I awoke today, looked around me, observed closely, gave some thought to that which I had witnessed, and then concluded the time had arrived when in fact there was too much Republican presidential candidate idiocy to satisfactorily manage. Heretofore I believed no such thing was possible, at least not in the course of my natural life. My assumption was that each new revelation of candidate stupidity would exponentially produce units of amusement. But in fact, the quantity is simply overwhelming.
Indeed, across the land, all fact-checking machinery long ago made strange noises, emitted jets of steam and collapsed in mechanical exhaustion. As the obligation persists to note each new expression of incompetence as it occurs, comment upon it, analyze it perhaps, and ridicule it most certainly, minds begin to buckle under the weight of the bulk. Collapse of the will to respond shortly follows.
There is, there must be something consequential, heavily so, when a people inhabits a land of unreality. Over time, the cumulative damage to nations, cultures and individuals of carrying on as if in the intellectual, moral and existential sense gravity were continuing to hold objects and people close to the Earth when it is not must be substantial. The consequences of national pretending bore into the collective brain and attach themselves like insidious parasites, fundamentally altering the personality of the being itself.
So, it’s less that falsity, ignorance and irrationality exist as they always have, than that in large part they no longer seem to matter, at least if ramifications or lack of them are to be the measure. What is profound is that no one gives this state of affairs a second thought anymore; it simply is the condition of our world, accepted, and apparently acceptable to enough of those with anything resembling power to make it not so.
During Watergate, the era when the conservative campaign to remove the inconvenience of a media preoccupied with exposing truth began in earnest, there never was a headline quoting an American conservative declaring Khrushchev-like to the American press: “We will bury you” (for the record, my understanding is this was a mistranslation of the Premier, whose words more accurately were, “We will outlast you”). But if such a statement by an American conservative ever was made, the person who made it could be credited today as proven correct by history. The right has buried factual journalism as an effective or relevant enterprise, or more accurately, forced it to bury itself.
Some of this transformation has been the result of incessant and calculated coercion, some of it the unintended effect of technological progress. While elements of the print media and online media still will call a spade a spade, for the more influential, in terms of pure reach across the population, television media, the operating principle, or more accurately the business model is to ensure “the appearance of balance,” meaning one thing stated is treated as being credible as another.
Combine this with a daily disgorging of non-facts as facts from radios, websites and television shows and the shape of reality itself shifts. Chronic espousers of the false not only will coldly espouse it confident of impunity during television interviews, fearing little actual challenge, but they will do so certain there will be no emphatic calling out of what is said as false or said with the intent to lie. With repetition, the false becomes as believable as the true to millions, until eventually it replaces truth entirely and for all practical purposes is the truth.
But never let it go unmentioned that this state of affairs was long the goal of the American right; and we can see why: if material fact and objective truth no longer are the minimal standard for prominent participation in the public discourse then reality is merely that which is more effectively sold, truth is that which more are persuaded is true, advertising, or more precisely propaganda replace factual information and material reality entirely and absolutely. Conservatives always understood their background in the corporation and business, their immersion in the hard sell, their experience making the unnecessary and unwanted needed, wanted and purchased would serve them superbly in the post-factual, post-truth world.
This is why conservatism’s campaign to berate the press for every story or exposé unflattering to a conservative politician or conservative assertion or conservative policy as “biased” has been essential. This is why the meme “liberal bias” was so effective in its design. This is why, as I have said before, if a Republican tells Wolf Blitzer the sun rises in the west, and a Democrat states accurately the sun rises in the east, and Blitzer concludes “this is the argument the parties continue to have,” it exemplifies our wretched state of affairs. Concerned citizens are as likely to hear on the radio as they are to encounter on the internet that the sun rises in the west as that the sun rises in the east. Fact, truth, and in essence reality are up for grabs.
So when you hear Herman Cain revealed as not knowing China has possessed nuclear weapons for more than fifty years, first you slap your forehead, then you laugh or cry, and your impulse is to tell someone, tell everybody, all of us telling each other until no one pays attention to Herman Cain. Except, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, even the New York Times continue to pay attention. This is where the breakdown between you and what you had come to believe was reality grows so large it begins to make your head hurt.
Michele Bachmann doesn’t know America has had no embassy in Iran since the Iranian revolution. Rick Perry is so unserious and unschooled he forgets the federal departments he claims he would actually shutter were he to become president, magically waving a wand and evaporating parts of the federal government. Newt Gingrich says he was paid millions for services as a historian,though he actually he was paid millions to lobby. Add hundreds of such instances of startling stupidity, manifest ignorance or conspicuous clownishness and the outcome is the same. You thought none of those so exposed should matter anymore to anyone, yet they do.
An entire political party and an entire ideological segment of the population couldn’t care less what is true, what is fact, what is real, and feels no threat to its daily functioning, its acceptance as a viable political party, or its full power. This lack of concern, this complete indifference stemming from such an absence of consequences is undisguised, blatant, even worn with evident pride. And the rest of us play along. We pretend, including those we always had believed never would.
Mitt Romney makes an advertisement in which a clip is shown of Barack Obama quoting John McCain and presented as an original quote from Barack Obama. Evolution is a wild hypothesis, climate change is a plot conceived by those ever mischievous and acquisitive climate scientists, preoccupied as they traditionally are with bling. Maybe I’m quaint, but I don’t believe it’s supposed to be this way. Or not this bad, at least. I still want to laugh, but I can’t help myself from crying…and vomiting.