American conservatives have constructed their own reality, and this is worrying. Since the beginnings of talk radio we have known that there would be a danger that people would talk past each other and not agree on basic facts. At first these disputes were over normative things regarding social issues, which was often a matter of opinion and so these disputes could be chalked up to a red-blue divide. Unfortunately, the opinion of the Right has crossed over into the realm of factual discussions.
When debates over social issues dominated the headlines, it was all about what the two sides believed was ‘right’. Abortion, same-sex marriage, divorce etc. were all concerned with conservatives arguing that their views were morally right based on their philosophical, and often religious, principles. Opponents of these views would also couch their arguments in morality, and in many cases these debates were not over facts but what was morally just. This approach to debates is fine when the issues involved a purely about contrasting worldviews, however in other areas of policy this cannot be allowed to stand.
This has been something I’ve been thinking about for a while but never felt compelled to talk about because many of the examples given have either required an incredibly detailed knowledge of events that I would plead ignorance on, or have already been debunked. However whether something is debunked is irrelevant, because the message, even though it isn’t true, has gotten out and people are perpetuating it.
There are countless examples, one famous example was that the terrorist attacks in Benghazi were the fault of the Obama Administration. Inquiries and reports have shown that this wasn’t the case but to this day it remains a talking point of politicians and right-wing public figures. Another example was the selling of baby parts by Planned Parenthood, which was also total bullshit, but remains ‘conventional wisdom’. I didn’t have the time or energy to deal with this nonsense because the world is a big place and I thought there was more interesting stuff to talk about. But something I saw the other day changed that.
There are different ways a narrative can be constructed. Facts can be not known, they can be ignored, and history can be rewritten to validate one’s current beliefs. At first all inaccurate statements can be chalked up to the first one these three, and it only becomes sinister when facts are deliberately ignored.
So what am I talking about? A few days ago Trump campaign surrogate Katrina Pierson went on CNN and said “we weren’t even in Afghanistan by . Barack Obama went into Afghanistan creating another problem”. The host Victor Blackwell asked her to clarify what she said and her response was: “that was Obama’s war, yes”. This left me completely speechless. At first I was willing to forgive this monumental fuck-up because both Pierson and the host were jumping around between Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. It could have been an honest mistake. But when asked to clarify she didn’t back down. Sweet Jesus.
The War in Afghanistan started in 2001 and was part of George W. Bush’s response to the terrorist attacks on September 11th. It is true that Obama did somewhat escalate the presence of the US in Afghanistan, but that wasn’t Pierson’s claim. Her claim was “Barack Obama went into Afghanistan”. To illustrate how wrong this is I ask one simple question: which way did Obama vote? Did he support intervening in Afghanistan or did he vote against it? The answer is neither. Obama hadn’t even been elected to the Senate yet. He was still a state legislator in Illinois. Indeed Obama didn’t become a Senator in Congress until 2005, four years after the War in Afghanistan had begun.
I can’t decide whether Pierson is actively trying to rewrite US history, or is just too stupid to know what the facts are, but either way it doesn’t matter. She has just demonstrated that she doesn’t know basic facts like when a war started. She is the spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, so if she doesn’t know I’ll bet other campaign officials don’t know either. Such a level of ignorance is alien to me.
But the thing that unnerved me about the exchange was the confidence that Pierson showed. She wasn’t unsure about her answer and her hesitance was because of the time delay between her studio and the host’s. She genuinely believes that the War in Afghanistan was started by Obama, and has only been going on for the last eight years. Pierson has only been exposed to media sources that have not been fact-checked or are based entirely on conjecture. That is the only explanation I can give. And this is the problem I’m talking about. The Right in the US have constructed a parallel universe where all their beliefs are true because facts that disprove their claims are disregarded.
Debating opinions is interesting and I find it fun, but debating facts is maddening. The Right has found itself in a position where reasonable people cannot line up with their claims. If you were a floating voter and saw the Pierson interview you wouldn’t vote for Trump. People have lots of stuff going on in their lives and would be forgiven in thinking that the War in Afghanistan started in 2002, for example, but I’ll bet that nobody would think that American involvement in Afghanistan started after Obama became president. I might well be wrong on this, but that is an irrelevant discussion. Pierson is supposedly a spokesperson. What she said illustrates that she should be fired and that Trump shouldn’t be allowed to be president. Trump is not an average person, he’s running to be president and so he should know things like when wars currently being fought began. The stupidity on display is infuriating, and I’m going to go lay down.