This piece has recently appeared in newspapers in my very red congressional district (VA-06). January, 2018.
Two things preoccupy me these days: 1) the need for the truth to defeat the lie, rather than vice versa; and 2) the need to bring the good, decent conservatives of America back from the dark place to which the powers on the right have led them.
It’s not hard to see that these two are different aspects of the same crisis now besetting our nation. So much of what has led America’s conservatives to where they are today has to do with the constant stream of lies that they’ve been hearing from the authorities to whom they’ve given their trust and support.
But, for me, even if the two are parts of the same thing, these two aspects tap into different feelings.
My feelings about the truth are at the heart of my values. Both my parents made truth a big deal—my mother insisting on truthfulness among the family, and my father conveying to my brother and me his own commitment to making an honest search for the truth and to following the truth wherever it may lead.
And my whole life’s work, for the past fifty years, has been the search for true answers to important questions.
My strong feeling regarding the conservatives result from my having had – some years back — an important relationship with a mostly traditionalist radio audience in the Shenandoah Valley. Back in the 1990s, I felt real respect and appreciation for the virtues I saw in those politically, culturally, religiously conservative people. And I drew satisfaction from the constructive radio conversations we created together.
It hurts me to see what has happened to those conservatives since then.
It had already begun back then, under the influence of the likes of Limbaugh and Gingrich. But it was not until Fox News entered the right-wing messaging operation, followed soon by Karl Rove becoming the propagandist at the right hand of the President of the United States, that the change accelerated:
Instead of the set of beliefs and feelings brought into the political realm by these conservatives being infused with their native goodness, their role in the politics of our times gradually became almost fully shaped by liars using them to gain power and wealth for themselves and their plutocratic backers.
Outside the political realm, the beauty of these conservatives is often still visible. But one cannot long mistake the evil for the good – even if in only one (the political) realm – without its having some effect on the soul.
Which brings me to another part of my feelings about the conservatives with whom I used to feel, in some sense, deeply connected: how disturbing I find it to witness how it’s possible to bring people to a place where they will apparently believe anything they’re told by skilled liars — even against all evidence and logic.
To cite but a few illustrations, too many conservatives have been willing to believe
- the recent tax bill will be good for the middle class and for the American economy—whereas within a decade more than 80% of the money will be going to the richest 1%, while more than half of Americans will be paying more in taxes; meanwhile, the bill will do little for jobs or wages, will add significantly to the national debt, and is predicted to lead to automatic cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
- there’s a danger that a tiny and much distrusted Muslim minority might impose Sharia law on Americans, when the U.S. Constitution prevents even a powerful religious majority from imposing its laws.
- that climate change is a hoax, when it is so obviously the voice of science based on decades of research by thousands of scientists around the globe, yielding a warning of a sort that has never been heard from science before. (But it serves the profits of the fossil fuel companies — who support with money the same Republican politicians the conservatives support with votes – to sow false doubts so no action will be taken.)
- that voter ID laws are to prevent voter fraud, whereas the number of attempted acts of voter fraud blocked by these laws (in states like North Carolina and Pennsylvania) can be counted on one person’s fingers while the legitimate voters who get prevented from voting number in the hundreds of thousands.
All this credulity now threatens the very heart of American democracy, as polls indicate a great many Republicans believe Donald Trump over Robert Mueller– despite Donald Trump being documented as an extraordinary liar (five lies told publicly per day as president, according to one study) and despite Robert Mueller being someone who would have likely won the contest, had one been held a year ago, for “The Straightest Arrow in America” or for “Most Integrity in a Law Enforcement Professional.”
Nothing less than the rule of law – the foundation of our liberties — is at stake.
Donald Trump famously declared that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose his supporters. But long before the rise of Trump, something similar was achieved by the Republican Party (with the help of media allies like Fox News): gradually, the Party molded its supporters so that it could tell them just about any lie without eroding their credulity or losing their trust.
American democracy is founded on the notion of “the consent of the governed.” But no genuine consent can be won by lies.
Making our politics more whole is going to require that good, decent conservative Americans start rejecting the lies, looking honestly at the world, and following the truth wherever evidence and reason take them.