Thursday, February 16, 2017

Make Lying Wrong Again

I have come to realize I am not just sad about what is happening in my country right now. I am angry. In fact, I am seething.  And it is not even primarily about Trump. He is just the ultimate example of the thing that is making me angry, and as I look back over the last several years, I can recognize that this anger has been growing for a long time.

My anger is at the lies that pervade our public discussions. I am so sick of watching people lie and get away with it. It is poisoning our country. I can get along with people who hold opposite policy views from mine. I can talk to them and try to find common ground, and if there is no common ground to find, I can agree to abide by the decision of the majority of my fellow citizens, even if I disagree with it. I might work to change their opinions, but I can accept that such change may be a long time coming, and in fact might not come in my lifetime.

But I cannot get along with people who tell blatant lies and then use those lies to manipulate the opinion of the voters. I cannot abide with decisions that are founded on things that are just not true. I can't speak for anyone else on the left side of the political divide, but I can tell you that this is radicalizing my own views about how my representatives should behave. What is the point of asking them to cooperate with people on the other side of the aisle if the people on that other side won't be honest about facts and about their policy proposals?

Again, this is not about disagreeing with policy proposals. I can respect a position that government should not require people to buy health insurance, although I disagree with it. But rather than debating that position on its merits, we got the nonsense about "death panels," in which a humane policy of paying for the time doctors spend counseling patients and their families about their end of life options was twisted into a grotesque parody of itself and used to scare people into opposing Obamacare.

I can accept that some people do not think government should provide insurance via programs like Medicaid, and instead want this to happen in the private market. But let's debate the merits of those proposals openly, instead of whipping up hatred against "Obamacare" among people who depend on it for their health insurance but know it as the ACA. I know a lot of people laughed at the stories of people adamantly opposing Obamacare while proudly saying they got their insurance from the ACA, but those stories just made me sad. I don't think those people are stupid. I think they were willfully misled for the political gain of people who may not have had their best interests at heart.

I think it is reasonable to take the position that the economic cost of trying to limit climate change is too high. Again, I disagree, and I disagree vehemently. But I can respect it as an honest position. But instead of defending that position, we have people who refuse to acknowledge climate change is even happening. I can't have a policy debate with people who think this, and that is why they do it. By refusing to acknowledge the problem, they prevent us from having an honest discussion to find solutions that the majority of us could live with.

We can have an honest debate about how many immigrants and refugees we should welcome into our country, but let's do that based on what we know about our capacity to absorb new people into our society rather than groundless claims that Muslim immigrants want to institute sharia law here. (How would that even happen? Muslims currently make up about 1% of our population. How in the world do you envision a scenario in which there are enough Muslims here to force sharia law on us, even if they wanted to? And, to be clear, there is no evidence to indicate that they do. None of my Muslim friends have any interest in such a thing.)

I could go on and on. We are stuck on so many of the problems facing our country. I don't blame the white working class voters who got fed up with the state of things. I disagree with their chosen plan to fix it, because I think Trump is the biggest liar of them all and that he's going to sell them out to the usual moneyed interests in a blink of an eye, but I understand why they were frustrated. We haven't been addressing their problems. We haven't been addressing a lot of problems, because we're stuck having pointless arguments about peripheral things. There are people with very strong interests who know they can't necessarily win an argument on its merits, so instead resort to changing the narrative to make us argue about something else.

I was listening to a podcast today (The "Eight Years in the Situation Room with Ben Rhodes" of Pod Save the World), and they were talking about the Israeli reaction to the decision by the Obama administration to abstain on that last UN vote about settlements, and Ben Rhodes made a point that really clicked with me. He said that instead of coming out and defending why the settlements are a good idea, the Netanyahu camp came out and talked about the US colluding with other nations to get this resolution on the table. Rhodes said that is wasn't true, that there was no collusion. But even if there was, that wasn't the real issue. The real issue is the settlements, but instead of talking about that, he was fielding a bunch of questions about the supposed collusion. That sort of dishonest narrative setting is going all the time these days, and it is working.

To a certain extent, attempting to set a narrative is fine. People like narratives, and narratives will naturally influence how we view problems. But it is not fine when you base your narrative on an outright lie and refuse to listen to any evidence that demonstrates that it is, in fact, a lie.

I am stuck for what to do because I honestly believe the escalating rounds of obstructionism and partisanship are leading us towards a very bad place as a country. Yet I see no way to stop it other than to just give in to the demands of the conservatives. This may make conservatives happy in the short term, but I don't think it leads to a better place in the longer term. Conservatives are at best a slim majority in the country right now (polling on this is mixed, and while it is clear that Democrats have won the popular vote in 4 out of the last 5 elections, presidential elections are not a perfect indicator of this sort of thing). However, it seems to me that the Republicans are currently controlled by their most extreme wing, and that is certainly a minority. The polls I see put Tea Party support at about 30% at its peak.  Allowing a minority like that to make governing decisions that are deeply unpopular and in fact cause harm to sizable groups of people strikes me as a likely to take our country to a very bad place, too.

I keep coming back to an offhand comment I saw from someone on Twitter (I'm not sure who, unfortunately: maybe Summer Brennan) about how long it took the world to adjust to the printing press. While most people now agree that the democratization of information that the printing press brought was a good thing, at the time it caused a lot of disruption. Living through the Reformation was probably not a lot of fun.

We are living through the age of adjusting to the internet and social media, and it is looking like this adjustment will also be a rough ride. Maybe we're going to end up somewhere better for it. The way these technologies allow us to connect people all over the world is a wonderful thing. But it has also allowed people to protect themselves from information that might challenge their views, while still feeling "informed" because they read the news every day. It has allowed purveyors of outright lies to make their product look as professional and real as true news media. We can't go back, though, even if we wanted to. All we can do is try to get through to the better world we hope we can build.

I think it would help a lot if we could make lying wrong again. We will never agree on all things. We will need to have often contentious discussions about the best policies to enact. But we can't do that if we're arguing with lies.


  1. My closest office for one of my senators lied to me today. The guy told me that only D.C. has his schedule info and I would need to give all my contact info to be passed along to the D.C. office to find out about upcoming town halls. Called the D.C. Office and they told me that all the offices have his schedule, that he has no town halls planned and did not ask for my contact info other than zip code.

    Found out my congressman went to one of my colleagues classes a few years back and told them climate change isn't real and if it was it wouldn't be manmade.

  2. Anonymous10:01 PM

    Thank you for this post. And your others. I am so sick and tired of abortion which is NOT FUNDED BY TAXPAYER MONEY at Planned Parenthood is being used to stop reproductive health care and contraception availability when there is No intention of supporting or helping new mothers and/or their babies. When N.D. Legislature says publicly that women should bring breakfast in bed to men when women are holding outside jobs too AND doing most of the house/family work. When OK legislature says FATHERS but Not Mothers should control their daughter's bodies and ... enough. FREUD was WRONG. Men envy women's ability to carry life far far more than women wanting a penis ... this is why they always try to control women's bodies.
    But totally you are right about the LIES. And the frustration that news agencies do not use that word extensively and exclusively and repeatedly.
    LIEs poison trust. This country is being crippled by lies.
    More postcards. And write to your news sources and TELL THEM WHAT YOU WANT THEM TO REPORT ON. IN DEPTH COVERAGE OF X OR Y OR......

  3. Anonymous10:12 AM

    Agree 100%. Also very interesting parallels with the introduction of the printing press - I had not thought of it like that before.

  4. Anonymous5:11 PM

    excellent post. thankyou.


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