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As you can expect, the media flap this week over Trump’s remarks about Rafael Cruz and Lee Oswald drew me in. I thought I would dash off a response, then leave it, but once you open up the box —

I ended with three posts at Twitlonger, where I do my initial drafts. Many posts stay there; others make the trip over here to The Jeffersonian. Given their significance, I wanted to bring all three Twitlonger posts about this week’s flap over here. The heading at the beginning of each one shows its original title. I can’t integrate them all into one essay at this point, so you see them as is. They extend the themes of Infamy, a book you already know about if you follow this blog. If you haven’t seen it yet, head over to the Books page at Puzzle Mountain Digital, to download a copy for your favorite e-reader.

Mainstreamers jump on Trump for going off the reservation again

Here’s a truly interesting instance of framing. The media are all over Trump today because he accused Rafael Cruz of an association with Lee Oswald. To accuse Ted Cruz’s father of being associated with JFK’s assassin makes the mainstream types go nuts. It’s another example of how Trump is a loose cannon who doesn’t care whether what he says is based in fact or not.

But the plain fact is that Oswald was not JFK’s assassin. When Oswald worked for the CIA in New Orleans, he pretended to be a Castro supporter, to help anti-Castro organizations in New Orleans identify and infiltrate their opponents. Rafael Cruz was a Cuban exile in New Orleans while Oswald lived there. They were the same age, both born in 1939 and in their early twenties. We know Rafael Cruz opposed Castro. That’s why he was in the United States to begin with.

So let’s try to authenticate the photographs going around: the ones that ostensibly show Cruz with Oswald, handing out Fair Play for Cuba pamphlets on a New Orleans street corner. Wouldn’t that be the first thing you would do, to evaluate the National Enquirer‘s report that the two men worked together?

Back to the framing issue for a moment: if you want to charge Trump with not caring about the truth, don’t assume Oswald shot Kennedy. He did not. As soon as you make an accusatory argument in public that assumes Oswald did shoot Kennedy, you lose all the credibility you had before you opened your mouth. We should add that Trump also seems to assume that Oswald assassinated Kennedy, but Trump’s credibility isn’t at issue here. The mainstream media sets itself up as the gatekeeper for truth, yet they clearly can’t distinguish truth from the government sanctioned nonsense they publish.

The attacks on Trump in this case show in high relief how the mainstreamers operate in a bubble. They seem to think their audience accepts the idea that Oswald shot Kennedy, when in fact most people do not. They also seem to think their audience knows nothing about Oswald’s association with the CIA, when in fact most people do. So you have to ask again, if Lee Oswald worked with anti-Castro exiles in New Orleans, if he acted as a low-level CIA contractor who pretended to back Castro, why wouldn’t he associate with Rafael Cruz? Wouldn’t you want to check out that story before you reject it?

Trump vs. social truth

I thought Tuesday’s story about Rafael Cruz and Lee Oswald would go away after big events Tuesday evening and Wednesday in Indiana. Here it is, though, in the Wall Street Journal on Friday. This story is highly interesting from a social historical perspective. How do we arrive at social truth about past events, and how does social truth differ from what we actually know?

First, Donald Trump is not someone you would turn to for accurate statements. He says what comes into his head. Some people seem to like what comes into his head. On Tuesday, he decided to comment on a National Enquirer story, which suggested Rafael Cruz worked with Lee Oswald in New Orleans during summer of 1963.

Mainstreamers went crazy over this one. They immediately translated Trump’s comments to, “Cruz’s father helped Lee Harvey Oswald plot JFK’s assassination.” In its usual tabloid fashion, the Enquirer suggested just that on its front page. Yet by using the verb linked, the publication left itself plenty of room to deny it said anything of the sort. In any case, we have a chain here: the Enquirer links Cruz’s father, and thus Ted Cruz himself, to Oswald. Then Trump mentions the article. Trump did not make any accusations, he just comes out punching, flinging stuff out like one of those pinwheel sparklers. That gives Trump’s critics a lot of running room in a case like this one, especially if you think Oswald killed Kennedy.

Of course, Oswald did not kill Kennedy. We’ve known for a long time that he did not, just as we knew for a long time before Snowden that the government was spying on us. We are just uncomfortable with the thought that the national security state is a criminal enterprise that preys on us. When the national security state kills off our president, that is predatory behavior we all want to conceal, knowledge we want to suppress. The most convenient way to do that is to say, “Oswald did it.”

