Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mendocracy: rule by liars

'When one side breaks the social contract, and the other side makes a virtue of never calling them out on it, the liar always wins. When it becomes "uncivil" to call out liars, lying becomes free.' - Rick Pearlstein

'There is but one thing of real value - to cultivate truth and justice, and to live without anger in the midst of lying and unjust men' - Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations

Over at Mother Jones, Rick Pearlstein has written a short history of what he perceives to be the rise of unaccountable political lying. The whole thing is worth reading, but this is the key part I'd like to focus on:

[R]ight-wing ideologues "lie without consequence," as a desperate Vincent Foster put it in his suicide note nearly two decades ago. But they only succeed because they are amplified by "balanced" outlets that frame each smear as just another he-said-she-said "controversy."

And here, in the end, is the difference between the untruths told by William Randolph Hearst and Lyndon Baines Johnson, and the ones inundating us now: Today, it's not just the most powerful men who can lie and get away with it. It's just about anyone—a congressional back-bencher, an ideology-driven hack, a guy with a video camera—who can inject deception into the news cycle and the political discourse on a grand scale.

Sure, there will always be liars in positions of influence—that's stipulated, as the lawyers say. And the media, God knows, have never been ideal watchdogs—the battleships that crossed the seas to avenge the sinking of the Maine attest to that. What's new is the way the liars and their enablers now work hand in glove. That I call a mendocracy, and it is the regime that governs us now.
That a significant political movement, existing in a realm of near total fabrication, dominates the political discourse of the United States is one of the primary things that I have blogged about for the last five years. It is beyond frustrating, well into the realm of maddening. With all due respect to the Emperor, he didn't have to live in the midst of Fox "News" and Rush Limbaugh, or the "liberal" institutions which defend them.

Take for example, this: some conservative media outlets have attacked President Obama for not issuing a proclamation recognizing Easter (Link 1, link 2, link 3). This is another example in the never-ending stream of manufactured bullshit that comes from such outlets; there is no controversy. Presidents do not and have not issued proclamations for Easter. The only point of this pseudo-news created by Fox Nation is to depict President Obama as a foreign, unChristian other, in other words, a somewhat naked appeal to prejudice and bigotry.

In the first link, you get a fantastic example of the rotten core of the mendocracy Pearlstein has identified. Intellectual cretin Sean Hannity leading a panel consisting of a Republican strategist, a slimeball plutocrat Democrat, and a Democratic strategist who formerly advocated illegally murdering Julian Assange, all agreeing that this was an oversight on the part of President Obama.

The consequences of the ease with which liars, bullshitters, and their enablers exist within our political and media culture has significant, deleterious effects on our country. For example, two thirds of Republicans - at a national level - are unsure that President Obama is a citizen. This is indicative of a collective, national derangement. And at the same time, Donald Trump has been getting much media attention and polling well as a leading Republican presidential candidate, simply by opportunistically saying the sort of ridiculous, racist conspiracy nonsense (Obama not a citizen, didn't write Dreams of my Father, didn't have the grades to get into college, etc.) that in a more sane world would get him vaulted out of the spotlight, not into it. And I think this kind of dissemination of stupid ignorance has something to do with Trump's conspiracy-baiting.

There is no end to examples of the process Pearlstein describes. Witness here, for example, for a perfect example of Pearlstein's mendocracy in action.

I don't know where I'm going with this, other than to once again note the democracy eroding effects of getting citizens to engage civically on false beliefs. Mother Jones also features a lengthy article about the so-called "Climategate" incident in which a criminally manufactured faux controversy has become part of an axiomatic faith for conservatives that man-made global warming is a hoax and a conspiracy. Again, I cut to the key point:

SO DID THE SCIENTISTS DO something more diabolical than gripe about critics and fret over how their research would be interpreted? Not according to seven separate inquiries on the subject, each of which found that the researchers' work was not in question—though several concluded that their behavior was. An independent probe organized by the University of East Anglia (PDF) found that some had turned down "reasonable requests for information" and had, at times, been "unhelpful and defensive." It noted "a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness."

But none of the exonerations mattered: The scientists had lost control of the narrative. The percentage of people who believe that the world is warming has fallen 14 points from its 2008 high, according to polling (PDF). Gallup's annual poll in 2010 found that 48 percent of Americans said they believe that fears of global warming "are generally exaggerated"—the highest figure since pollsters began asking that question in 1997.

Most significant, however, has been the long-term hardening of the political divide on the issue. In 1997, the percentage of Republicans and Democrats who believed in climate change was nearly the same—47 percent and 46 percent, respectively. By March 2010, 66 percent of Democrats and only 31 percent of Republicans agreed that global warming was already occurring. Half of the new House GOP members flatly deny that the planet is warming, and only four say they accept the science of climate change.

Scarce water supplies in the western US will probably dwindle further as a result of climate change, causing problems for millions in the region, a government report has said.


Norwegian Shooter said...

On the other hand, Dems had (have?) 9/11 truthers. Several have mentioned this, http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/republicans-have-birthers-democrats-have-911-truthers/ but the 2006 survey they are looking at isn't the worst numbers out there. September 22, 2007, had a worse overall result, and likely a worse Dem result. http://www.newspolls.org/surveys/SHOH37/19077.

malcontent said...

A "national derangement" indeed. A demented, craven need for a lusty narrative supporting our shallow and irrational prejudices.

Epistemically Closed? You betcha!

Rage addicted? Booyah!

Self centered and truly clueless as to who the enemies really are?


That's some diabolical shit man.

I'm disgusted but happy that you are back to call it out. Thanks.

Hume's Ghost said...

There aren't Democrats trying to legislate 9/11 truth conspiracy or pandering to it like Republicans do or a network promoting it like Fox does with the birthers. Plus, you can find plenty of right-wing truthers.

malcontent said...

It appears to me that the Democrats have been effectively co-opted by the firehose of corporate money that feeds the court on the Potomac. Their narrative is less offensive for sure, but their priorities shift to preservation of power over fulfilling the ideals of campaign season promises with frightening consistency and speed. Tribalism-lite.