Last week nerves were frayed as the possible termination of Rod Rosenstein was allegedly being seriously considered and you could hear a pin drop. Citizens called their Senators and Representatives and plans were made for protests in the streets in the eventuality anything happened to impede the Mueller investigation. Even GOP politicians like Lindsey Graham were solemnly intoning that, “it would be the end of Trump’s presidency,” relying, no doubt, on the historical precedent of Watergate and how the nation turned against Richard Nixon after the October, 1973 firings which proved to be Nixon’s undoing.
However, in 1973 we didn’t have Fox News to contend with. The power of the right wing media machine led by Fox News should never be underestimated. Fox News exists to lie to the infamous Base, the group that GOP politicians are afraid to cross and which purportedly swept Donald Trump to victory. (We won’t digress at this time about the benefit of Russian cyber intervention.) Right now Fox News, Breitbart and the rest of right wing media is in high gear, ginning up The Base at a furious pace, ignoring the wheat of the Mueller investigation and substituting the chaff of Uranium One, the dossier, the emails, pizzagate and anything else they can throw at the wall and hope that it sticks.
We live in a world which is increasingly polarized, due to the fire hose of falsehood spewing into the land alongside legitimate reporting. In the Watergate era truth was still truth and empirical facts were still empirical facts. Is that still the case? What if Mueller gets to the bottom of things and discovers the truth and it still doesn’t matter? David Roberts, Vox:
Say Mueller reveals hard proof that the Trump campaign knowingly colluded with Russia, strategically using leaked emails to hurt Clinton’s campaign. Say the president — backed by the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Fox News, Breitbart, most of the US Cabinet, half the panelists on CNN, most of the radio talk show hosts in the country, and an enormous network of Russian-paid hackers and volunteer shitposters working through social media — rejects the evidence.
They might say Mueller is compromised. It’s a Hillary/Deep State plot. There’s nothing wrong with colluding with Russia in this particular way. Dems did it first. All of the above. Whatever.
Say the entire right-wing media machine kicks to life and dismisses the whole thing as a scam — and conservatives believe them. The conservative base remains committed to Trump, politicians remain scared to cross the base, and US politics remains stuck in partisan paralysis, unable to act on what Mueller discovers.
In short, what if Mueller proves the case and it’s not enough? What if there is no longer any evidentiary standard that could overcome the influence of right-wing media?
Prior to 1996 when Fox News hit the airwaves and began poisoning the national discourse with its biased folly, there was a basic understanding of what was true and how truth was arrived at. In the past twenty years notions of what’s real and unreal have been supplanted by a deranged both siders philosophy. Critical thinking skills have been eroded by a broken educational system and the dumbing down of America is pretty much complete. Many people do not even know the difference between a fact and an opinion any more, nor do they regard the difference as particularly important. Hello George Orwell.
Epistemology is the branch of philosophy having to do with how we know things and what it means for something to be true or false, accurate or inaccurate. (Episteme, or ἐπιστήμη, is ancient Greek for knowledge/science/understanding.)
The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know — what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening.
The primary source of this breach, to make a long story short, is the US conservative movement’s rejection of the mainstream institutions devoted to gathering and disseminating knowledge (journalism, science, the academy) — the ones society has appointed as referees in matters of factual dispute.
In their place, the right has created its own parallel set of institutions, most notably its own media ecosystem.
But the right’s institutions are not of the same kind as the ones they seek to displace. Mainstream scientists and journalists see themselves as beholden to values and standards that transcend party or faction. They try to separate truth from tribal interests and have developed various guild rules and procedures to help do that. They see themselves as neutral arbiters, even if they do not always uphold that ideal in practice.
The pretense for the conservative revolution was that mainstream institutions had failed in their role as neutral arbiters — that they had been taken over by the left, become agents of the left in referee’s clothing, as it were.
But the right did not want better neutral arbiters. The institutions it built scarcely made any pretense of transcending faction; they are of and for the right. There is nominal separation of conservative media from conservative politicians, think tanks, and lobbyists, but in practice, they are all part of the conservative movement. They are prosecuting its interests; that is the ur-goal.
Indeed, the far right rejects the very idea of neutral, binding arbiters; there is only Us and Them, only a zero-sum contest for resources. That mindset leads to what I call “tribal epistemology” — the systematic conflation of what is true with what is good for the tribe.
Robert Mueller is the man who can take down the faux president, the reality TV actor in the Oval Office. That is inimical to the interests of the right wing tribe. Will they continue to pursue these interests even in the face of an indictment, refusing to yield? In short, can Trump get away with collusion with Russia?
Mainstream scholars do not think that Trump will be able to get away with simply ignoring Mueller’s findings or pardoning everyone involved. As Andy Wright, a law professor at Savannah Law School, put it, “with each abnormal, unbecoming, or dishonorable act, President Trump makes it harder for his appointees to defend him, harder for traditional Republicans to maintain their uneasy power alliance with him, and easier for Democrats to take the moral high ground and secure political advantage.”
But if there’s one thing non-experts like me have learned over the last few decades of watching US politics, it’s that experts are frequently caught flat-footed by the growing intensity of partisanship and the destruction of norms it has wrought.
They are operating based on certain assumptions that it simply doesn’t occur to them that a politician can ignore. But politicians can. Mitch McConnell can simply refuse to hold a vote on a Supreme Court nominee. There’s no explicit rule or law that says he can’t, so he can, and he did.
That one shocked and flabbergasted experts too, but just like all the other perverse steps down this road to illiberal lawlessness, they eventually took it on board and normalized it.
Now they’re sure Donald Trump can’t simply brazen his way out of an indictment. What if they’re wrong about that?
At the end of the day what all this is going to boil down to, is what is the real identity of America? Are we still America or are we now Amerikkka? Without question, the Trump Crisis, as it will probably be remembered by historians, has flushed out the corrosive elements in our society and breathed life into the divisive and deranged. Both the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis marched in the streets after Trump was elected, a sight which chilled most people to the bones.
Our power lies in our institutions. And right now they are being challenged as never before.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe US institutions have more life in them than I think. But at this point, it’s just very difficult to imagine anything that could bridge the epistemic gulf between America’s tribes. We are split in two, living in different worlds, with different stories and facts shaping our lives. We no longer learn or know things together, as a country, so we can no longer act together, as a country.
I think this writer makes many good points and he has written a tremendous piece here which I encourage you to read in its entirety. It’s long but well worth the read. My bottom line is this: We did it in Alabama. We did it for Doug Jones and for all of us. If we can do it there we can do it anywhere. And we must if we want to take back our country.
We don’t have the numbers right now to take down Donald Trump but we can get them. We need to take back the majority in the House and Senate.