With every announcement of a cabinet nominee, the news gets more depressing and surreal. Trump is deliberately naming agency heads who oppose the missions of the agencies they will control–nominees who can be expected to eviscerate efforts to address climate change, undermine public education and favor saber-rattling over diplomacy, among other disasters.
All of them are contemptuous–or ignorant–of demonstrable facts.
Case in point: Andrew F. Puzder, the fast-food chief executive Trump has chosen to be his secretary of labor. As The New York Times has reported, Puzder has a “passionate disdain” for both the Affordable Care Act and efforts to raise the minimum wage.
He says the law has led to rising health insurance premiums, “reducing consumer spending, resulting in a reduction in restaurant visits.”
He has also argued that the act has given businesses an incentive to cut back on full-time workers to avoid the costs of providing them with insurance, as the act frequently requires.
The problem is that the available data largely disagree.
Fast food sales are actually up since the ACA took effect, and there is no correlation between employment growth in the industry and health insurance premiums. States where premiums increased more did not tend to have lower employment, and the percentage of people who are forced to work part-time even though they prefer to work full-time has fallen dramatically since the Affordable Care Act was enacted.
He is similarly wrong about the effects of raising the minimum wage; employment has actually increased in the wake of most such raises.
Puzzler doesn’t know what he is talking about, so he will fit right in with the other cabinet nominees, and with Trump and his voters.
It turns out that most of those voters inhabit our new “post-fact” society. A survey fielded after the election may illuminate the gap between those voters and reality.
* Unemployment: Under President Obama, job growth has been quite strong, and the unemployment rate has improved dramatically. PPP, however, found that 67% of Trump voters believe the unemployment rate went up under Obama – which is the exact opposite of reality.
* Stock Market: Since the president was elected, the stock market has soared, nearly tripling since the height of the Great Recession. PPP found that 39% of Trump voters believe the market has gone down under Obama – which is also the exact opposite of reality.
* Popular Vote: As of this morning, Hillary Clinton received roughly 2.7 million more votes than Donald Trump, but PPP nevertheless found that 40% of Trump voters believe he won the popular vote – which is, once again, the exact opposite of reality.
* Voter Fraud: Even Trump’s lawyers concede there was no voter fraud in the presidential election, but PPP found that 60% of Trump voters apparently believe “millions” of illegal ballots were cast for Clinton in 2016 – which isn’t even close to resembling reality.
* Soros Conspiracy Theory: A whopping 73% of Trump voters believe George Soros is paying anti-Trump protesters – though in reality, George Soros is not paying anti-Trump protesters.
The survey goes a long way toward answering the question repeatedly asked by so many anguished Americans: why on earth would anyone vote for this monumentally unfit, unethical buffoon?
Americans live in the age of confirmation bias, where you can find sources on the Internet supporting your preferred worldview, no matter how ridiculous or flat-out insane. Propagating the Big Lie has never been easier.
The strategy of the Big Lie comes to us courtesy of the Third Reich; as Joseph Goebbels helpfully explained it,
If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.
Joe Nocera wrote a column a few years ago in The New York Times, explaining our more sophisticated modern Big Lie techniques,
You begin with a hypothesis that has a certain surface plausibility. You find an ally whose background suggests that he’s an “expert”; out of thin air, he devises “data.” You write articles in sympathetic publications, repeating the data endlessly; in time, some of these publications make your cause their own. Like-minded congressmen pick up your mantra and invite you to testify at hearings.
You’re chosen for an investigative panel related to your topic. When other panel members, after inspecting your evidence, reject your thesis, you claim that they did so for ideological reasons. This, too, is repeated by your allies. Soon, the echo chamber you created drowns out dissenting views; even presidential candidates begin repeating the Big Lie.
Thanks to fake news and the Internet, Big Lies have become much easier to sustain.
Thanks to uncritical, uneducated citizens who lack both civic and media literacy, facts, credibility and reality no longer matter.
The rest of us are screwed.