Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Post-Truth Era and GOP Fever Dreams

The New York Times recently coined the expression "post-truth era" to designate the Zeitgeist of American political discourse in late 2015 and early 2016. Alas, lamented the Times, evidence, facts, logic, common sense--all have been discarded in favor of truth-free bombast and fear-mongering. Less courageous journalists at CNN timorously agreed, tsk-tsking that yes, truth had been rather too often "transcended."

By whom? Well, by almost all of the would-be 2016 candidates for president, I suppose--but most especially and egregiously by the Republicans--all of whom seem determined not only to deny, but to defy any truth that they or their followers do not wish to believe, and all of whom seem equally resolved to fabricate and disseminate alternate "faux truths"--i.e., lies (or, possibly worse, just plain bullshit)--which, though comforting and satisfying, risk deluding a great nation into dangerous behaviors justified by nothing more real than hysterical fever dreams.

This, too, of course, will pass--as all that is human--both admirable and asinine--will pass. But for those future enlightened visitors from another planet who, curious about the disappearance of earthlings, wish to study the decline and fall of homo sapiens in the era of post-truth, I herewith set myself the task of recording a selection of the most notable of the "post-truths" advanced by Republicans in CE 2015-16.

In organizing my catalog, I find it useful to distinguish between outright lies and glib bullshit--a telling distinction noted by Harry Frankfort in his book On Bullshit. "Lies," according to Frankfort, are falsehoods devised with malice aforethought by an individual who knows the truth, but who purposefully sets out to subvert it in order to advance a personal agenda. Though such outright lies can easily be disproved by evidence, the wiliest of liars wager that their personal braggadocio will so bedazzle their auditors that these latter will refuse to investigate, preferring to accept the beguiling falsehood rather than to seek out a possibly unpleasant truth.

"Bullshit," on the other hand, differs from lies in that bullshit is not a conscious attempt to misrepresent or distort the truth--rather, says Frankfort, bullshitters do not concern themselves in any way with the truth; they simply regard it as irrelevant and pay no attention to it at all. They do not care. And, insofar as such positions could (albeit entirely by coincidence) be at least partly truthful, they tend to be accepted rather casually as well, maybe "OK" and, in any event, impossible to disprove. Upon first hearing bullshit, we generally sense an element of phoniness, of contrivance, but, gradually, after hearing the same "stuff" repeated incessantly, we begin to sort of believe it. It becomes a kind of "white-noise", "faith-based" reality lazily left unexamined. As such, because it is so blithely detached from truth, it can be much more dangerous than outright lies (which, at least, can be refuted by actual evidence).

I begin my list, then, with unabashed lies (i.e., statements made by someone who knows the truth and is deliberately falsifying it for self-serving reasons.) Though such "post-truth" contentions can easily be disproved by anyone willing to examine the evidence, those who "love the liar," as I've pointed out previously, generally choose to "love the lie" as well:

  • Obama wants to settle 250,000 Syrians in US (Trump);
  • Planned Parenthood sold baby body parts (Fiorina);
  • Thousands and thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheered the destruction of New York's twin towers (Trump);
  • Carson was offered a full scholarship at West Point (Carson);
  • Blacks kill 81% of white homicide victims (Trump);
  • Welders make more money than philosophy majors (Rubio);
  • China, though not even a party to the Trans Pacific Partnership, has "outmaneuvered" the US in the TPP deal (Trump);
  • The US government funds abortion (All GOP candidates);
  • North Korea, which has no ICBMs, could hit us with a nuclear weapon (Rubio);
  • Rubio's parents, who immigrated before Castro came to power, were refugees from Castro (Rubio);
  • The Obama administration told the Catholic Church that it would shut down Catholic charities and hospitals if the church doesn't change its beliefs (Cruz);
  • Planned Parenthood is not "doing" women's health issues (Bush);
  • Most countries (including Mexico) don't have birthright citizenship (Trump);
  • We have the highest tax rate of any country in the world (Trump);
  • Our Constitution makes it clear that "there is no place for gays or atheists in America" (Cruz); (This may be an Internet fabrication, but it certainly accords with Cruz's general thinking.)
  • States not directly involved in gay marriage lawsuits are not bound by SCOTUS ruling (Cruz).

Next, I turn to our post-truth era's almost endless stream of bullshit--i.e., stupid notions and made-up assertions that are unassailable either because there is no evidence available or because the propagator and his votaries reject evidence as a proof; he/they do. not. care):

  • George Bush "kept us safe" (Bush);
  • Illegal immigration costs us 200 billion a year (Trump);
  • Mexican immigrants, sent by the Mexican government, are bringing drugs, crime, disease and rape to our country (Trump); 
  • A wall can be built between the US and Mexico and Mexico can be made to pay for it (Trump);
  • Trump has "heard" that Obama is going to sign an executive order to take your guns away (Trump);
  • The Iran nuclear-control deal "trusts" Iranians to inspect themselves (Cruz);
  • Science doesn't back up the alarmists on global warming (Cruz and others);
  • There are 30-34 million illegal immigrants in the US (Trump);
  • We would be more productive and richer if we just worked harder (Bush);
  • We are exceptional because of our uniqueness (Kasich);
  • Gay marriage is not "settled" law (Rubio);
  • A flat tax rate would benefit the poor and the middle class more than the rich (Carson);
  • Vaccinations lead to autism (Trump);
  • Obama is a secret Muslim born in Kenya (Most of them, at some point);
  • Obama might declare a state of emergency and abolish 2016 elections (Carson);
  • We need to abolish the IRS and send its 110,000 agents (there are 82,000 employees and 14,000 agents) to patrol southern border (Cruz);
  • A return to the gold standard would guarantee American economic security (Cruz);
  • Josh Duggar's transgressions (i.e., incest?) are far less an affront to God than what gays do to each other (Huckabee);
  • Fiorina made tough decisions to save jobs at HP (Fiorina);
  • Trump saved Ohio's auto industry (Trump);
  • The Pyramids of Gaza were built by the Old Testament patriarch Joseph for the purpose of storing grain (Carson);
  • Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery (Carson);
  • If a US law contradicts "god's law," one has the "right" to ignore it (Rubio);
  • The Chinese are secretly involved militarily in the middle east wars (Carson);
  • If Parisians had had more guns, the November 13, 2015 attacks would have been less costly in human life (Trump);
  • Religious freedom does not mean simply believing anything you want (Rubio). 

Isn't this last assertion deliciously ironic, especially insofar as it is advanced by one of the "post-truth" era's most unabashed practitioners of "believing anything you want"? Apparently Rubio et. al. think that this freedom to believe stuff divorced from evidence is a right accorded (by some mysterious power) exclusively to GOP candidates--not, however, to you.

No, YOU, it would seem, are free to believe only the lies and fantasies enumerated above (along with others from the same fact-challenged sources). And certainly you are not free, under any circumstances, to believe anything you read in the New York Times. For, as Donald Trump said the other evening in a debate, "It's the New York Times. They're always wrong."

Post-truth, eh?

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