My forthcoming newspaper column:
Think we’re overtaxed? Overregulated? We can talk. If it’s your opinion public education has problems and you have ideas, it’s conversable. If you believe our country is heading in the wrong direction, let’s debate. Which direction, especially. We could have a conversation about military vs. social spending, and where the balance is; to what extent each protects us. I’ve even had almost room-temperature excursus about why, in successful societies, people care for one another.
If you believe the planet isn’t warming, or humans have nothing to do with it, or it’s not serious, there’s no point in wasting either of our time. If you deny evolution or feel sure the earth is six thousand years old, or flat, I’ll defend your right to such beliefs, but they announce the impossibility of fruitful back-and-forth. Likewise if you think homosexuality is a choice. I suppose we could discuss whether tax cuts pay for themselves, but we wouldn’t get far.
The need to reject indisputable facts is something that puzzles me about humans. In our evolutionary history, gut feelings no doubt played an important role in survival. React first, analyze later: it got us a long way. So, several hundred thousand years ago, did prehensile tails, the vestiges of which we all retain, occasionally causing coccygodinia.
According to polls, forty percent of Republicans are certain Russian election interference is fake news created by liberals to distract Trump from his job. This they believe despite knowing every relevant intelligence agency has concluded otherwise and, shown the evidence, so has every member of involved congressional committees, Democrat and Republican. Of Republican voters who acknowledge it occurred, most seem undisturbed. (In a recent challenge, American hackers broke into voting machines in minutes.)
In political fora, many Republicans insist our economy didn’t tank until Obama took over, and continued to decline throughout his presidency. Presenting them with indisputable facts makes no difference. The best hope is that such people are trolling. Otherwise it’s a serious mental defect of information processing, the same kind that rejects unwelcome news as fake. In theory, voting presumes the ability to evaluate data; this broad-based dismissal of evidence by a major political party is ominous.
I don’t think forty percent of Republicans are innately stupid or unable to learn new things. In fairness, they’ve been victimized by intentional disinformation for decades, so it’s not entirely their fault. Whatever the explanation, because it requires both sides accept basic facts, rational discourse has become all but impossible. If political beliefs are a mutable hodge-podge, especially in a messy democracy like ours, facts are not. For propaganda to take root, there must be fertile soil. In that, Democrats are a raised-bed backyard garden. Today’s Republicans are a corporate farm. Our democracy was designed by men who didn’t imagine such a divide was possible.
Aided by clever gerrymandering, Republicans dominate state and federal legislatures. In many red states, not unlike the US Senate (and the current president, thanks to the quirky Electoral College), Republicans received fewer votes than Democrats. And those elected tend to be the most rigid denialists. If it were true, as third-party nihilists argue, that there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans, it wouldn’t matter.
But when one’s adherents are consistently disdainful of facts, and when its leaders count on that instead of winning on ideas, a pathologically lying president who considers the White House “a dump” and lies about Boy Scout phone calls is what happens. The White House revolving door happens. An EPA following the law only by court order, its scientists resigning, happens. Incoherent foreign and domestic policy by tweet, Pizzagate, Seth Rich fake Fox “news” allegedly pushed by the president all happen; a president who’s made it impossible to believe anything he says. Happens. The Republican Prevaricare farce happens (Lindsey Graham called it a disaster and a fraud. And voted for it.)
Ironically, the same information-processing deficiency that allowed Trump’s voters to disregard his lifelong moral and ethical failings, his businesses based on inherited (and laundered?) money and swindling, caused them not to reckon how incapable of governing he’d be. His ineptitude is the only thing saving us, so far, from dictatorship. Or worse. The arch-conservative NRO gets it. Republican Senator Jeff Flake, too. Who’s got next?[Image source]