The Alternate Realities of Left and Right

The Alternate Realities of Left and Right February 4, 2018

Michelle Goldberg has a column about the Nunes memo, written the day before it was actually published, that puts its release into the larger context of the alternate reality that has been created by the right-wing media through constant dishonesty and partisan bias. She begins with this perfectly worded paragraph:

In the 1960s and 1970s, the American right set about undermining trust in the mainstream media, which it saw as dangerously infected with liberal assumptions. Later, in debates over evolution and the environment, some on the right attacked the validity of modern science. By the turn of the millennium, it was an article of faith among conservative ideologues that whole realms of human expertise were in fact intricate structures of propaganda that trapped the unwary in a matrix of deceit.

In an invaluable 2017 Vox essay titled “Donald Trump and the Rise of Tribal Epistemology,” David Roberts quoted a 2009 Rush Limbaugh rant: “Science has been corrupted. We know the media has been corrupted for a long time. Academia has been corrupted. None of what they do is real. It’s all lies!” With Trump, this ethos reached the White House. And now, to protect Trump, the right has expanded its war on empiricism to that most conservative of institutions, the F.B.I.

That David Roberts article is really worth reading and I urge you to do so. But let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that the story that Trump and his defenders are trying to sell here is that the FBI, one of the most conservative institutions in the country, is a bastion of liberalism that was totally in the tank for Hillary Clinton. That is so absurd on its face that in a rational world, it would be greeted only by the shaking of heads and the rolling of eyes.

But the right-wing media has what amounts to almost a magic spell over its audience. They have thoroughly inoculated their readers, listeners and viewers against all evidence and reason. All they have to do is say “fake news” and their followers will instantly and adamantly dismiss any fact, no matter how clear the evidence may be. Trump did not invent this, he’s just taking advantage of it. The seeds were sown decades ago with the relentless attacks on the media, academia and every other institution that might threaten their hegemonic control of the flow of information.

They have literally created an alternate reality in which their followers think they live. I’ve long called it Planet Wingnuttia. On that planet, Obama was born in Kenya, global warming is a hoax, gay people are out to destroy everything good in the world, white people are widely discriminated against, tax cuts for the rich fix every problem, and the American military is badly outgunned and needs ever increasing budgets.

This undermining of basic reasoning abilities is what allows Trump to spend an entire year screaming that the unemployment rate is completely fake and that “real” unemployment is up to 10 times higher than the numbers the government puts out, then turn around the moment he’s in office and claim that those same “fake” numbers show how effective he is at creating jobs — and not one of his followers even bats an eye. It causes them not one instant of cognitive dissonance, not a single moment of “hey, wait a minute” questioning. They are merely passive recipients of whatever nonsense their leaders feed them.

So when the memo was released and Trump claims that it vindicates him and proves that there was no collusion or obstruction, they all believe him instantaneously and without question. It could have been a menu from a Chinese restaurant and they would still believe it. Facts simply do not matter because they are not allowed in the alternate reality in which these people now live.

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