Bush-Era Assault on Reason

I feel like I’ve seen this show once before.

Twitter was breathless with astonished outrage that Trump supporter Scottie Nell Hughes could say something as audacious as “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.” (You can read her clarification here.)

I think it’s pretty easy to see that as an inarticulate moment, but we saw something more substantive in 2004 when Karl Rove told Ron Suskind:

“The aide [Rove] said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ … ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”

Al Gore was so distraught after the 2000 election that one of the first things he did was teach a journalism class (Covering National Affairs in the Information Age.)

Then he launched Current TV (a progressive news network and TV channel).

Then he wrote The Assault on Reason.

“Our systematic exposure to fear and other arousal stimuli on television can be exploited by the clever public relations specialist, advertiser, or politician. Barry Glassner, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, argues that there are three techniques that together make up “fearmongering”: repetition, making the irregular seem regular, and misdirection. By using these narrative tools, anyone with a loud platform can ratchet up public anxieties and fears, distorting public discourse and reason.”

Gore argues that TV is the problem and the Internet is the solution, but much of what he did after the 2000 election was a Cassandra-like prophecy for the events of early November 2016.

It feels weird to see so many of the same concerns, critiques, and anxieties weave their way through the post-election conversations, seemingly without recognition that we’ve had these conversations before. I suppose we’ve been able to spot the problems for years, but have yet to find the solutions.

It’s probably time to visit my local library and check out the following titles:

The Reunited States of America : how we can bridge the partisan divide by Mark Gerzon

Polarized : making sense of a divided America by James E Campbell

Social psychology of political polarization by Piercarlo Valdesolo & Jesse Graham

and

The phantom of a polarized America : myths and truths of an ideological divide by Manabu Saeki

They may not be full of solutions, but it’s a place to start.

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