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Trump and his Republican allies cling to the 'paid protester' myth

Donald Trump assumes any American who rallies against him must be a "paid protester." He's actually not the only Republican making this mistake.
Demonstrators arrive at Union Station for the Women's March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017, in Washington, DC.
Demonstrators arrive at Union Station for the Women's March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017, in Washington, DC. Jessica Kourkounis / Getty Images
Progressive activists have been very active in Colorado of late, pressuring Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), among others, to break with his party's far-right agenda. "It's just been a fire hose," the Republican senator said this week.But Gardner doesn't seem especially moved by the public outcry. The CBS affiliate in Denver reported, "Gardner said his office is getting so many calls and emails, [he] has staff assigned to do nothing except respond to them. In one night, his office received 3,000 voicemails. Many of them were from what Gardner calls paid protesters from other parts of the U.S."I haven't seen any evidence to suggest the protesters have been paid, but it's apparently the assumption Gardner is making to dismiss the progressive activism in his home state -- which Donald Trump lost by five points in November.The conservative Coloradan isn't alone. Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) press secretary told the Miami Herald the senator's office was unconcerned with "paid protestors."And then, of course, there's the new president himself, who decided to start tweeting again this morning:

"Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"

First, I'm deeply amused by the very idea of "professional anarchists." I also wish that had been the name of my band in high school.Second, this is common in authoritarian thinking. When the public rallies in support of the leader, those citizens deserve to be celebrated. When the public rallies in opposition to the leader, those citizens should be dismissed as corrupt and ignored.And third, this isn't the first time Trump has raised the prospect of people being hired to oppose him. Shortly after the president's victory, when protests broke out in cities across the country, Trump insisted that his critics were "professional protesters," paid to speak out against him. He offered no proof, but then again, he's not really a proof kind of guy.Maybe this is an awkward form of projection. After all, some of the people who attended Trump's campaign kick-off in 2015 were paid to be there. More recently, the Republican brought paid staff with him to clap at his pre-inaugural press conference.Or maybe the president's ego won't allow him to perceive criticism any other way. Trump assumes he's wildly popular -- just ask him about his inaugural crowd size or his reality show's ratings -- so when he's confronted with evidence of large, widespread protests against him, it's vastly easier for him to assume these Americans are on someone's liberal payroll. Cognitive dissonance won't allow him to draw any other conclusion.The fact remains, however, that progressive activism is real -- and those who are getting engaged, many for the first time, are volunteering their time, energy, and passions.Trump, Rubio, Gardner, and their Republican allies should probably start listening to these Americans rather than dismissing them as trivial annoyances.