“Fact is merely what enough people believe, and truth lies only in how fervently they believe it.” –Charles P. Pierce, Idiot America
By now countless journalists, academics, and luminaries have expressed serious concern over the election of Donald Trump. To put it simply, the only ones celebrating his victory are the KKK, Russia, ISIS, and American conservatives.
Make no mistake, the Trump presidency is a national tragedy.
It’s not just because he’s racist and sexist and xenophobic. It’s not just because the country seems more racist and sexist and xenophobic than ever before.
It’s not because the first female candidate for president lost the election, even though she won the popular vote by more than 2.8 million, a number larger than anyone in history who did not go on to become president.
It’s not because a political party who has campaigned for half a century on family values compromised them all by supporting Trump.
Trump’s election to the presidency is tragic because it marks a turning point in world politics. November 8, 2016 is the day that proved Americans could no longer differentiate between fact and fiction.
We are living in a “post-truth” nation.
For those who think people are overreacting, for those who think Trump can improve this country, and for those who think this is merely a political disagreement: this is for you.
It’s not about red versus blue, or liberal versus conservative, or Democrat versus Republican. This is not a disagreement about policy or ideology. It is much more complex than being on a certain side of an issue.
It’s about the ability to differentiate news from noise.
First, let me say, I am not a Democrat. I’ve been registered independent since I was 18. I’ve voted for as many Republican presidential candidates as I have Democrat. Party affiliation used to mean nothing to me, and I still pledge allegiance to neither. My allegiance is only to the truth, to the facts, and to justice, like most journalists, writers, and storytellers.
If you voted against Hillary Clinton because you think she’s crooked, untrustworthy, or just unlikable, then congratulations – you’ve been manipulated.
A visceral, negative hostility toward someone we’ve never met is more than likely manufactured. If you can’t point to specific reasons for your dislike, then it’s definitely manufactured.
I’ve encountered this repeatedly over the last year, and it’s not limited to conservatives. The majority of Americans have a negative view of Hillary, but it’s only the minority who can support their emotional reaction with valid reasons.
If someone were to ask me why I might not like Hillary, I would quickly answer:
- Because she’s been known to change her stance on issues to appeal to different voters.
- Because she cozies up to Wall Street and makes us doubt there could be any real financial regulation. Same with her ties to Big Pharma
- Because she and her husband helped strike down the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which led to the financial crisis of 2008.
- Because she and her husband’s welfare reform bill sent more people into poverty.
However, if you happen to dislike Hillary for any of the following reasons, you’ve been conned:
- Private emails
- “I just don’t trust her.”
One of the oldest political tricks is to undermine the messenger, especially when you can’t disagree with the message. Republican strategists have perfected this, and Karl Rove has made a career out of it.
For Hillary, right-wing columnist William Safire first launched the smear campaign back in 1996, Maureen Dowd continued it, and the Republican establishment made it part of their platform.
With more than a little help from Newt Gingrich, the Clinton smear campaign undermined much of the Clinton presidency. Instead of battling the Clintons on issues, Gingrich led Congressional Republicans to play dirty and tarnish their reputations instead. Some may call his attacks on Hillary sexist, and they very well may be, but he was successful in souring her name with the voting public, a campaign stretching more than 25 years and ultimately cost her the presidency.
The truth is that Clinton is one of the most honest politicians in America, regardless of popular opinion.
By comparison, Donald Trump lies more than he tells the truth, regardless of whatever image he sells.
But that hypocrisy doesn’t register with the average voter. All that seems to matter is selling the smear. And if you’re guilty of the very thing you accuse someone else of – like Trump often is – the American public is complacent in its ignorance.
If you need further proof of our willingness to tolerate such hypocrisy, consider the Clinton email scandal. Newsweek:
Clinton’s email habits look positively transparent when compared with the subpoena-dodging, email-hiding, private-server-using George W. Bush administration. Between 2003 and 2009, the Bush White House “lost” 22 million emails.
By comparison, Clinton lost 33,000 emails, most of which were private. She was exonerated by the investigation, but the myth of her corruption prevails.
How do we know this is a smear tactic?
Because Donald Trump’s companies regularly destroy or hide documents, including thousands of emails, directly defying court orders. His personal and private life is so shady, he racked up over 4,000 lawsuits in three decades, and currently has 75 lawsuits against him at the time of the election.
Despite the Bush Administration’s deception that involves an act of war, war profiteering, and the sacrifice of thousands of American lives, Republicans gain no political power by holding their own party accountable. They are far more interested in wasting money and resources attacking opponents.
How flagrant is this Republican hypocrisy?
During only the first two years after Sept 11, 2001, President George W. Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials knowingly made at least 935 false statements about the national security threat posed by Iraq. And for the most part, the media and the Democrats willingly played along.
