered from Dunning-Kruger effect – the tendency to engage in erroneous forms of thinking and judging, greatly overestimating their competence. [You can be any political persuasion to suffer from this)] And MAGA #2 had a raging case of it. Packs a gun wherever she goes [not allowed in Aruba] and is convinced that if someone with an AR15 started shooting at us, she could “take him out” with her pistol. Hence, teachers should be armed.

MAGA #1 was just limited and not too bright. She was also willing to listen, as was I. Not MAGA #2, who insisted all sorts of things were true about COVID, not knowing Peter’s expertise. It wouldn’t have mattered to her anyway.

I really don’t want to waste any more time talking to people like MAGA #1 and MAGA # 2, and Peter was much more exasperated with his MAGA lady.

In spite of knowing what the MAGA crowd believes, it was still very disturbing and stunning to actually hear it in conversation rather than on the evening news.

It is not about right or wrong anymore. Some people even say that teaching “slavery was wrong is merely a stance and not a historical fact. These days, the lines are so blurred for some, they don’t even know what they’re fighting for.

Oy. That’s it. Oy.

Toby Simon is a frequent contributor to ConvergenceRI.

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