Oswald did not do it. Oswald was a low-level CIA asset who acted in that capacity when he handed out flyers on the streets of New Orleans. He was a highly intelligent, savvy employee of the national security state, who knew by mid-summer 1963 that his employer was likely to turn on him. Yet he loyally carried out covert operations for the CIA, to the point of sacrificing his life.

The interesting allegation in the Enquirer article, then, is not that Rafael Cruz associated with a presidential assassin in New Orleans, but that he associated with a low-level CIA operative in New Orleans. How unreasonable an allegation is that? Cruz was a Cuban exile in New Orleans, a place teeming with anti-Castro Cuban exiles. He and Oswald were age-mates, born about six months apart in 1939. For his assignments, Oswald was involved in both anti-Castro, and, on the fake side, pro-Castro activities. Why wouldn’t Cruz be on the street with Oswald, handing out pro-Castro flyers? That’s just the kind of double-agent activity the CIA likes to sponsor, and did sponsor in New Orleans.

So what did Rafael Cruz do in New Orleans in July 1963? Wouldn’t someone other than the National Enquirer want to learn about that? Reporters are so aggressive about everything Trump, but no reporter bothered to ask anyone that question, then report the answer. They did not ask because it’s something we don’t want to know.

We now have a presidential candidate who spouts all manner of vitriol and, by mainstream standards, wild stuff. Some of it comes close to the mark. Remember when he suggested, during the South Carolina Republican primary debate, that George W. Bush had used 9/11 as a pretext to launch a mistaken war in Iraq? That and other somewhat disjointed comments about 9/11 prompted the audience to boo and jeer. Trump was off the reservation again! Watch for it. When Trump goes off the reservation in mainstreamers’ judgment, something interesting is going on underneath. In private, no one doubts Trump was right about Bush and 9/11, when he laid down his challenge to Jeb Bush in South Carolina.

Trump plays on a high degree of anxiety and insecurity. Do you remember Germans using paper money for toilet paper in the 1920s? We don’t have wheelbarrows full of money, but we have the Hunger Games series to tell us about our true situation. People in the provinces need a champion. They think they have found one in Trump, just as Germans thought they had found one in Hitler. We know how that story turned out. Trump’s story will not play out the same way, but we do know one thing. Mainstreamers in Germany dismissed Hitler as a clown, a purveyor of bizarre conspiracy theories, and a demagogue who would implode when he finally ran up against the old-line Prussian establishment.

Let’s see what happens this time around.

Actual truth vs. social truth

Let me repeat one of the paragraphs above:

Of course, Oswald did not kill Kennedy. We’ve known for a long time that he did not, just as we knew for a long time before Snowden that the government was spying on us. We are just uncomfortable with the thought that the national security state is a criminal enterprise that preys on us. When the national security state kills off our president, that is predatory behavior we all want to conceal, knowledge we want to suppress. The most convenient way to do that is to say, “Oswald did it.”

I stand by this paragraph’s meaning, but its meaning may not be as plain as I think. I have a friend who says she is weary of the “everyone knows” arguments I have made as I write about Kennedy’s murder. She says everyone does not know the CIA set Oswald up as its patsy. Moreover, she continues, to say so makes everything you say appear unreliable. It’s off-putting, she maintains, when you make unsupported statements like that.

Since I do want readers to take what I say seriously, I need to respond to this critique.

First, I’m both interested and not so interested in polling numbers about the question of Oswald’s role in Kennedy’s murder. Well over half of Americans have doubts about the Warren Report. They believe either that the report is wrong, period – Oswald didn’t do it – or that he didn’t do it alone. About forty percent of Americans, according to these surveys, go about their lives in the belief that Oswald did it. Mostly the people in this group don’t care, because they think who shot the president over fifty years ago is not worth bothering about.

The numbers in these surveys are heartening, more encouraging than the results you would have had on November 24, 1963, one minute before police led their prisoner into the basement of a local jail, and Ruby cast doubt on the CIA’s frame-up with a bullet to Oswald’s stomach. Nevertheless, the Warren Report’s authority is hard to overturn, and some people will not change their minds no matter what the evidence says.

