I might be losing faith that we can find a way out of this mess. For years, on or around the Fourth of July, I have posted a piece about how liberals love the United States, despite the horrific noise machine of the Republican Party that calls our patriotism into question. The piece has been rooted in an optimistic, perhaps naïve view that, despite our differences, a shared love of some core values in our country might be enough to help us overcome the partisan divide that seems more intractable, more entrenched than ever.
I’m just not sure that I believe that anymore, and I’m not sure what the answer is.
At the root of my pessimism is the troubling reality that so many conservatives seem either entirely untethered from reality, or perhaps more cynically, willing to ignore the truth to suit their purposes.
Though they are hardly exceptions, the news of the past few days perfectly exemplifies the unreality zone that conservatives operate in. The day after news broke that thousands of current and former Border Patrol agents were members of a secret Facebook group that shared horrifically racist and violent content, a “reporter” for the right-wing Washington Examiner posted a “SCOOP” that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was “crying and screaming and yelling” at Customs and Border Protection agents.
The story named no one and came from the same reporter who earlier had manufactured a story about “prayer rugs” at the US-Mexico border. There was no support for the story, which was not confirmed by any members of the mainstream press who were actually at the scene. In short, it was about as credible as any story that drives the shrill, right-wing noise machine these days.
But one thing is almost certain: the credulous buffoons who produce and consume what passes for news in conservative circles will endlessly share the story, which will become “true” in the echo machine that keeps these stories evergreen long after the facts have faded away.
Here in Montana we already saw it this morning, as Republican talk show host Aaron Flint took to Twitter today to offer faux concern for the agents:
I hope the public employee unions will stand up for their fellow public employees- viciously attacked by AOC and her fellow House Dems on the southern border. #MTPol #2020
— Aaron Flint (@aaronflint) July 2, 2019
Flint, of course, has even less concern for members of public sector unions than he does children in detention centers, but he was already doing his part to spread the message, unconcerned about its veracity, to an audience conditioned to accept whatever petty, dishonest distraction that comes out of the disinformation centers that drive Republican media.
Imagine being so in thrall to the racist ideology of the Republican Party’s noise machine that you’re more upset about a poorly-sourced story claiming that Ocasio-Cortez yelled at some agents than the fact that our government is letting kids die in filthy detention centers, even denying them access to things like soap and toothbrushes as part of a misguided, punitive policy that violates both international law and what should be our collective sense of decency.
We can—and must—have intense, even partisan, debates about our national immigration policy, but when one party is more concerned about politicizing Representative Ocasio-Cortez and demonizing Colin Kaepernick than engaging in meaningful discussion, there’s little point to those conversations and even less hope that they will lead to meaningful change.
What started with the likes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh has metastasized into content farms that churn out scurrilous headlines and faux controversies designed to enrage an audience conditioned to believe narratives so absurd and so irrelevant that they constantly hunger for more and share each story without pausing for even a moment to ask whether it could possibly be true or whether it even matters.
Why I am losing hope, though, is not the sheer number of those who share and believe these stories; it’s the moral failure of Republican political and media leaders to check these untruths and their increasing willingness to broadcast them to ever wider audiences. Republicans with the moral courage to, as former Senator John McCain did when he pushed back against Birther claims about Barrack Obama, are an endangered species in a conservative media ecology that is almost entirely fed and fueled by this utter nonsense.
And if digging our way out of the constitutional, institutional, and moral crisis we face as a nation depends on those who are enriched and empowered by this sea of propaganda having the courage to resist it, you’ll understand why optimism is hard to come by.