By comparison, the Benghazi smear campaign cost the American taxpayers 7 million dollars, and it was nothing but political theater.
But there’s no end to Republican hypocrisy.
Remember Newt Gingrich’s impeachment trials of Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal? Gingrich didn’t care Clinton had an affair – he was only scoring political points with his party and playing to the Christian values of his conservative base. Meanwhile, Gingrich showed utter disdain for those same values and his own gullible voters by cheating on both his first and second wife, one during the impeachment period.
This is how successful the Republican noise machine is – everyone connects Clinton to extra marital affairs, but no one thinks of adultery when they hear Gingrich’s name.
The idea that Hillary is crooked – or at least more so than other politicians – is a myth repeated so many times, it clearly no longer matters if it’s true.
This effect is known as the “illusion of truth” – when you hear certain information so many times, you believe it, regardless of its accuracy. Political lies stay with us not because of their authenticity, but because manipulative campaign strategists understand psychology.
The majority of the time, this information works against our best interest.
For instance, if you believe Democrats tax and spend more, then congratulations – you’ve been manipulated.
This is little more than another campaign strategy used to mislead voters.
Furthermore, if you think Democrats increase the size of government, while Republicans reduce it, then congratulations – you’ve been manipulated yet again.
The reality is that Reagan and Bush Jr. are the worst offenders and increased both spending and size of government the most. The notion that Reagan cut the size of government was propaganda used to mislead the nation – and it worked. The singular reason we have so much debt today is because of Reagan. And then because of Bush’s wars fought on credit.
Need further proof Republicans waste more of your tax dollars? How about the Star Wars Missile Defense System no one ever talks about: After two decades and $100 billion of taxpayer money, it still cannot stop a single damn missile. The only thing accomplished was to transfer money from the government to defense contractors, many of whom work in government (I’m talking to you, Dick Cheney).
So why do our Republican representatives bash Planned Parenthood’s meager $540 million and PBS’s paltry $445 million budgets, while $12 billion in public funds were given to big business to subsidize over 50 new sports stadiums between 2001 and 2010 alone?
Furthermore, how can Fox News find the one individual who bought lobster with welfare money, yet ignore the $90 billion earmarked for a Navy submarine fleet, or the $400 billion spent developing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, whose cost doesn’t even include building and maintaining them. (Oh, and by the way, they can’t even fly in bad weather, or at night, and none have yet been used in combat.)
If you voted for Trump because he pledged to lower taxes on the wealthy in order to create jobs and return industry to Middle America, then congratulations again – you’ve been manipulated.
The OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, disproves the myth of trickle-down economics, also known as Reaganomics. Cutting taxes on the wealthy has not fostered economic growth as promised, but stymied economic growth significantly, and only made the rich richer.
Reaganomics is now widely recognized for increasing levels of inequality, stagnating wages, and hollowing out decent, middle-income jobs, as reported by the Center for American Progress. Sadly, the American Dream died circa 1980, but we are still so deluded, we praise the very puppet who killed it. That is the power of propaganda and manipulation.
Why do we celebrate Reagan when his policies helped make American wages as a percentage of GDP an all-time low, yet corporate profits as a percentage of GDP an all-time high? (See my follow-up post: Stop the Reagan Worship: 101 Reasons to Tear Down This Altar)
Trickle-down economics did nothing but transfer all economic gains to the 1% and business class at the expense of the Middle Class. The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we can address our country’s economic woes.
Can Donald Trump fix this? No, because he does not understand this, acknowledge this, nor care. He is the 1% we transfer our economic gains to.
Let me be clear: BOTH the Democrats and the Republicans have failed us immensely. However, they do not share equal responsibility. The majority of the blame, if not all of the blame, lies with Republicans’ pro-big-business, conservative economic agenda. (You can check out my extensively detailed, referenced, and data-driven 40,000-word blog series on inequality called GOODBYE, MIDDLE CLASS to understand the specifics. I spent twice as much time on this as my college thesis, so please, give it a read.)
America is right to be angry at decreasing wages, diminishing opportunity, a do-nothing Congress, a dying heartland, out-of-touch politicians, and the corporate takeover of our country. We are all angry. But we do not all understand whom to be angry with.
Our seeds of dissent have been sowed to manipulate us instead of helping us. This same situation happened in the UK. Brexit was the result of the 1% riling up the poor white poverty class to hate immigrants and minorities, and funnel that hatred into voting them out of the EU, which worked against their own self-interest.
Our politicians are responsible for our economic decline – but let’s put the blame where it belongs.
