© Josh Sager – March 2012
In modern American politics, we have encountered a massive disconnect between our political rhetoric and the objective facts. Politicians from both parties make claims and policy suggestions that, not only are baseless in reality by any stretch of the facts, but have been recently been implemented to disastrous results (Case in point: “trickle down” economic theory). There has been, and will always be, some degree of theater and utilization of exaggerated promises in politics, but at no other time in American history have we seen facts and politics so divided.
Modern politics, primarily but not exclusively, in the right wing, have become increasingly divorced from a factual foundation; this divorce is present in numerous political topics of contention, including, but not limited to, accepted science, economic theory, infrastructure spending, energy policy and health policy. The problem inherent to the separation of facts and policy is that without a factual basis for policy, we end up with ineffective or harmful policy outcomes.
Vast portions of the US population and political representation simply don’t understand economics. The establishment right wing and many centrist (ex. Obama and Lieberman), have become possessed with the ideas that tax cuts are the universal remedy for all economic ills and that regulations are crippling growth. Beginning with Reagan and continuing to this day, we see the talking points that tax cuts always increase revenue, tax increases on the mythical “job creators” kill jobs, regulations are universally bad, and that all social spending is simply waste (unless it oppresses women or helps the rich); these talking points are simply false and indicative of a divorce from reality.
The results of not identifying that many of our economic policies are not based in realistic economic theory have been tragic: the 2008 economic crash, rampant pollution, exploding income inequality, and record unemployment are all results of these policies, yet we fail to take the steps necessary to fix the problems we ourselves created. Far be it from avoiding such demonstrably dangerous economic policies, many politicians are hell-bent upon doubling down on them. Because many politicians are ignorant of the effects of their policies, they wil never be able to see beyond their own talking points and fix the problems that are created by the policies that they support.
According to recent polls, around a third of the US population does not believe that global climate change is caused by human action. The lack of belief in global climate change and the effects of pollution risks catastrophic damage to the American public. Global climate change is real, and will result in terrible suffering if we don’t start working on mitigating its effects immediately. Unfortunatly, as many Americans deny global climate change’s existence, there is little hope for our politicians to pass any meaningful policies to stop the impending crises—extreme weather, ecological degradation and far larger problems are bearing down on us, yet those who see it coming can do little more than watch and wait for tragedy. Unless we get a handle on carbon emissions and pollution, we could render our planet uninhabitable; what use is the money we gain from polluting if the cost is cancer, accumulated heavy metal toxicity, overpopulation, food shortages, civil unrest, and widespread ecological destruction. Unless our politicians recognize the ecological issues facing us as facts, we will never be able pass reasonable legislation in reaction to them.
Another scientific issue that has commonly been denied by Americans is that of biological evolution. Nearly half of Americans believe in some form of creationism as opposed to evolution. While a denial of evolution has comparably fewer consequences than a denial of climate (as the only consequence of evolution denial is a lack of understanding of biology and other natural sciences), it is indicative of the American rejection of facts, in favor of propaganda.
Given America’s problem with facts and fact-based governance, we are faced with a serious problem. Many of our politicians have created a fantasy world in which to live, and have disconnected themselves from the true realities of their policies. Functionally speaking, these politicians are incapable of learning from history, as they have created their own history to fit their narrative.
“Those who ignore history are bound to repeat it.”
Santayana’s quote describes perfectly how logical reasoning and the study of history should be used in order to inform our social policy decisions. Rational people look back upon history in order to predict what may happen in future, analogous, situations. In order to avoid catastrophic mistakes, we look back and see where past mistakes were made (the same is true with choosing positive outcomes). Without the benefit of past experiences to inform our present actions, any decision that we make is little better than guesswork; this is a terrifying proposition when applied to public policy, civil rights, and our economy.
Imagine this situation: A group of people are driving somewhere in a bus, alternating among themselves as the driver. During this trip, one driver does not believe in gravity, thus decides to take a shortcut over a ravine. Despite the driver’s best intentions, this situation does not end well for the passengers—this happens because, regardless of intentions, a fact like gravity doesn’t change if you don’t believe in it. When translated into our political predicament, the bus in this situation is the most powerful country in the world—possessing enough weapons to destroy the planet and the keystone position on the world economy. The drivers in this situation are our politicians and, unfortunately, many of them are ignorant, insane, or willing to deny facts while serving a political/economic agenda.
Facts don’t change simply because we deny them. Partisan rhetoric may help convince people to support policies, but the real effects of these policies will rarely match up with the rhetorical goals. We cannot allow any political party in our country to continue rejecting facts; if we want any hope of implementing sane and rational policy, based in fact rather than a convenient fiction, we must hold our officials to live within the world of facts.