Paul Krugman is a columnist for the New York Times, but he was reprinted in the Austin “American Statesman” today talking about why Republicans seem to have such a tenuous grip on facts. He has a point. I think some of the explanation behind Krugman’s thesis can be laid at the feet of the fractured nature of today’s news—where even the Facebook-like meeting grounds have splintered into those that are far right, those that are far left, and Facebook, itself. So, here is Paul Krugman’s “When Did Republicans Start Hating Facts?”
I reprint it here because not all of you can re-read it on the pages of the Austin “American Statesman” (p. A11) and, in my own experience, there is always a pay wall up on the NY Times.
“Republicans spent most of 2020 rejecting science in the face of a runaway pandemic; now they’re rejecting democracy in the face of a clear election loss.
What do these rejections have in common? In each case, one of America’s two major parties simply refused to accept facts it didn’t like.
I’m sure it’s not right to insist that Republicans ‘believe’ that, say, wearing face masks is useless or that there was widespread voter fraud. Framing the issue as one of belief suggests that some kind of evidence might change party loyalists’ minds.
In reality, what Republicans say they believe flows from what they want to do, whether it’s ignore a deadly disease or stay in power despite the voters’ verdict.
In other words, the point isn’t that the GOP believes untrue things. It is, rather, that the party has become very hostile to the idea that there’s an objective reality that might conflict with its political goals.
Notice, by the way, that I’m not including qualifiers, like saying “some” Republicans. We’re talking about most of the party here. The Texas lawsuit calling on the Supreme Court to overturn the election was both absurd and deeply un-American, but 60% of Republicans in the House signed a brief supporting it, and only a handful of elected Republicans denounced the suit.
At this point, you aren’t considered a proper Republican unless you hate facts.
But when and how did the GOP get that way? If you think it started with Donald Trump and will end when he leaves the scene (if he ever does), you’re naive.
Republicans have been heading in this direction for decades. I’m not sure whether we can pinpoint the moment when the party began its descent into malignant madness, but the trajectory that led to this madness probably became irreversible under Ronald Reagan.
Republicans have, of course, turned Ronald Reagan into an icon, portraying him as the Savior of a desperate, declining nation. Mostly, however that is just propaganda. You’d never know from the legend that economic growth under Reagan was only slightly more robust than it had been under Jimmy Carter, and slower than it would be under Bill Clinton.
And rapidly rising income inequality meant that a disproportionate share of the benefits from economic growth went to a small elite, with only a bit trickling down to most of the population. Poverty, measured properly, was higher in 1989 than it had been a decade earlier.
Other measures suggest that we were already veering off course.
For example, in 1980, life expectancy in America was similar to other wealthy nations; but the Reagan years represent the beginning of the Great Mortality Divergence of the United States from the rest of the advanced world. Today, Americans, on average, can expect to live almost 4 fewer years than their counterparts in comparable countries.
The main point, however, is that under Reagan, irrationality and hatred for the facts began to take over the GOP.
There has always been a conspiracy-theorizing, science-hating, anti-democratic faction to America. Before Reagan, however, mainstream conservatives and the Republican establishment refused to make alliance with that faction, keeping it on the political fringe.
Reagan, by contrast, brought the crazies inside the tent.
Many Americans are, I think, unaware that Reagan embraced a crank economic doctrine—belief in the magical power of tax cuts. I’m not sure how many Americans remember that the Reagan administration was also remarkably hostile to science.
Reagan’s ability to act on his hostility was limited by Democratic control of the House and the fact that the Senate still contained a number of genuinely moderate Republicans. Still, Reagan and his officials spent years denying the effect of acid rain, while insisting that evolution was “just a theory” and promoting the teaching of Creationism in schools.
This rejection of science partly reflected deference to special interests that didn’t want science-based regulation. Even more important, however, was the influence of the religious right, which
Good Old Boy Fred Thompson, running as a Republican, in 2008.
first became a major political force under Reagan, has become ever more central to the Republican coalition and is now a major denier of the party’s rejection of facts—and democracy.
For rejecting facts come naturally to people who insist that they’re acting on behalf of God. So does refusing to accept election results that don’t go their way.
Sure enough, a few days ago, televangelist Pat Robertson—who first became politically influential under Reagan—pronounced the Texas lawsuit “a miracle,” an intervention by God that would keep Trump in office.
The point is that the GOP rejection of facts that has been so conspicuous this year wasn’t an aberration. What we’re seeing is the culmination of a degradation that began a long time and and is almost surely irreversible.