1. The reason our income taxes are so high is because the 1% pay so little. The majority of the 1% who do not work or earn a paycheck live off of capital gains and dividends. Before Reagan took office, this type of money – the kind you do not work for (i.e., trust funds) – was taxed at 70%. The logic was: the harder you work for your money, the less it should be taxed. In other words, if you didn’t do anything to earn the money, you should pay more for it. When Reagan and other Republican presidents slashed this rate down to 15%, our nation’s debt was created, and we have never recovered. It is because the leisure class pays such low tax rates that those who pay income taxes from actual jobs are overburdened. And now, this leisure class, or 1%, enabled by Republicans, and Democrats to a lesser degree, have reengineered our political system to work only for them. The election of Trump put the very beneficiary of such corruption into the highest position. Wait till he makes even more money from his executive privilege.
2. The reason so much of the country is out of work is because of the free trade policies that allowed American businesses to outsource, downsize, and offshore. Pleasing Wall Street became a bigger priority than employing local communities and keeping Americans employed. To put it simply, the 1%’s pockets are more important than American jobs. This includes Trump’s pockets, as he profits from foreign labor, himself.
3. The more mergers and acquisitions, the fewer jobs, and less competition. The U.S. has now deregulated so many industries, and stopped enforcing anti-trust laws, that we now allow monopolies, oligopolies, and conglomerates that were once illegal. We removed countless regulations that our forefathers put in place to prevent another Great Depression, like Glass Steagall, and as a result, we got the Great Recession. The idea that business can regulate itself is farcical. Greed must be regulated. This is the root cause of our healthcare problems, the skyrocketing of pharmaceutical prices, and our credit debt that preys on the poorest in our society.
The clearest marker of our dire straits, besides staggering inequality, is that culpability is mostly with the 1 percent and the business class, and as it is often throughout history.
Demagogues like Donald Trump have helped focus resentment, fear, uncertainty and anger by blaming the poor and immigrants, who are in no way responsible for any of our predicaments. Instead of focusing anger at the REAL culprits - the business class, Republicans, Wall Street, the 1 percent - Trump chose to demonize the most helpless members of society.
And we rewarded his behavior with the presidency.
No, he will not drain the swamp. Donal Trump’s campaign is the swamp. His staffers range from coal, tobacco, and pharmaceutical lobbyists, to Big Oil front groups trying to strip environmental protections, to former Koch Brothers’ operatives pushing their own corporate agendas in gas and chemical industries.
What will bring back jobs and spur economic growth? Billionaire entrepreneur Nick Hanauer says it best in his TED Talk on the subject. He explains why rich people aren’t job creators:
“There can never be enough superrich people to power a great economy. The annual earnings of people like me are hundreds if not thousands of times greater than those of median Americans. But we don’t buy hundreds or thousands of times more stuff. If the 400 richest billionaires in America could generate just as much economic activity alone than the rest of us can, then maybe they’d be an argument for such vast wealth, but they can’t. The typical billionaire doesn’t buy thousands more pairs of pants or thousands more ties, or thousands more cars than the typical working class American... I can’t buy enough of anything that the millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans can buy – any new clothes or cars or enjoy any meals out to make up for the decreasing consumption of the vast majority of American families that are barely squeaking by, buried by spiraling costs and trapped by stagnant or declining wages.”
In other words, when high concentrations of wealth accumulate at the top, as Republicans continually pursue, the economy suffers. The billions that sit in offshore accounts in the Caymans are not funneled back into the U.S. economy. If this money were put into the hands of the lower class, it would be used immediately at malls, grocery stores, and car dealerships. When everyone has disposable income, the economy soars. When only the 1% has disposable income, money sits and accumulates, creating dynasties with unparalleled power and influence. (I’m talking about you, Donald Trump.)
This is why petty welfare abuse is akin to telling employees to keep an eye on the supply closet while the CEO embezzles millions. (And why if you vote based on petty welfare abuse, you are once again being manipulated by the embezzlers, i.e. the 1%.)
Trump has never held public office in his life, and you can be certain he has neither the economic understanding nor business acumen to return jobs to any sector of the economy. And if we allow his Republican Congress to manage the country, we won’t have much of a country left.
To understand just how bad conservatives have screwed the individual states they’ve governed, look no further than Kansas and my home state of Louisiana.
In 2010, Republican Governor Sam Brownback, with majorities in both houses of legislature, enacted the standard conservative failed policies: he repealed income taxes on more than 100,000 businesses, signed the largest tax cut in the state’s history, tightened welfare requirements, privatized Medicaid, cut funding to education, reduced the size of government by laying off 2,000 employees and closing four government agencies. Proving for the millionth time that tax cuts do not – and have not ever – created economic growth, but resulted in a nearly $700 million deficit. In Louisiana, the failed governorship of Bobby Jindal mirrored Kansas. When he began his term, he inherited a $1 billion surplus (yes, that’s billion with a ‘b’), and he left the state in utter disrepair with a $1.6 billion deficit. In the process he slashed social services, denied the Medicaid expansion, depleted the rainy day fund, defunded education (by 44%) and hospitals (by $64 million). The futility of my Republican friends who continued to vote for Jindal, but who also worked in higher education and complained of continual budget cuts, confounded me. Do they not understand that their jobs equaled wasteful government spending to Republican leadership?
