Because the people in my life know I pay a lot of attention to politics, I frequently have the experience of someone sending or mentioning an alarming news article or editorial or clip from cable news to get my opinion on whether it’s something to be concerned about. Frequently, I have to tell them that it’s not.
The bill passed one chamber but it will never become law. Or it will be vetoed. The court ruling will get overturned. Yes, even the conservative Supreme Court of the United States is never going to go along with that bullshit. Actually, that’s not what was said in context, or it’s not what was meant. The politician actually did say that, but they didn’t mean it. And so on.
My point is that I have a lot of experience with people on the left buying into bad analysis, clickbait, and rage politics. They can be talked down, but only by people they trust. And there’s a subset that can’t be talked down. They’re happier believing the worst.
This isn’t to say that I’m always purveyor of reassurance. In recent years, I’ve frequently been far more alarmed about things than most people you see on MSNBC. In a lot of ways, the absolutely fucked condition of the country is something I foresaw and predicted, and I did it for a long time feeling very isolated and alone. It’s a weird feeling to look at the news today on the climate, on reproductive rights, on Russia, on the United Kingdom, on the Republican Party, and see articles and analysis that five years ago I had to fight to convince editors weren’t unhinged Chicken Little rantings. Hell, Hillary Clinton just noticed that MAGA rallies are indistinguishable from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi rallies.
So, it’s not that things aren’t really so bad. It’s that people aren’t that great at figuring out what’s a real threat and what’s not, and they’re susceptible to believing bullshit so long as it’s bullshit slung from their own side of the political aisle.
I don’t mention this to make another “both sides” argument, but people are people. On the right, the problem is worse and the reason is twofold. The first is that there are many fewer rich people than non-rich people, and many more ordinary workers than executive workers. This means the billionaires who fund the Republican Party are constantly trying to find ways to bullshit people into supporting the policies they want because they’re at a natural disadvantage. It turns out the shortest way for these elites to get low taxes and the right to pollute the environment is to rile up a bunch of conservative Christians about prayer at football games. The thing is, in the process, a significant segment of the right that is supposed to know better actually winds up believing the bullshit that was intended only for the rubes. They’re uncritically consuming the crap that the Mighty Right-Wing Media Wulitzer churns out, and it’s rotting their brains.
The second reason the right has a worse bullshit problem than the left is that a critical mass was reached during Trump’s candidacy for the president where the rubes actually expected action rather than the mere promise of action. A wall was actually supposed to be built at the southern border. Abortion was actually supposed to be outlawed. Elections really were rigged, and violently challenging the fraudulent results was a duty. Some people call this Frankenstein’s monster, where the inventor loses control of his invention. The Democrats do not have this problem.
This is in part because the alarmists on the left were correct. That’s why the mainstream of the Democratic Party impeached Trump twice. It’s why the Justice Department raided his home. It’s why the New York attorney general just sued the entire Trump family for fraud. These are the kind of actions that the fringe of the left might have demanded in the past, only to be dismissed as extremists. So there’s an alignment now on the left between the establishment and the fringe, at least with respect to the threat represented by the Republicans and how to react, that’s pretty rare. And, for the most part, this alignment is based in reality. It’s not a matter of gullible partisans on the left believing a bunch of hype, but more a matter of the Democratic establishment (really, the whole establishment) finally understanding that the left fringe was right and they were wrong.
It’s easy to see this if you just look back to early days of the blogosphere when left-wing bloggers were completely antagonistic toward the mainstream press and the party leadership. We were trying to get them to wake up and they thought we were unruly children. But today we have basically everyone in agreement that the Republicans are completely out of control, that Trump must be imprisoned, and our very system of government is in grave peril.
I’d like to call that progress, but it feels more like futility.