On August 12, Trish Regan of FOX News offered her version of the standard conservative critique of Europe, in the form of a brief “report” on economic life in Denmark, comparing “socialism” there to the disasters of socialist Venezuela. She began with “a federal tax rate of 56%. In other words, everyone in Denmark is working for the government:” Therefore, “No one wants to work.” University education is free, therefore “Nobody graduates from school.” Barely taking a breath before contradicting herself, “Nowadays, all the kids graduating from school in Denmark, they want to start cupcake cafés.” “Nobody is incentivized to do anything, because they’re not going to be rewarded.” “Denmark, like Venezuela, has stripped people of their opportunities.”
Here’s the point, for Regan and FOX: “That’s the reality of socialism.”
Here’s the reality of Denmark. The proportion of the working-age population which is employed is 75%, one of the highest in the world, compared to 71% in the US. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative free-market think tank, gives the world’s nations an “index of economic freedom”: Denmark and the US are exactly tied. Denmark’s middle class is much bigger than in the US, because our low-income and high-income segments are twice as large. Denmark ranks second in the world on maternal health, well ahead of the US. Because higher education is free, Danes have more, not fewer, opportunities for advancement. Those facts might explain why Denmark ranks at the top in terms of its population’s happiness, along with Norway and Finland with similar social systems.
After an international outcry about her lies, Regan offered a “clarification”, in which she cited her “sources” and addressed none of her falsehoods.
The issue is truth.
Conservative propagandists use various media to tell stories about America and the world that they know are not true. Ann Coulter makes a fine living calling liberals traitors: in her 2003 book, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, and since then. Jonah Goldberg, who has written for the National Review for 20 years, goes a bit further, calling liberals fascists: Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. The American Conservative lambasted Goldberg’s book in their review entitled “Goldberg’s Trivial Pursuit”, saying he “misunderstands liberalism” and calling his “most ambitious thesis” “without merit”. Dinesh D’Souza goes one step further, equating liberals and Nazis in his new film “Death of a Nation”.
Trish Regan’s made-up “Denmark” is just the latest version of right-wing nonsense, presented as fact, in order to promote hatred of their political opponents.
These purveyors of historical fiction all know that the stories they are telling are not true. They don’t want to tell the true, but more complicated stories that might lead their readers and listeners and viewers toward some liberal conclusions.
They make piles of money, because much of the conservative public apparently doesn’t care about truth either. Unpacking the nonsense of conservative ideologues into its untrue and contradictory elements takes effort. It has been clear since the beginning of political advertising in America, that eye-catching slogans turned into simple stories repeated over and over again are enough to move votes.
Usually those stories had to be plausible. McCarthyism was an exception: it was possible to enlist the government into repressive measures against liberal and radical activists with a bizarre story about Communists taking over the US. By the 1960s, the people who pushed outlandish conspiracy theories, like the John Birch Society, were back on the wacko margins.
But once again, some sizable minority of Americans is gobbling up the stories that they want to hear. It no longer matters that they are implausible. A wide fringe will believe nearly anything, hence the popularity of Alex Jones. A larger segment will listen to less apocalyptic visions, which merely cast half of the American public as willing dupes of murderous traitors. Hence the popularity of “Lock Her Up” for the crime of liberalism. Nearly all Republican voters take the watered down version that FOX presents. Regan just put her toe over the line and didn’t even have to yank it back.
In none of this is truth the goal. There may be bits of fact in conservative story-telling, but the object is falsehood. And the conservative public likes it. Fact-checkers are the enemies of these people.
In the past, a few thoughtful and courageous political voices have saved us. No modern President had been willing to give the wildest fringe credibility. A handful of politicians, like Margaret Chase Smith and the late John McCain, have spoken truth to lying power in their own Party. Now our President leads the fringe.
So expect much more of the same. As Variety wrote in a review of D’Souza’s film, “If your agenda is to stoke resentment and create cartoon enemies, then you don’t need to be accurate.”
Why do conservatives hate Europe? Because the truth about Denmark, like the truth about climate change and about liberalism, doesn’t fit their ideology. Instead of adapting their ideas to reality, they create their own alternative reality and feed it to people who would rather be ignorant than have to change their minds.
What a way to make a living.
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