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Are We Too Dumb for Democracy?

One of my favorite reporters, Matt Taibbi, has a great article in Rolling Stone, titled “America Is Too Dumb for TV News“. The article (and I highly recommend you read it) discusses how Trump has finally trumped reality. Even in the age of video on everyone’s phone and the Internet, Trump can largely get away with a baldfaced lie, claiming:

Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.

Trump’s statement is preposterous, of course:

Does nobody remember how people felt that day? If there had been such broadcasts, there would have been massacres – angry Americans would have stormed Jersey City.

In fact, police had to be deployed to places like Paterson anyway to protect immigrants from exactly that sort of mob violence. This is one of the reasons we know Muslims weren’t dancing en masse in the streets, because police were parked on those streets in huge numbers to keep people out.

The Newark Star-Ledger did a report in the weeks after the attacks from Paterson showing the city in “virtual lockdown,” with police camped in Muslim neighborhoods for the protection of the locals.

And yet, Trump not only keeps claiming it happened, but anyone who disagrees with him is part of an ongoing conspiracy against him. Trump even tweeted, “I want an apology! Many people have tweeted that I am right!” – as if a few people agreeing with him makes it true.

Rush Limbaugh backs him up, saying that “regardless of the specific details” [Wow!] Trump is right, because “The bottom line is that a lot of Americans are well aware that Muslims were cheering.”

Because America “knows” this, it now expects the news media to deliver that story. And if reporters refuse, it can only be out of bias.

Politicians have figured out that (with the cooperation of the media) that they can say anything they want and get away with it. Even if they get called on their lies, they can “Blame the backlash on media bias and walk away a hero.”

And it isn’t just Trump. Carly Fiorina claims to have watched a nonexistent video, and keeps using a false claim that 92% of the jobs lost under Obama belonged to women. Ben Carson tells stories that don’t bear scrutiny. Democrats do it too, but not to the same extent – perhaps because they don’t have anything like the right-wing media backing them up.

If our reality can be rewritten by an unholy alliance between politicians and media, how can we be trusted to vote for our leaders?



  1. ebdoug wrote:

    Trump has the white male chauvinist vote wrapped up but would anyone else vote for the lying man?

    Monday, November 30, 2015 at 7:13 am | Permalink
  2. JM wrote:

    “Democrats do it too” – I know there are plenty of crummy, worthless Democrats in government, but precisely which ones “do it too”?

    We should all be leery of blanket statements like this without specific attribution, because all too often it’s lazy or cowardly journalism. Using false equivalency is not an acceptable substitute for accurate reporting.

    Please share which Democrats do this and give examples – it’s important.

    Monday, November 30, 2015 at 10:22 am | Permalink
  3. jwhat wrote:

    It’s really scary what the right wing is trying to do (with some success). They’re trying to get the citizens to distrust government, public schools, public universities, scientists, honest journalists….all those that try to find and communicate the truth.

    Monday, November 30, 2015 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  4. Iron Knee wrote:

    JM, Hillary Clinton said repeatedly that she landed under sniper fire, until she finally got called on it (at least she didn’t get away with it). Bernie Sanders says “We spend twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation on Earth”. We do spend more, but not twice as much. Pretty easy to find examples, but as I said, they are not as egregious.

    Monday, November 30, 2015 at 12:25 pm | Permalink
  5. Dan wrote:

    I would suggest people watch the movie “Good Night and Good Luck”
    Hilary also claims she tried to join the Marines as a JAG officer but was turned away because she was too old. She was 26.
    Jim Webb 2016!!!

    Monday, November 30, 2015 at 2:08 pm | Permalink
  6. David Freeman wrote:

    I’m not sure we’re too dumb for democracy. It may be that the system is just not designed to promote intelligent voting. Most folks who don’t enjoy politics, don’t have the time for extensive research – they have to trust someone else such as media, activists and political parties for analysis. The voice of big money has overwhelmed rational reasonable voices. Get the money out and voters just might not seem so dumb.
    I used to wonder whether we would be better off with representatives randomly selected from the population. Before you say that’s stupid, consider that we entrust criminal justice to random selection (with some checks which do more harm than good such as letting prosecutors throw out blacks or women).
    We could hardly do worse with a House of Representatives selected by lot.

