Was Sen. Joe McCarthy a bad guy? The answer to that question seems to be changing. Before late 2016, we were expected to believe that his attempt to root out communists in the federal government was a witch hunt stemming from a jingoistic paranoia about Russia.
Then Hillary Clinton lost. How could it be? Her being the most corrupt presidential nominee in U.S. history or running an embarrassingly disconnected campaign is a priori ruled out, because that would mean that a Democratic candidate was worse than a Republican one. The dialectic of a fundamentalist belief in democracy alongside the reality of losing elections results in a mental compromise: Republicans don’t win elections, they steal elections.
This election was so big that it couldn’t have just been Republicans, as dastardly as they may be. It was, uh, the Russians. Yeah! Remember those jerks? Donald Trump is their Manchurian candidate, and Vladimir Putin planted him in the White House by flipping 100,000 Rust Belt voters. This is a fashionable thing to believe, brought to you by the same people who called any scrutiny of Hillary Clinton’s health a “conspiracy theory.”
Sure, Soothe Yourself, But Don’t Tell Me Lies
As crazy as the Russia hysteria is, it’s understandable Democrats would push the narrative that voters having more information from hacked servers was a bad thing. Catastrophic losses demand taking a moral inventory when those who are suffering are also responsible. In context of politics, with all its inertia and moneyed ideological interests, moral accounting is particularly hard because it can imply that certain positions need to change. So what we get instead is a kind of deflective McCarthyism.
I am not entirely comfortable with that pejorative, though. McCarthy was proven to have been basically right by the time documents were declassified in the 1990s proving there actually were communist spies, such as Alger Hiss of the State Department and Harry Dexter White of the Treasury Department, at very high levels of the U.S. government. But those are facts. Facts are not relevant to this discussion, because we’re talking about what we feel deep down inside. The narrative will fill in any space between feelings and the actual state of the world.
Googling “Russia” and picking out headlines at random, you’ll more than likely find one that is heavy on partisan paranoia and light on the facts. The Chicago Tribune went as far as to run a piece titled “Donald Trump, a modern-day Manchurian candidate.” Excuse me, “The Manchurian Candidate” is the name of a Hollywood thriller from 1962. Trump can’t be a modern-day version of something that never actually existed.
‘We Are No Longer a Sovereign Nation’
If it were only random people writing letters to the editor and accusing anyone who disagrees with them of being a Russian agent, this phenomenon wouldn’t be worth commenting on. But middle-aged men who have posts at once-respectable news outlets have been reduced to frothing maniacs.
Kurt Eichenwald, a Hillary Clinton advocate who writes for Newsweek, has been suffering what appears to be a slow-motion breakdown induced by Russia hysteria. It culminated in a surreal interview on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” where Eichenwald tried to filibuster a yes-or-no question about whether he reported that Trump had been institutionalized. Nine minutes of live television consisted him giving an Abbot and Costello-like routine of lashing out against the host for reminding him of how much time he was taking to answer such a straightforward query. Eichenwald later claimed the fictitious report of a Trump institutionalization was “just a joke.” This kind of frightening behavior is familiar to anyone who has been close to someone suffering from mental illness.
Paul Krugman might not be psychologically troubled like Eichenwald, but he is doing his best to make the public think otherwise. The award-winning economist has a column at The New York Times, which has largely morphed into a repository for Trump-centric conspiracy theories that would sound like they were written by Alex Jones had they revolved around Hillary Clinton.
Somehow, though, it’s GQ’s Keith Olbermann who manages to take the cake. I will just quote him, because Olbermann’s own verbatim rant makes him look more clownish than any paraphrasing, however uncharitable, possibly could. “We are at war with Russia. Or perhaps more correctly, we have a lost a war with Russia without a battle. We are no longer a sovereign nation, we are no longer a democracy, we are no longer a free people — we are the victims of a bloodless coup engineered by Russia with the traitorous indifference of the Republican Party.”
I’m not upset that these people hold policy positions different from my own. I’m upset that our media’s standards are so low that middle-aged men are paid to crank out Tom Clancy fan fiction and I’m expected to nod my head while holding back the urge to visit WebMD to find out which type of schizophrenia best describes their ramblings.
How ludicrous the content is doesn’t matter, because identities are the bottom line. Eichenwald, Krugman, and Olbermann are left-wingers who are considered to be “credible.” Is our country being controlled by shape-shifting lizard people that dwell in the hollow earth? They are just asking the questions, people. Don’t be so ridiculous as to reflexively doubt such a thing.
How Did ‘Post-Truth’ Happen? Oh, Yeah, the Left
The worst part is that these kinds of grasping-at-straws conspiracy theories are pushed by the same people who complain about the United States entering “post-truth politics” thanks to Trump. But a fact-averse environment isn’t new, not by a long shot. Facts have been reduced to the status of an occasionally useful but in no way necessary means to political ends since the rise of the postmodern left in the 1970s. Decades later it’s stronger than ever, perhaps even reaching a fever pitch in the wake of Trump’s victory.
News outlets everywhere reported that Muslim women everywhere were being attacked by suspiciously perfect Trump supporters. The New York Daily News, Gothamist, Yahoo, Slate, Talking Points Memo, and ABC all reported one instance of such a hoaxed story as fact. They took the story of an activist as fact, flaunting journalistic standards by using the words “allegedly” or “reportedly.”
Talking Points Memo, a left-wing advocacy website, doubled down on their sophistry when they were caught, saying that “one hoax” doesn’t discredit the “hate crime wave” that hit the country. Yes, that’s technically true, professor, but police information showing the nonexistence of any such hate crime wave does exactly that.
Ideological narratives beat facts. There is nothing above it except crude ideology that demands that Trump be painted as a hyperbolic evil. Police data may show that there is no spike in hate crimes at all, but activists think there could or should be. That’s the story we’re going to be hearing for the next four years, and it will be nothing more than happy accident if the facts end up aligning with it.