In his recent Jan. 13 Coeur d’Alene Press opinion piece titled “Grassroots Politics,” Kootenai County Republican Central Committee chairman, and self-proclaimed “common sense” man, Brent Regan, brazenly trumpets that: “At the 2022 Republican State Convention, the ‘grassroots’ faction of the party overwhelming defeated the ‘establishment’ faction for control of the party.”
Regan, who is also the Idaho Freedom Foundation chairman and Idaho GOP Rules Committee chairman, goes on to bash all Republican critics who oppose him. In Regan’s words, these people are shrieking establishment critics, ludicrous hyperbolic accusers, and crazy talkers with baseless claims, unsubstantiated lamentations and outright lies.
So, is Brent Regan’s boasting opinion piece a real spiel? Have Regan and his devoted grassroots foot soldiers really captured our Idaho GOP and purportedly remodeled it into what they hail is a magnificent conservative “we the people” party?
Let’s take a closer look: The full history of “grassroots” as a political metaphor in the United States is unclear. The term did, however, appear in a 1904 newspaper article regarding the American presidential election, in which Republican incumbent President Theodore Roosevelt soundly defeated Democrat Alton B. Parker.
Authentic grassroots political movements are defined as self-organized local-level efforts to encourage other members of the community to participate in activities, such as fundraising and voter registration drives, supporting social, economic or political causes. The power of grassroots movements is not money, but rather their ability to harness the efforts of ordinary people who not only embrace transparency, but whose shared sense of justice and knowledge on a given issue can also be utilized to influence policymakers. Grassroots movements build communities, increase awareness, encourage political participation and ultimately bring about desired change through hard work and honesty.
The stark opposite of a grassroots movement is something defined in the political arena as “astroturfing.” No, this isn’t made up or meant to be comical. The term astroturfing was coined in 1985 by U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, and many of today’s political experts believe it has actually eclipsed true grassroots movements.
While the reallife term “AstroTurf” simply means a brand of fake grass, political astroturfing represents an attempt by groups and wealthy individuals, to manufacture a false view of grassroots public opinion favoring or opposing a particular candidate or political ideology. And while this sordid practice spans the full political spectrum, it is not considered illegal despite its nefarious effects on individuals and communities at large.
From a psychological perspective, astroturfing takes advantage of a phenomenon called the bandwagon effect; a cognitive bias by which public opinion or behaviors can alter due to particular public actions and beliefs. The more people who “hop on the bandwagon,” the more prolific the group’s agenda grows. In fact, victims of astroturfing can become so focused on joining and thinking like the bandwagon crowd, they often ignore or reject underlying evidence of wrongdoing and are actually willing to turn a blind eye to their own beliefs.
Astroturfing campaigns generally feature at least one individual in one or more leadership roles dubbed the “smear artist.” As the title suggests, this individual concentrates on controlling public thinking, including how people vote, through broadcasted character assassination of opposing individuals and candidates, even those within their own political party. For smear artists who are not skilled in writing, ghost writers are appointed or hired so hate and falsities may be spewed via newspaper articles, newsletters and even featured rants. Projection of their own abhorrent behavior onto others is often a keynote feature of a smear artist’s personality, as is narcissism and retaliation.
Paradoxically, smear artists know exactly how to suck people into their sticky webs by stoking the human ego in whatever way works. They are also most often the “strategist” behind political ploys that can sometimes border on illegality. If such ploys are publicly exposed, however, the smear artist immediately denies any involvement, asserting that the grassroots foot soldiers were merely acting independently.
While smear artists present themselves as caped super-heroes boldly defending the aggrieved and righting political wrongs, they are, in truth, motivated primarily by paid interests and/or their own selfish agendas.
So, what is the bottom line here? Should we believe our Idaho Republican Party has magically been transformed into a beautifully green and sturdy grassroots movement as Brent Regan declares? Or are we once again being duped into walking on toxic astroturf leading us straight into authoritarianism?
You decide. And if you see it as astroturf, I hope you will reject, or jump off, the bandwagon.
My TURN OPINION/ CDA PRESS