One of the more remarkable things about this new Trump era is how effortlessly the Republican Party slid into mimicking the Trumpian habit of straight-up gaslighting the public on topics both large and small. Sen. Mitch McConnell has been a steady practitioner of this art for years on the Senate floor, and the art of useful misinterpretation of historical facts has been a staple of Fox News for many years now. But the speed with which other Republican functionaries both in and out of government embraced a new style of hyper-efficient lying the very moment Trump won the election and it was clear that hyper-efficient lying worked, is still remarkable.
Ronna Not-Romney McDaniel gave an elegant demonstration of this new Republicanism during a Conservative Political Action Conference speech on Thursday:
“Are we going to want capitalism? Look at all the great achievements of our country: flight, cars, the Internet. Sorry, Al Gore. The Internet. None of that came from government. It came from innovation. It came from the greatness of America.”
You know where this is going, right? The internet was very extremely literally invented by government. It’s a well-known story, it happened recently enough that a great many of us witnessed it, and it’s not a close call. Phillip Bump:
Slowly, it built outward and by 1977 covered locations on both coasts. During that period, DARPA scientists Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn invented a protocol for carrying traffic over the Internet called TCP/IP, or Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. If you’ve ever heard of an “IP address,” in essence you’re hearing about Cerf and Kahn’s work. […]About a decade later, engineer and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee [of CERN] invented the World Wide Web.
It was conceived as national security project. Its foundational protocols were crafted by government scientists. Its popularization was a direct result of European government-backed research that turned the defense and academia-oriented data network into a communications web more broadly useful to government and private entities alike. You don’t get much more “from government” than that.
So McDaniel, who appears to have been required to sell both her soul and her name for spare change upon taking her current Republican National Committee position, is simply flat-out lying here. She is lying in service to a nearly 20-year-old conservative snipe at Al Gore and for the sake of a cheap, hooting applause line; she either knows the truth or was entirely unmotivated to bother to look it up. And that sort of gaslighting, about occurrences in the public record that a great many of us lived through and witnessed, is now commonplace among top party blusterers. It is a fixture of CPAC, and of the addresses of even the most pseudodignified of speakers, and on the floor of the House and Senate, and in formal hearings, and in fundraising emails, and take your pick.
Donald Trump is a genius, despite all evidence; all economic news is the best it has ever been, because it just is; opponent Insert-Name-Here is corrupt, or foreign, or possibly in league with Muslims; the nuclear threat from North Korea is over, oh but wait now it is not; there is suddenly an “emergency” on the border that nobody can identify but which is simultaneously too severe to ignore; the “wall” is both being built now and being cruelly blocked; the government project to link up defense and research laboratories had nothing to do with government.
Whether by intent or as side effect of his own internal deficiencies, Donald Trump toppled every other Republican candidate with the discovery that the current Republican base has little to no interest in whether the things they are being told are true, so long as they are pleasing. He deftly brought the Fox News model of jittery daily panic, predicated on nothing, to the campaign trail itself. After a brief initial stupor during which prominent Republican voices like McDaniel’s uncle Mitt warned against this new brand of cheap, lying hucksterism, Trump’s ability to actually win using blatant untruths appeared to invigorate Republican leaders, who one after another began to adopt the same rhetorical style.
In the absence of that Trump win, that final epiphany that the past and the present could be rewritten as much as necessary to craft a message that would rile the crowds, it’s unclear if Ronna Romney McDaniel would have stooped to her current position as one of the party’s most dishonest blusterers. But it’s certainly possible. Trump himself adopted both the issues and the specific manipulations of his favorite programs; Fox News itself has long used evasive and misleading re-interpretations of the world to capture an isolated audience desperate for confirmation of their own ideological tropes. It is a natural evolution of conservatism, one that can be traced through conspiracy-tinged convention speeches for three decades now.
In the end it’s not absolutely clear whether all these Republicans now inventing new “facts” out of thin air are attempting to parrot Trump’s blustering manipulations, or merely Sean Hannity’s.