“Alternative facts” are bad enough, but we’re facing something far more serious: Alternative worldviews in which up is down, future is past and all bets are off. Simply reacting to the most outrageous lies is not strategically smart enough. We need to work more seriously on a more comprehensive response — even as we need to become more sensitive to how far the inversions of reality have spread, and what ends they serve.
For example, the day before taxes were due, NPR reported on an IPSOS poll that found that a 44 percent plurality of Americans mistakenly believed that the richer pay more now than they did in 1980, when the top marginal income tax rate was 70 percent —compared to 39.6 percent today. Among Republicans, 52 percent believe this false picture, compared to just 28 percent who don’t.
Democrats, in contrast, were almost evenly split, 39 percent to 43 percent. This bizarre distortion helps explain why Republicans always push for tax cuts, and are doing so even now, above and beyond their donors’ obvious self-interest: It fits how the majority of their base sees the world and at the same time divides the Democrats, who remain confused and divided. Republicans would be crazy not to push for tax cuts, given this distribution of false belief and their utter unconcern with real-world consequences.
There’s also the fact that conservatives never stop complaining about the “tax burden” and “government waste.” As Matt Grossman and David Hopkins argue in “Asymmetric Politics“ (Salon stories here and here), the Democratic Party is a coalition of interest groups, while the Republicans are a vehicle for the conservative movement. So it makes sense that Republican politicians would repeat such conservative messages incessantly, while Democrats don’t devote nearly as much energy to countering them, or even developing the language to do so. Given the persistence of such messaging, and the related distribution of accurate and wildly inaccurate views, the Trump-touted return of Laffer Curve logic I recently wrote about makes perfect sense.
The false perception of top tax rates wasn’t an isolated finding — even in the same poll. It’s just one of multiple examples that help to define an alternative worldview whose pseudo-facts are inverted. In that worldview, there actually is a rational basis supporting the GOP’s agenda in general, and even President Donald Trump’s chaotic and incoherent articulation of it. This illusionary basis provides a specious foundation for the channeling of fears that make clear-headed reasoning that much more difficult.
Other important examples are the wildly exaggerated perecptions of anti-white discrimination or of anti-Christian discrimination. Or Trump’s repeated assertions (at the Republican convention, on the campaign trail and as president) that the crime rate today is historically high, because of some combination of Barack Obama’s…