Stephen Colbert once joked that “reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Unfortunately, there’s a loophole: No one experiences anything but the most immediate reality directly. There’s always some kind of filter in between, whether it be word-of-mouth, newspaper, radio, or television. And whoever controls those filters, essentially controls the reality of everyone who uses them.
Republicans and conservatives grasped this decades ago, and by the time Democrats and progressives caught on it was too late: A small number of corporate conglomerates and right-wing gazillionaires gobbled up talk radio and most of the news media, and now use them to relentlessly push conservative frames and convince America that it is a center-right nation (at the very least). They’ve seized control of the filters, and they’re taking full advantage.
But the news media only cover the small sliver of reality that is the present and the recent past. What about farther back? Decades? Centuries? Well, the conservatives have that covered too:
The right is rewriting history.
The most ballyhooed effort is under way in Texas, where conservatives have pushed the state school board to rewrite guidelines, downplaying Thomas Jefferson in one high school course, playing up such conservatives as Phyllis Schlafly and the Heritage Foundation and challenging the idea that the Founding Fathers wanted to separate church and state.
In articles and speeches, on radio and TV, conservatives are working to redefine major turning points and influential figures in American history, often to slam liberals, promote Republicans and reinforce their positions in today’s politics.
The Jamestown settlers? Socialists. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton? Ill-informed professors made up all that bunk about him advocating a strong central government.
Theodore Roosevelt? Another socialist. Franklin D. Roosevelt? Not only did he not end the Great Depression, he also created it.
Joe McCarthy? Liberals lied about him. He was a hero.
I used to think of all these stories about the crazy Texas School Board trying to alter history and science as separate from the right’s media takeover, and from the steady drone of climate denialism, but now I’m thinking they’re each just one side of the same four-dimensional coin. The right views information itself as a threat, and they’re doing everything they can to combat it and co-opt it.
After all, informed voters might decide to vote for sane candidates over crazy dishonest hatemongers. Informed students might grow up to be favorably disposed to the successes of progressivism over the failures of conservatism. And informed policymakers might decide that the survival of the planet is a lot more important than Exxon Mobil’s profit margins… or at least their constituents would.
It’s quite audacious when you think about it. Rather than accepting reality and adapting their ideology to it, the right instead embarked on a massive multi-decade coordinated effort to adapt reality to their ideology. Instead of asking reality what it could teach them, they decided to fight it to the death. And if they win, everyone loses.