Finally, let’s not forget California, the state with the sixth largest economy in the world, which recently surpassed that of France. It had a deficit under Arnold Schwarzenegger of $34 billion when he entered office, and tripled to $91 billion when he left. Under Jerry Brown, California now has a budget surplus of $2.8 billion.
A reminder: this is not partisan preference; this is merely the facts.
And the fact that Republicans continue to prescribe the same failed policies that have wrecked the nation, without a single media outlet holding them accountable, is an indictment to just how biased the media is toward conservative governing. And just how susceptible we are to the noise, distortions and lies that continue to deceive us, keeping us from voting in our best interests.
Why do we continue to trust Republicans to steer the economy when Republican presidents and governors leave us in worse shape?
Because in this day and age, we can no longer differentiate between fact and fiction.
Political lies and smearing have been around for centuries. What is worrisome is that in the Information Age, they are not debunked, but disseminated.
It is because of the lies and distortions that liberals and conservatives can no longer reach common ground, as only one group is grounded in reality.
In 2002, Karl Rove dismissed journalists as being part of the “reality-based community.” He explained:
Rove would know, as he’s spent the majority of his life constructing false narratives and selling them to the public like an ad agency shills laundry detergent. His words go a long way to explaining why so many Americans are so misinformed – because that’s exactly how conservatives want it.
Fox News and Rush Limbaugh have poisoned their audience past the point of contributing positively to society. They have been brainwashed, and their loyalty to the Republicans is basically Stockholm syndrome – irrational and manipulative, and they are left none the wiser.
This is why Big Business and Republicans dismantled The Fairness Doctrine, which required news outlets to show equal sides of an argument. Conservatives targeted this legislation because they wanted to fight facts they didn’t like. In other words, they wanted to sell and market their free-market ideology. It was the Nixon administration that coined the term “liberal media” during the Vietnam War. The news stations for the first time had live footage of the carnage, and that was changing American perceptions about the war. Not happy about this shift in support, Nixon’s war propagandists began blaming the messenger, i.e., the “liberal media”. (Remember, when you cannot counter a message or refute the evidence, you must attack the messenger - hence the use of the terms, “liberal elites,” “liberal media”, “gotcha questions,” etc.) Nixon’s chief propagandist was Roger Ailes, who was responsible for blurring the lines between news and propaganda in regards to the Vietnam War. This is why he was hired to run Fox News.
Reality has been debatable ever since, as outlets like Fox News turn smearing the opposition into a full-time job. (Yes, I realize MSNBC is also agenda-driven – but there is no competition when it comes to down-right deceit.)
Part of the reason for this demonization of the left is that Democrats have been moving further and further to the right since the Reagan era in an attempt to find common ground. In response, instead of reaching across the aisle, Republicans decided to campaign by attacking the Democrats, and going further to the right in defiance. Instead of being for something, their strategy changed to undermining Democrats.
Enter the smear campaign that follows the Clintons to this very day. To reiterate: this is the real reason Hillary lost the election – it’s hard to beat a 25-year long attack of indoctrination blurring the lines between fact and fiction.
In a capitalist culture, information should not be a commodity. Truth should not be a brand. Disinformation should not be a product.
This is not a debate between two ideologies. This is a showdown between myth and reality. And last week, reality lost.
If you are not terrified for our country’s future, then you are not well enough informed to even be part of the conversation. And by the time everyone grasps the magnitude of our disaster, it will be too late.
Trump has taken Rush Limbaugh’s outrage and Fox News’ fabrications and manipulated the American people into voting into office the very people responsible for their economic decline. In doing so, Trump has targeted and enflamed the worst of our humanity, inciting violence, legitimizing white supremacists, inspiring hate crimes, and dividing the nation.
If you refuse to accept the truth and refuse to hear the pleas of every Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Nobel laureate, and national commentator with a keyboard and a wifi connection, then we as a nation have already lost.
We lost when you chose to believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, even when our own administration didn’t believe it.
Just this week, The Oxford Dictionary sealed our fate by naming “post-truth” the word of the year, defining it as:
“Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
The greatest problem of our future is not political; it is not economic; it is not even rational. It’s the battle of fact versus fiction.
Sadly, a Trump victory illustrates that we are no longer able to distinguish between the two.