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Hullabaloo


Saturday, October 03, 2015

 

Truth is no longer an American value

by Tom Sullivan

As a kid, I watched Superman on TV in black and white fighting his never-ending battle for "Truth, Justice, and the American Way." All three have since fallen out of fashion. Carly the Fabulist's tales of Planned Parenthood reminded us just how far we have fallen. Her "willingness to unrepentantly and repeatedly" look into the camera and lie to our faces recalls Dick Cheney's talent for that, Digby reminded this week at Salon.

Digby references a post (in part about Mitt Romney) by Rick Perlstein that I want to revisit. While his books might bear pictures of presidents to please the marketers, Perlstein writes, he is much more interested in how "both the rank-and-file voters and the governing elites of a major American political party chose as their standardbearer a pathological liar. What does that reveal about them?"

Indeed. Direct-mail maven Richard Viguerie is one of his Perlstein's touchstones for seeing into the conservative mind. Perlstein's insights also come in part from examining the snake-oil ads in conservative publications such as Human Events and Townhall, as well as the more plebian Newsmax. My viewport is the conservative pass-it-on spams that land in my in-box. I collect them. I lost count somewhere around 200.

Perlstein contrasts the ubiquitous "get rich quick" appeals in these publications to one he noticed in the liberal The American Prospect for donations to help starving children in the Third World. I contrast them with the lack of appeals found in pass-it-on spam. They are lies, smears, distortions, propaganda — passed along dutifully by the parents who warned us about communist propaganda as kids:

Pass-it-on spams don’t ask people to write their congressman or senator. They don’t ask people to get involved in or contribute to a political campaign. Or even to make a simple phone call. No. Once you’ve had your daily dose of in-box outrage, conservative reader, all these propaganda pieces ask is that you “pass it on” to everyone you know. So now that you’re good and angry — and if you’re a Real American™ — you'll share it with all your friends so they’ll get and stay angry too.

That really is the point of Carly Fiorina's Planned Parenthood lie. It's not even a particularly original one, as Perlstein observed of Viguerie's efforts at Huffington Post a decade ago:

With a couple of hours' research I was able to find a mailer from an organization that was then one of his direct-mail clients that said "babies are being harvested and sold on the black market by Planned Parenthood."

Perlstein continued that thread of thought at The Baffler in 2012 (emphasis mine):

The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place—and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.

This has made the RNC "less the party of Goldwater, and more the party of Watergate," as Perlstein wrote. But the long march of lies in service to ideology has over time also served to "dissolve external reality" among extremists, as Larry Massett once said of New Agers. People marvel at how Donald Trump supporters can take his pitches for anything other than a mountebank's. Yet comforting lies are the junk food the extremist faithful have been conditioned over decades to prefer, like kids and sugary cereals. Truth? Truth is like eating your vegetables. As Larry Haake, the general registrar in Chesterfield County, Virginia, said of a deceptive Americans for Prosperity election mailer, "Most of their information is wrong. They know it's wrong and they don't care." If truth used to be an American value, it is no longer.

It reveals "a structure of thought," as Perlstein once put it that Stephen Colbert's faux-conservative parodied with "truthiness," that "quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true." For the Fiorinas, the Trumps and their followers reality is now as bendable as Dali's clocks. It bends according to the tribal affiliations of the person making the truth claims. "True facts" support their underlying ideology. These they open wide for. Garden-variety facts are suspect, and they clamp their mouths shut like toddlers to strained spinach.

Truthiness is not funny anymore.