    Monday, November 30, 2015 at 6:28 pm | Permalink
  7. Ralph wrote:

    JM – LBJ lied to us constantly about Vietnam; the Gulf of Tonkin incident (or lack thereof) the progress (or lack thereof) of the war, the casualty figures, etc. (though so did Nixon for that matter).

    And then there’s, “If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor”. Most pundits agree Obama knew all along this was stretching the truth, to say the least.

    And who can forget, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman…”? It led to his impeachment by the House, but then who wouldn’t give that one a shot if cornered? 🙂

    Dan – Webb dropped out weeks ago, you need a new horse.

    Monday, November 30, 2015 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
  8. Michael wrote:

    So far, every example of Democrats lying can be classified as either self-aggrandizement or manipulation to achieve a policy goal. To me, those are very qualitatively different than what leaders of the contemporary GOP is doing.

    Trump is stirring up bigotry and hatred toward American Muslims and Mexican immigrants (documented or not). Fiorina’s lies are contributing to hostility toward Planned Parenthood employees because their organization provides a service that is completely legal; that hostility just contributed to a terrorist attack that killed 3 people. Limbaugh attacked Sandra Fluke as a slut for the crime of speaking to a Congressional panel about the costs of out-of-pocket contraception. And let’s not forget how much admiration the right wing threw at Cliven Bundy for leading an armed stand-off against federal agents because he refused to pay required grazing fees (i.e., taxes that all other ranchers pay).

    I will reiterate JM’s challenge: Please show me an example of a Democratic candidate for president demonizing millions of Americans as rapists and murderers. Please find me a clip of Rachel Maddow throwing epithets at a coal miner for testifying to Congress about how environmental regulations threaten their livelihood. Please name a single major Democratic politician who has suggested that targeting and killing random police officers as revenge for Freddie Gray, John Crawford III, or Tamir Rice. And could you possibly imagine the reaction if several hundred heavily armed black men had pointed their guns at the NYPD officers that put Eric Garner into a chokehold?

    Yes, lying is and always will be a part of politics. But what the contemporary GOP is doing goes so far beyond just lying. It’s propaganda, it’s race baiting, and it’s provoking violence.

    Monday, November 30, 2015 at 10:45 pm | Permalink
  9. Michael wrote:

    Grammar correction: “Please name a single major Democratic politician who has suggested that targeting and killing random police officers as revenge for Freddie Gray, John Crawford III, or Tamir Rice [is morally justifiable].”

    Monday, November 30, 2015 at 10:47 pm | Permalink
  10. Iron Knee wrote:

    Michael, that was the point of the original post.

    The biggest difference (on this point only) is not Republican v. Democrat, it is the right-wing media letting them get away with these lies (and even encouraging them).

    Monday, November 30, 2015 at 11:01 pm | Permalink
  11. Ralph wrote:

    Michael – point well made. The GOP has honed turning truth on its head to a fine art, to the point where you think they may actually believe the drivel coming out of their own mouths. It gives added weight to that old joke, “How can you tell when a politician is lying? Their lips are moving.”

    Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 5:56 am | Permalink
  12. redjon wrote:

    We had a painfully honest president, once. His name is Jimmy Carter, and people generally found him to be anywhere from boring to spineless (he was neither). Nobody, but NOBODY, wants to be told the unvarnished truth, as any parent (or grandparent) can attest. Which is why we have FOX “News.”

    Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 3:23 pm | Permalink
  13. Iron Knee wrote:

    Hear hear, Redjon. People say they want someone who is “plain spoken” and honest, but when they get one, they don’t like it. Most people think someone is “honest” if that person only says things that they already agree with. In other words, they tell people what they want to hear. Sad but true.

    Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 8:56 pm | Permalink