Most uses of passive voice are lazy, thoughtless, or evasive. But the “allowed to believe” statement from Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s speech is in another category: in just nine words, Greene declares her own idiocy and ignorance, and then blames unspecified forces for highjacking her brain and her fingers. If there is a passive voice hall of fame, this quote should be emblazoned over the door.
As I and countless others have described, Greene has posted anti-Semitic and frankly fantastical conspiracy theories on Facebook in the past. She campaigned with a photo of herself with an assault rifle against a backdrop of Hispanic and Muslim Congresswomen, and has suggested that they need to swear their oaths of office on a bible, not a Quran. And she was still an adherent of the QAnon conspiracy theory (that Democrats are pedophile cannibals) as late as December 4, after she was elected.
So let’s be clear. This woman is a racist, Islamophobic loony. The question about which she was defending herself yesterday was this: does she deserve to lose her committee assignments for her views and actions?
About that passive voice sentence
Here’s the full quote from Greene’s speech in context; I’ve highlighted the passive voice element.
I want you to know a lot of Americans don’t trust our government and that’s sad. The problem with that is though is I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true and I would ask questions about them and talk about them. And that is absolutely what I regret, because if it weren’t for the Facebook posts and comments that I liked in 2018, I wouldn’t be standing here today and you couldn’t point a finger and accuse me of anything wrong because I’ve lived a very good life that I’m proud of.
I’m going to take that apart, because it’s instructive.
First, is it passive? Yes, because all of the above are true:
- It includes “was,” a form of the verb “to be.”
- It includes the past participle verb form “allowed.”
- The subject of the sentence, “I,” is not the subject of the verb action, because she is not the one doing the allowing.
- It passes the zombies test: it makes sense to say “I was allowed by zombies to believe things that weren’t true.”
In converting passive voice sentences to active voice, you need to ask who the real subject of the verb is. Who is actually allowing her to believe these things? That’s a pretty good question that has no answer in her speech or anywhere else. An active voice rewrite of this would read this way:
People allowed me to believe things that weren’t true.
The biggest problem with this sentence is the idea that somebody — anybody — has to allow you to believe things. Adults are supposed to decide for themselves what to believe. Even Fox Mulder of “The X-Files” said “I want to believe” — at least he took responsibility for his belief in the impossible. By somehow attempting to remove herself as a responsible party from what she believed in the past, Greene is saying “I was duped, but trust me now.” In other words, she is implicitly declaring her own past credulity and bad judgment.
Even so, she never explicitly takes responsibility for her belief in conspiracy theories — she believed because she was “allowed to.” So a more accurate rewrite of this sentence is simply:
I believed things that weren’t true.
Of course, that makes her sound like (even more of) an idiot. So her brain inserted the passive “was allowed to” as a remarkably audacious and ultimately ineffective way of avoiding responsibility for her own attraction to and sharing of vile, racist, patently untrue and bizarre conspiracy theories.
Language is revealing, isn’t it?
A few other choice quotes
Here are some other excerpts from that speech with my commentary.
You only know me by how Media Matters, CNN, MSNBC, and the rest of the mainstream media is portraying me. . . .
You see, big media companies can take teeny tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us and can portray us and to someone that we’re not, and that is wrong.
If you make statements, media is going to report on them. That’s their job. Your job is to say things you can stand behind, make policy, and deal with media.
I’m a very hard worker. I’ve always paid my taxes. I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never done drugs . . .
Sure, let’s set the bar as low as possible. I’m also a hardworking taxpayer who’s never been arrested or done drugs. Why not elect me, too?
I started seeing things in the news that didn’t make sense to me like Russian collusion, which are conspiracy theories also, and have been proven so, these things bothered me deeply, and I realized just watching CNN or Fox news, I may not find the truth. And so, what I did is I started looking up things on the internet, asking questions, like most people do every day, use Google. And I stumbled across something and this was at the end of 2017 called QAnon. Well, these posts were mainly about this Russian collusion information. A lot of it was some of what I would see on the news at night and I got very interested in it, so I posted about it on Facebook. I read about it, I talked about it. I asked questions about it, and then more information came from it. But you see, here’s the problem, throughout 2018, because I was upset about things and didn’t trust the government, really because the people here weren’t doing the things that I thought they should be doing for us, the things that I just told you I cared about.
Greene thoughtfully provides a description of how QAnon sucked her in and she is unable to tell reality from fantasy. I have no doubt that millions of people have had this experience. While I’m concerned for them, it doesn’t mean they should serve in Congress.
So later in 2018, when I started finding misinformation, lies, things that were not true in these QAnon posts, I stopped believing it. And I want to tell you, any source, and I say this to everyone, any source of information that is a mix of truth and a mix of lies is dangerous no matter what it is saying, what party it is helping, anything or any country it’s about, it’s dangerous.
So you stopped being a credulous idiot in 2018? This doesn’t excuse your being credulous about it in the first place. And if you no longer accept QAnon, why keep posting about it through December of 2020?
[S]chool shootings are absolutely real. . . .
I also want to tell you, 9/11 absolutely happened. I remember that day, crying all day long and watching it on the news and it’s a tragedy for anyone to say it didn’t happen. And so, that I definitely want to tell you, I do not believe that it’s fake.
If I told you “I deny being an embezzler,” what would you think? You’d probably look up whether I was accused of being an embezzler and whether the accusation was credible.
I never once said during my entire campaign, QAnon. I never once said any of the things that I am being accused of today during my campaign. I never said any of these things since I have been elected for Congress. These were words of the past and these things do not represent me. They do not represent my district and they do not represent my values.
Sorry, Congresswoman Greene. You’re responsible for everything you said before. You don’t get to start with a clean slate when you run for Congress. If you want us to give you credit for being a successful businesswoman, you have to take credit for all the oddball and destructive conspiracy theories you wrote about before you were elected as well.
And if this Congress is to tolerate members that condone riots that have hurt American people, attack police officers, occupied federal property, burned businesses and cities, but yet wants to condemn me and crucify me in the public square for words that I said, and I regret a few years ago, then I think we’re in a real big problem, a very big problem.
Whataboutism is not a defense. If you say someone else condones riots, then you have to listen when we criticize you for being a credulous loony.
Even with all that being said, I feel the Congress made the wrong decision to strip Congresswoman Greene of her committee posts. She was elected. If we threw all the idiots out of Congress, there wouldn’t be enough people left to do the job we elected them to do. And who decides where to draw the line?
Marjorie Taylor Greene is a dangerous and naive demagogue. But make no mistake — when Republicans are in the majority in the House, they’ll take the same sort of action to strip Democrats of responsibilities. This is no way to govern.
The right way to deal with the Marjorie Taylor Greene problem is to ridicule her at every turn, demonstrate her complete inability to do anything useful during the next two years, and have non-loony candidates run against her in the next election cycle. Georgians elected her. They deserve to get full representation from the ludicrous and offensive politician they put in office.