Here is another, more recent example of social influences on the way we think. Edward Snowden talks about social truth in his foreword to a new book called The Assassination Complex:

One of the challenges of being a whistleblower is living with the knowledge that people continue to sit, just as you did, at those desks, in that unit, throughout the agency; who see what you saw and comply in silence, without resistance or complaint. They learn to live not just with untruths but with unnecessary untruths, dangerous untruths, corrosive untruths. It is a double tragedy: what begins as a survival strategy ends with the compromise of the human being it sought to preserve and the diminishing of the democracy meant to justify the sacrifice.

Snowden’s words about corrosion and danger apply equally well to the truths we fail to acknowledge about who killed Kennedy fifty years ago. Time makes the dishonest beliefs we preserve more corrosive, not less.

Social truth and actual truth are distinct phenomena. Social truth makes up the invisible constituents of the ocean we swim in. We participate in social truth in order to survive.

To take another example, social truth is the belief held in the south, for a century after the Civil War, that blacks did not deserve equal rights. This bedrock social principle was plainly false. Black people are human beings. Our founding principles say that all people deserve equal rights. Therefore black people deserve the same rights as white people. No white person in the south could fail to understand this reasoning, or see its consequences. To me, that means white people knew the truth, but could never allow truth rooted in principles and logic to weaken social truths they had known since birth.

For our last example of divergence between social truth and actual truth, go back to Galileo’s trial in 1663, one hundred twenty years after Copernicus published On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres. Five generations is a lot of time for Copernicus’ research – for conclusions based on observation and evidence – to settle in. In fact, Copernicus’ conclusions did settle in among scientists, astronomers, learned people everywhere. The Church, enforcer of social truth, would have none of science or evidence or logic. Church doctrine required that the earth remain the center of God’s creation. Church elders believed that if scientists’ actual truth knocked out the truth they enforced, their authority would disintegrate. They were correct. When it became plain that the Church’s main job was to protect itself with lies, it did lose its authority.

Referring to the earth, Galileo said after his judges sentenced him to house arrest for life, “And still it moves.” He must have hoped the Church could not deny plain truth forever. Free people have always depended on honest leaders. Whether it’s Snowden, Martin Luther King, Galileo, James Douglass and all the people who have fought for truth in the Kennedy case, we need courageous leaders who won’t give up.

We know inside of us, away from the ocean, that the truth tellers are right. The feds prosecuted the hunt for Snowden down to the last iota of their resources not because Snowden as an individual citizen threatens them, but because the truths he reveals threaten to dismantle the entire structure of authority they have built. They would not fear him if they did not understand the difference between social acceptance of their authority, and the radically different truth embedded in the evidence he gave to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras.

The distinction between social truth and actual truth only matters, of course, when they do not coincide. When everyone is honest, no one has to sort truth from things we’re supposed to believe because someone wants us to believe them. In that sense, social truth is better named social falsehood. I’ve called it social truth to call attention to its power. If powerful people want you to believe something, you better believe it, or undergo the social misery that troublemakers always suffer. This punishment need not be formal, as in Galileo’s case. Exile, ostracism, ridicule, loss of job and livelihood: these will do. The instruments of social coercion, and threat of their use, control our behavior and our thoughts more than we care to admit.

That’s what I mean, then, when I say that we all know Oswald didn’t shoot Kennedy. We know it just as people in the south always knew black people deserve equal rights, before King came along to remind all of us of the truth. He forced the truth on a whole country, in a way the country could not deny it. James Douglass brought the truth about Kennedy’s murder into the open, as Copernicus did for the solar system and the whole universe. If people fail to acknowledge Douglass’s accomplishment, it is not because they disbelieve his evidence. It is because they cannot imagine their country could be infected with the unspeakable.

That is why we still tell Galileo’s story today, and why we will tell Snowden’s story a hundred years hence. That is why we will tell how Judyth Vary Baker, James Douglass, Abraham Bolden, and many others stood by Lee Oswald’s innocence, until at last people acknowledged what actually happened to our president.

When I say, “we all know,” I speak of knowledge we have to keep hidden away, unacknowledged, unspoken. We are born to fit in, to belong, to live as part of a group. If we know something that threatens to exclude us from our group-centered life, we cannot bring it into the open. That’s why we depend on leaders like Martin Luther King, Edward Snowden, and James Douglass. That’s why it’s important to say, “we all know.” We do know, and we want to hasten the time when we can all acknowledge what we know.

Related books

Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, by David Talbot

Infamy: Political Crimes and Their Consequences, by Steven Greffenius

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