It has struck me more and more lately how discussions about politics with conservative acquaintances become debates between belief and fact. To some extent it seems Republicans (and Tea Partiers) confuse the two. For example, you will hear things like, “do you believe in evolution?” Evolution is science; it is not something you believe in because science isn’t about belief. It’s about demonstrable facts. You can believe in creationism, but you can’t believe in evolution. You either accept the facts or you deny them and hide behind unassailable belief.
Birtherism is another issue that comes down to facts vs. belief. A conservative relative of mine says there is reason to doubt that Barack Obama was born in the United States. No, there is no reason to believe any such thing. The facts are there – birth announcement, birth certificate, etc. But birthers chose to disbelieve the evidence. You can pile the evidence up but none of it will matter because it’s not an issue of provable, demonstrable fact; it’s an issue of belief.
The same can be said of a great many other important issues of our age, including climate change, American history (the Christian nation myth), Sharia law, the “homosexual agenda” etc. These are all debates fueled by belief, not fact. There is evidence of climate change but this is ignored. There is no evidence of either “creeping” Sharia law or a homosexual agenda, yet these are almost issues of faith for conservatives. The evidence is again irrelevant.
To the extent evidence or fact enter into any discussion with conservatives in all likelihood the “facts” are invented, the science (to use their own favorite expression) “junk” and any history is revised to suit the needs of the moment.
Liberals and progressives pride themselves on their Enlightenment rationalism, but the Republican Party has become more and more the party of Protestant fundamentalism, a party of belief, in the process divorcing itself from reality and the facts that bolster that reality in favor of invented realities. Al Franken told the Republicans that they’re not entitled to their own facts, but this is exactly what Republicans feel they are entitled to.
Where does that leave our political debates? We can’t look for the situation to get any better; it won’t. The forces of reaction only grow stronger as the pressures upon them increase. And they are desperate. That they are not entirely divorced from the Einsteinian universe is shown by their realization that prayer alone won’t bring the change their belief system insists it must.
Sarah Palin spoke for the lunatic fringe of superstition when she promised in 2008 that “God” would make the right choice for America on Election Day. God apparently chose Obama and they seem to realize they can’t afford to let God make that choice again. Consequently, they are taking the choice out of God’s hands and also out of the people’s hands by making it impossible for Obama to be a two-term president through legislation.
As tests of faith go, Gods Own Party has been proven dismally tepid at best. God might tell Michele Bachmann to run for office but apparently he got the memo that he’s not entitled to a vote, even if his followers did not.
In 2008 rationalism prevailed. 2010 was dangerously close to a full victory for superstition; a two-year campaign of fear and disinformation bore fruit with Republican control of the U.S. House and several state legislatures. What seemed like a disaster at the time has proven to be a gift to the reeling forces of rationalism as Americans have been treated for the first time with the fruits of Republican misrule in Wisconsin, Michigan, and elsewhere. The American voter has for the first time been presented with proof of what America would look like after a Republican victory on Election Day 2012.
Real fear, not the manufactured fear of Republican scare-mongers, was the result. Belief that reality is a certain way, belief that your own beliefs trump laws of nature have been proven spectacularly false. All the reason and rationality in the world could not trump belief in a debate, but when given a chance, Republicans provided their own proof of the nihilistic nature of their policies. They made our arguments for us, and are making them still. The mainstream media does what it can on their behalf by declining to show the most egregious examples of public outrage, thus shielding believers from unpalatable facts but in this modern technological age, this age of social networking, the truth has a way of getting out. Why do you think they hate net neutrality so much?
Remember, this is not a clash between the forces of big and small government. This is a clash between two different ideas about big government, one that places controls on corporations and one that places controls on uteri. Don’t fool yourself that a vote for Republican or Tea Party candidates is a vote for small government. They want big government, a big government backing up their social agenda and protecting corporate interests.
The sad truth is that true believers won’t be persuaded even by the evidence of their eyes. Their beliefs call for certain things to be true and they will insist upon this manufactured reality no matter what. There will always be something wrong with that birth certificate. The flow charts and graphs that demonstrate the facts of Democratic vs. Republican economic policies for the past half-century will continue to be meaningless. Democrats will always be the racists even while the Republicans are drawing their watermelon patches around the White House and singing Barack the Magic Negro. It’s the reality they prefer.
And in some ways, the asylum seems a more fitting abode for them than Capitol or White House. That is, after all, what we do with people who divorce themselves too strongly from reality. But this is an entire political party; an entire religion. How does America cope with an epidemic of insanity affecting a quarter or more of its citizens? Election Day 2008’s shock treatment didn’t work and it is unlikely that another treatment in 2012 will have a different result. It will only confirm their fear and paranoia. And what will we do when that quarter of the population, well-armed as it is, decides to take matters into their own hands and tries to force God’s hand?
What happens when the essential disagreement between reason and belief comes to a head? Election Day 2012 may save America from superstition but that may only signal the beginning of our problems when the well-armed minority that believes itself to be a majority decides that only a left-wing coup could have put Barack Obama into the White House for a second term and who believe, despite all the unwanted facts to the contrary, that he will take their guns away. They already believe that he is not one of us, neither American, white (synonymous with American for this group), or Christian (also synonymous with American). They believe, because they have been told, that President Obama wants to destroy America. What happens when these well-armed believers decide it’s up to them to save it?