In his 2007 book The Assault on Reason, former Vice President Al Gore warned about what he saw as a dire threat to American democracy. “The ‘well-informed citizenry,’” Gore fretted, ”is in danger of becoming the ‘well-amused audience.’” In a presentation on Super Tuesday 2008 (“That’s Entertainment: Politics as Theater in Campaign ‘08”), I elaborated on Gore’s alert.
When politics is entertainment, the first thing that suffers is the truth.
More than nine years later, the American people have a professional entertainer in the Oval Office. And as recent headlines have shown, the truth is suffering indeed. Despite the unified assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that Vladimir Putin’s Russia interfered in the 2016 election, only one-third of Republicans polled believe it. Other surveys found that 72 percent of Trump voters said stories about Russia are “fake news,” with 32 percent even rejecting the claim that Donald Jr. met with Russians in June 2016, a fact the president’s son had already admitted. The self-delusion also applies to the 2016 popular vote, which half of Trump supporters believe he won despite falling 3 million ballots short of Hillary Clinton in yet another election free of vote fraud.
And on Wednesday, a YouGov/Economist poll revealed that 55 percent of the #MAGA crowd “believe ‘the courts’ should be allowed to ‘fine news media outlets for publishing or broadcasting stories that are biased or inaccurate’ — while 45 percent say that the judiciary should have the power to ‘shut down’ biased media organizations.” Meanwhile, the Trump administration and some of its allies in the House responded to the GOP’s latest humiliation at the hands of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office by seeking to slash its staffing or abolish the neutral scorekeeper altogether.
As horrifying as these numbers are, they shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, with the Trump White House elevating “alternative facts” over supposed “fake news,” slandering the press as an “enemy of the people,” brushing off allegations of collusion and business conflicts with Russian interests as a “Democratic hoax,” and so much more, the Trump faithful are getting their talking points straight from the elephant’s mouth. But while the frequency and magnitude of Trump’s lies far exceed any American major party politician, his strategic deceptions and tactical duplicity are nothing new under the Republican sun.
On matters of war and peace, health care and taxes, the economy and the environment, the GOP has been a myth-making machine for years. And when the government’s own experts and nonpartisan watchdogs debunked the Republicans’ fact-free frauds, the GOP directed its fire at them.
Just ask the people who work at the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)—or, more accurately, worked at the Office of Technology Assessment.