The startling landfall of two giant hurricanes – feasting on especially warm water off Texas and Florida – crashes into the climate change denialism that has been politically popular on the Right, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.
By Paul R. Pillar
The loss of respect for truth is one of the most consequential features of public affairs in American today. The roots and causes of this tragic development are multiple. The spread of social media and the related ability to spread untruths cheaply at the speed of electrons are parts of the story. Another part is the phenomenon of fake news (real fake news, that is, not alleged fake news that is really real news that the alleger doesn’t welcome).
The advent of Donald Trump’s presidency has taken this sad story to new depths. The President lies copiously, flagrantly, unashamedly, and far beyond what had been the norm for political fibbing. He has shown how a political career, rising even to the highest office of the land, can be built on lying.
Correctives to this awful trend are difficult to identify. The tribal belief system that prevails in most of the American population, in which people chiefly listen to and believe sources they identify with politically or socially and had already been telling them what they want to hear, is so well entrenched it seems almost impossible to overcome. Many people reject factual corrections as a form of bias and unfair treatment by sources (such as the “left-wing media”) with which they do not identify politically or socially.
The epistemological rut in which the nation currently is mired is captured by a cartoon in which a man wearing a Trump shirt comments on how the President has lied about jobs, health care, and other topics. When asked by the person on the next barstool why he nonetheless supports Trump, the man replies, “cuz he tells it like it is.”
Combating lies with counter-lies would not be wise. However much it might help to arrive at any one decision or policy that is better than the alternative, the larger effect would be to prolong and deepen the damaging…