Professor Michael Mann begins his important book, “The Climate War,” with this quote: “Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.” Although the quotation originated with a sixties tobacco executive, it could be spoken today by the leaders of the Republican Party, as their primary product is disinformation.
In George Orwell’s classic, “1984,” the ruling Party controls the people by systematic propaganda; “brainwashing” that Orwell described as “doublethink:”
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed.
1984’s ruling Party, “big brother,” uses the “thought police” to control the populous through disinformation. Professor Michael Mann observes that Republican oligarchs — the Koch brothers, the Mercer family, Rupert Murdoch, and others — control the GOP faithful through disinformation. Donald Trump is their willing servant.
Since the advent of Trump, political observers have noted that Republicans — who once focused on “conservative” ideology — have moved away from traditional Republican ideas and, instead, embraced the cult of personality: “Trumpism.” Because Trump is a media personality and a pathological liar, enclasping him made it easier for the GOP to become the Party of disinformation.
In 2021, Republicans don’t stand for political notions; instead, they oppose Democratic policy proposals, offering disingenuous substitutions. Consider these critical national issues:
Climate Change: Professor Michael Mann’s thesis is that extreme weather events have ended full-on climate change denial; opposition has moved from “‘hard’ climate denial to ‘softer’ denial: downplaying, deflecting, dividing, delaying and despair-mongering.” We can see this in the recent Republican stance: “Yes, but…” As in, “Yes climate change is real, but what about jobs or China or …?”
In this vein, it should be noted that most of the Republican oligarchs that support Trump in climate-change diversion, also support his disinformation in other sectors. (Mann notes that Russia and Saudi Arabia — the world’s largest petroleum exporters — supported Trump’s climate-change disinformation campaign.)
Coronavirus Pandemic: The Trump Administration’s response to COVID-19 was a truncated version of the historic Republican response to Climate Change. First, they denied it; at one point Trump called the pandemic “a hoax,” just as years before he had called Climate Change “a hoax”. Next, Republicans minimized the pandemic; early on Trump claimed that the coronavirus was a minor issue; “it will disappear in a few weeks.” Then, Trump focussed on blaming China. In terms of a public health response, Trump foisted this on the states. (At one point, Trump used a classic anti-Climate-Change tactic, the false expert. GOP oligarchs have employed Bjorn Lomborg to dispute the severity of climate change; Trump used Scott Atlas to dispute the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.)
January 6th Insurrection: Few Republicans attempted to deny the January 6th Trump-orchestrated attack on the Capitol. Many responded by downplaying it or by artful use of deflection; for example, many claimed the attack was orchestrated by Antifa or “left-wing provocateurs posing as Trump supporters.” Another Republican deflection was the claim that the insurrection was “no worse than the Black Lives Matter ‘riots” during the summer.” Of course, the ultimate deflection occurred during Trump’s second impeachment trial when many Republicans claimed Trump could not be convicted because he was no longer President at the time of the trial.
Economic Relief: President Biden has made his first order of legislative business the passage of “the American Rescue Plan:” (1) Aid to individuals: $1400 direct payment; Increase in unemployment insurance. (2) Aid to families: extending the eviction/foreclosure moratorium until September; increasing child-tax credit. (3) Aid to states and local governments. (4) Aid to schools. (5) Funds for COVID-19 testing and vaccination.
Few Republicans oppose the general notion of pandemic-related economic relief. Once again, they engage in “soft” denial: downplaying, deflecting, dividing, delaying and despair-mongering. For example, Republicans complain the bill has “too much pork” or only contains aid to Blue states.
Democrats versus Republicans on the issues: Whether on jobs and the economy, reopening schools, dealing with racial tensions, or the other major issues confronting the United States, the same political dynamic exists: Democrats offer proposals and Republicans offer disinformation. For example, Democrats offer concrete proposals to promote a more equitable society and Republicans counter by asserting “there is no problem.” What we are seeing are not two different takes on the same issues, but rather a serious proposal versus a soundbyte.
Response to the pandemic provides a perfect illustration of this dynamic: the Biden Administration has launched a concerted effort to thwart COVID-19. The Republican response seems to be: “You can’t make me wear a mask.”
Solutions: At the heart of our current political impasse is the Republican disinformation machine; the reality that “doubt is [their] product.” Of course, some of this disinformation has been diminished by voting Trump our of office. (And will further diminish as we vote other Republicans out.) Nonetheless, the fundamental nature of the Republican Party has changed — and is antithetical to democracy,
Long range there are two solutions: one is to severely penalize the purveyors of disinformation. such as Fox News. The other is to restrict the influence of social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Shut down the disinformation.