That a good portion of the American population, following the Trump-led Republican Party and right-wing media, has dissociated from reality should be clear to the many not themselves residing in the ever-enlarging bubble of extremist America.
The denials of reality in favor of inhabiting a universe of alternative facts abound and are increasingly violent and vociferous. It’s not enough, for example, for those who don’t believe in the efficacy of the COVID vaccines to simply refrain from getting vaccinated, they have to stop others from receiving it (so much for “personal freedom”!), as we have seen with anti-vaxxers not just protesting but disrupting vaccination sites and, most severely, in the recent case of a Maryland man shooting and killing his pharmacist brother who was administering the vaccine, believing his brother was killing people by doing so.
And we know that this dangerous extremist denial of, or dissociation from, reality is championed within the halls of the U.S. Congress and state legislatures around the nation. Congressional Republicans, with the exception of (maybe) Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, have refused to acknowledge the violent assault on the Capitol last January 6 as anything that requires serious redress or even investigation. To them it was a happy-go-lucky picnic, nothing out of the ordinary—so what if some police got killed, if protesters threatened to murder Nancy Pelosi and hang Mike Pence!
I was shocked, though, this week to see how powerfully the denial of the existential threat Republicans pose to American democracy and freedom permeates mainstream media, just as we have seen it alive and well, thriving like a weed, among moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin.
Of course, I shouldn’t be shocked anymore. That’s my fault, and my own form of denial of the scope of extremism I need to address. I’ll get a doctor.
But here’s what I’m talking about:
I was watching a panel discussion about the recent Facebook scandal blown open by Frances Haugen’s whistleblowing release of the company’s internal reports on Morning Joe last week. Jonathan Swan, an Axios political reporter, argued that the likelihood that the scandal would result in Congress enacting any kind of regulation of Facebook was basically slim to none. He reasoned that Republicans, history dictates, will almost certainly regain control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections, and they have no interest in curbing the flow of misinformation and hate speech on social media. Not only has it benefited them, such regulation is precisely what they invariably decry as censorship of conservatives.
What blew my mind was when Susan Page, the Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, used her time to “respectfully disagree” with Swan. She argued that the reason Congress has been slow to regulate companies like Facebook is because the issues are complicated and the legislators don’t really understand how the platforms and algorithms work. And then she insisted that,
. . . the issue of making teenage girls feel bad about themselves, even contemplating killing themselves is something Republicans and Democrats can agree on. It’s something understandable and it gives you an opening wedge to a more serious examination of what the government’s role ought to be in regulating Facebook.
Page’s denial of the reality in which we’ve been living for at least the past four years is astounding.
Did she not hear the tape of Donald Trump talking pridefully about grabbing women’s genitals? Did she not witness the Republican legislators in Texas basically submarine Roe v. Wade, stripping women of their constitutional right to make choices about their body?
We have to ask the obvious question Page begs:
Where in the world did she get the idea that Republicans would care that a social media company is making teenage girls feel bad about themselves?
Have we seen a shred of decency or humanity from congressional Republicans?
Does Page think Republicans can certainly agree that violent insurrection against the nation’s democratically-elected government should not be tolerated?
What is worrisome here is that a powerful voice in a leadership position in major mainstream national news organization is so severely underestimating, is indeed so blind to or in denial about, the threat Republicans pose to not just democracy in America, but basic human rights and freedom.
Of course, Page is not alone.
Her behavior is no different from, say, that of Joe Manchin, who continues to insist Democrats push for bi-partisanship, unable to see that Republicans have no interest in cooperating with Democrats on any legislative efforts, even if they were to agree with their substance. They won’t even agree to raise the debt ceiling to pay the bills incurred under the leadership. They wouldn’t agree to even hold a debate about whether there should be in inquiry into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. They refused to address or care about documented Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
And Manchin, like other moderate Democrats, exhibit their own dissociation from, denial of, reality, when it comes to their refusal to back the $3.5 trillion human infrastructure bill, which will address climate change, help families and particularly mothers with childcare, and provide support for Americans seeking higher education, among other elements of the bill. They characterize the bill as “excessive” in its spending, even though it pays for its provisions through fairly and finally taxing the wealthiest among us, including corporations that reap billions in profits but have historically payed little to nothing in taxes. And they call it “excessive,” denying the hundreds of billions of dollars not addressing climate change with cost not just in the long term but in the near term.
And while Americans are stripped of their constitutional rights, including their voting rights, across the nation, Manchin and other moderate democrats cling to the filibuster, an invented rule that has no basis in the constitution but is instead a weapon now being used to further the elimination of constitutional rights.
Republicans are scary, indeed. But the moderates and mainstream media members who aid and abet them, living in denial, are just as scary, if not scarier.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.