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The Media-Sean Spicer Fight Over Crowd Numbers Is All About Insecurity


Pope Francis and Thomas Monson, president of the Mormon Church, walk into a juice bar. “I know Mormons are more devout than Catholics,” Monson says, “because we do door-to-door evangelism more than you guys.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Pope Francis responds. “We knock on the most doors of all.”

If you’re not laughing, take heart my friends, this isn’t a joke. It’s an analogy. Mormons, you see, don’t have professional clergy and believe personal testimonies are critical for growing their church, which is why they place a large emphasis on going door-to-door to give those critical personal testimonies.

Catholics, on the other hand, believe God’s kingdom grows primarily through the church’s sacramental ministry carried out by the clergy, which is why they spend more time availing themselves of the clergy-administered sacraments than they do canvassing neighborhoods.

In other words, Mormon doctrine produces piety in the form of apples whereas Catholic doctrine produces piety in the form of oranges. So it would be foolish if the head Mormon told the pope, “We are more committed than you because we’ve produced all these apples,” just as it would be idiotic if the pope countered that they’ve actually produced more apples, despite no one in America ever having a crisply dressed papist show up at his doorstep to hand out free copies of Amoris laetitia.

Yet this is precisely what happened when the media and the White House spent a few days after President Trump’s inauguration arguing about the size of liberal and conservative crowds descending on DC.

“In 2009, eighty bagillion people showed up for President Obama’s inauguration, whereas only 17 rednecks and a couple stray bloodhounds showed up for Trump’s,” the media told us last weekend. “Furthermore,” they said, “eleventy kachillion protestors took part in the Women’s March, so all of this proves that progressives are far more numerous, unified, and committed to their causes than conservatives.”

“False,” the Trump administration responded. “Backlit photos taken with a U.S.-manufactured gel filter prove that 75 percent of Americans flocked to see Trump sworn in while the other 75 five percent watched it online. This proves that President Trump and his (sort of) fellow conservatives are the dominant power in our nation.”

Remember, Liberals Aren’t Conservatives

While it’s nice to see the fourth estate and the executive branch united in a shared love of crowd number crunching, America would probably be far better served if our media and president sparred over any other issue on the planet, such trade deals, tax reform, or reproduction rates of Uruguayan ocelots. That’s because while mass gatherings may reflect the level of commitment liberals have to their causes, they don’t do the same for conservatives.

Leftists tend to see government as an institution that exists outside of them. This position, if not always accurate, is perfectly understandable when you consider that modern liberalism was born out of the civil rights movement and the cries of those buried under a pile of grandfather clauses issued by a government that was actively and viciously excluding them. Therefore, to the Left government is an orb of power that you must overpower if it refuses to do your will.

And how do you tame the beast of bad government? You amass the biggest crowd possible. You sing the loudest songs of protest you can muster, and eventually the government must acknowledge the superior strength of your movement and submit.

Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to see government as an institution formed out of themselves, and for this reason, are more likely to see a hostile government not as something to fight, but as something to fix. Likewise, they tend to believe that fixing the government comes about on individual and smaller scales, by doing things such as writing your congressman, talking to your local officials, doing your civic duty of electing representatives who share your beliefs, and mostly by instilling in your children the values you want to see restored in the government you firmly believe is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

True, many conservatives have borrowed from the liberal playbook through demonstrations like the Tea Party rallies, but attendees at these events have generally sung the conservative anthem of “We want our government back” rather than the liberal anthem of “We want the government defeated.”

Likewise, though such things are impossible to calculate, I’d guess that, for every devoted conservative who descends on Washington for the March for Life (an annual gathering of about half a million, if the newly number-obsessed media want to remain consistent), there are countless equally devoted pro-life conservatives who don’t think making the trip is terribly essential to achieving their goal of an abortion-free world.

Bigger Crowds Don’t Necessarily Indicate Much

Just as Mormon theology compels its adherents to go door-to-door, liberal ideology compels its adherents to protest and march. And just as Catholic theology doesn’t compel its adherents to start awkward religious conversations with strangers, conservative ideology doesn’t compel its adherents to leave their homes or places of work to make America great again.

That’s why, in the liberal world you can get a job as a professional protestor, and in the conservative world you can’t. That’s why liberals were always more likely to watch President Obama pierce their flag of victory into the concaved skull of racist government than conservatives were to rally behind their guy being sworn into an office they understand far differently.

That’s why liberals were more motivated to show up for the March for Women than conservatives were to show up for President Trump’s inauguration, especially when many liberals view the new commander in chief as the embodiment of nefarious government power that needs to be blown up. (It also helps that the I-95 river can easily transport liberals from half a dozen big blue tributary cities and dump them into the 90 percent Democratic delta known as the District of Colombia.)

As long as the modern Left and Right have existed, this has always been the nature of the division. The hippies loudly protest. The squares quietly vote, win the White House, then fumble the majority back to the other side for a few years before the Reaganites retake the ball. Conservatives do their simple conservative thing in 2008, but the liberals eek ahead with a victory powered by the stadium-sized crowd and Roman columns. Then, by 2016, the audacity of hope can’t outrun the tenacity of nope and here we are, each side equally committed to winning the political battles and culture wars in its own way, each side nearly or barely ahead of the other on any given day, and a nation still bitterly divided.

Guys, Your Insecurity Is Showing

So it’s absurd for the media to suggest that larger crowd size equals larger political commitment and national influence, just as it’s preposterous for the Trump administration to dishonestly write “Oh, yeah, well we had the mostest people ever” on the ball of stupidity and lob it back to the press.

Those of us not caught in the vortex of toxic codependency that is the media-Trump love affair know precisely what was going on during Saturday’s press conference. By insisting that Sean Spicer concede the underwhelming turnout for Trump’s inauguration, the media weren’t speaking truth to power. They were speaking snark to insecurity, still bitter over getting pantsed by a reality star on election night.

Likewise, Spicer shouting “Trump is more popular than anyone ever” was not the sound of the White House righteously running roughshod over a deceitful press. It was the sound of an insecure administration hurling flaming balls of dishonesty at the media, shouting “Are you not entertained” to the American people, and mistaking the spectacle for leadership.

If Pope Francis and Thomas Monson ever want to bridge the gap between the Catholic and Mormon faiths, they’d be wise to start by recognizing that going door-to-door isn’t a universal measurement for religious devotion. If the media and the White House want to heal the bitter divide between liberals and conservatives, or if they simply want to do their jobs well, they’d be wise to do something similar and acknowledge that crowd size means far less than either of them would like to admit. Perhaps next time this would prevent them from humiliating themselves fighting each other to death over a giant nothingburger.