An Insider’s View: The Dark Rigidity of Fundamentalist Rural America

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king.

Source:AlterNet

Author:Forsetti’s Justice / AlterNet

Emphasis Mine

(N.B.: at the end of the day, belief in a White Christian God is the problem…)

As the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump is being sorted out, a common theme keeps cropping up from all sides: “Democrats failed to understand white, working-class, fly-over America.”

Trump supporters are saying this. Progressive pundits are saying this. Talking heads across all forms of the media are saying this. Even some Democratic leaders are saying this. It doesn’t matter how many people say it, it is complete bullshit. It is an intellectual/linguistic sleight of hand meant to throw attention away from the real problem. The real problem isn’t east coast elites who don’t understand or care about rural America. The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

I grew up in rural, Christian, white America. You’d be hard-pressed to find an area in the country that has a higher percentage of Christians or whites. I spent most of the first 24 years of my life deeply embedded in this culture. I religiously (pun intended) attended their Christian services. I worked off and on, on their rural farms. I dated their calico skirted daughters. I camped, hunted, and fished with their sons. I listened to their political rants at the local diner and truck stop. I winced at their racist/bigoted jokes and epithets that were said more out of ignorance than animosity. I have also watched the town I grew up in go from a robust economy with well-kept homes and infrastructure turn into a struggling economy with shuttered businesses, dilapidated homes, and a broken down infrastructure over the past 30 years. The problem isn’t that I don’t understand these people. The problem is they don’t understand themselves, the reasons for their anger/frustrations, and don’t seem to care to know why.

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king, figuratively and literally. Religious fundamentalism is what has shaped most of their belief systems. Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, change. When you have a belief system that is built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power. The problem isn’t “coastal elites don’t understand rural Americans.” The problem is rural America doesn’t understand itself and will NEVER listen to anyone outside their bubble. It doesn’t matter how “understanding” you are, how well you listen, what language you use…if you are viewed as an outsider, your views are automatically discounted. I’ve had hundreds of discussions with rural white Americans and whenever I present them any information that contradicts their entrenched beliefs, no matter how sound, how unquestionable, how obvious, they WILL NOT even entertain the possibility it might be true. Their refusal is a result of the nature of their fundamentalist belief system and the fact I’m the enemy because I’m an educated liberal.

At some point during the discussion, “That’s your education talking,” will be said, derogatorily, as a general dismissal of everything I said. They truly believe this is a legitimate response because to them education is not to be trusted. Education is the enemy of fundamentalism because fundamentalism, by its very nature, is not built on facts. The fundamentalists I grew up around aren’t anti-education. They want their kids to know how to read and write. They are anti-quality, in-depth, broad, specialized education. Learning is only valued up to the certain point. Once it reaches the level where what you learn contradicts doctrine and fundamentalist arguments, it becomes dangerous. I watched a lot of my fellow students who were smart, stop their education the day they graduated high school. For most of the young ladies, getting married and having kids was more important than continuing their learning. For many of the young men, getting a college education was seen as unnecessary and a waste of time. For the few who did go to college, what they learned was still filtered through their fundamentalist belief system. If something they were taught didn’t support a preconception, it would be ignored and forgotten the second it was no longer needed to pass an exam.

Knowing this about their belief system and their view of outside information that doesn’t support it, telling me that the problem is coastal elites not understanding them completely misses the point.

Another problem with rural, Christian, white Americans is they are racists. I’m not talking about white hood-wearing, cross-burning, lynching racists (though some are). I’m talking about people who deep down in their heart of hearts truly believe they are superior because they are white. Their white God made them in his image and everyone else is a less-than-perfect version, flawed and cursed.

The religion in which I was raised taught this. Even though they’ve backtracked on some of their more racist declarations, many still believe the original claims. Non-whites are the color they are because of their sins, or at least the sins of their ancestors. Blacks don’t have dark skin because of where they lived and evolution; they have dark skin because they are cursed. God cursed them for a reason. If God cursed them, treating them as equals would be going against God’s will. It is really easy to justify treating people differently if they are cursed by God and will never be as good as you no matter what they do because of some predetermined status.

Once you have this view, it is easy to lower the outside group’s standing and acceptable level of treatment. Again, there are varying levels of racism at play in rural, Christian, white America. I know people who are ardent racists. I know a lot more whose racism is much more subtle but nonetheless racist. It wouldn’t take sodium pentothal to get most of these people to admit they believe they are fundamentally better and superior to minorities. They are white supremacists who dress up in white dress shirts, ties, and gingham dresses. They carry a Bible and tell you, “everyone’s a child of God” but forget to mention that some of God’s children are more favored than others and skin tone is the criterion by which we know who is and who isn’t at the top of God’s list of most favored children.

For us “coastal elites” who understand evolution, genetics, science…nothing we say to those in fly-over country is going to be listened to because not only are we fighting against an anti-education belief system, we are arguing against God. You aren’t winning a battle of beliefs with these people if you are on one side of the argument and God is on the other. No degree of understanding this is going to suddenly make them less racist, more open to reason and facts. Telling “urban elites” they need to understand rural Americans isn’t going to lead to a damn thing because it misses the causes of the problem.

Because rural, Christian, white Americans will not listen to educated arguments, supported by facts that go against their fundamentalist belief systems from “outsiders,” any change must come from within. Internal change in these systems does happen, but it happens infrequently and it always lags far behind reality. This is why they fear change so much. They aren’t used to it. Of course, it really doesn’t matter whether they like it or not, it, like the evolution and climate change even though they don’t believe it, it is going to happen whether they believe in it or not.

Another major problem with closed-off, fundamentalist belief systems is they are very susceptible to propaganda. All belief systems are to some extent, but fundamentalist systems even more so because there are no checks and balances. If bad information gets in, it doesn’t get out and because there are no internal mechanisms to guard against it, it usually ends up very damaging to the whole. A closed-off belief system is like your spinal fluid—it is great as long as nothing infectious gets into it. If bacteria gets into your spinal fluid, it causes unbelievable damage because there are no white blood cells in it whose job is to fend off invaders and protect the system. This is why things like meningitis are so horrible. Without the protective services of white blood cells in the spinal column, meningitis spreads like wildfire once it’s in and does significant damage in a very short period of time. Once inside the closed-off spinal system, bacteria are free to destroy whatever they want.

The very same is true with closed-off belief systems. Without built-in protective functions like critical analysis, self-reflection, openness to counter-evidence, willingness to re-evaluate any and all beliefs, etc., bad information in a closed-off system ends up doing massive damage in short period of time. What has happened to too many fundamentalist belief systems is damaging information has been allowed in from people who have been granted “expert status.” If someone is allowed into a closed-off system and their information is deemed acceptable, anything they say will readily be accepted and become gospel.

Rural, Christian, white Americans have let in anti-intellectual, anti-science, bigoted, racists into their system as experts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, any of the blonde Stepford Wives on Fox, every evangelical preacher on television because they tell them what they want to hear and because they sell themselves as being “one of them.” The truth is none of these people give a rat’s ass about rural, Christian, white Americans except how can they exploit them for attention and money. None of them have anything in common with the people who have let them into their belief systems with the exception they are white and they “speak the same language” of white superiority, God’s will must be obeyed, and how, even though they are the Chosen Ones, they are the ones being screwed by all the people and groups they believe they are superior to.

Gays being allowed to marry are a threat. Blacks protesting the killing of their unarmed friends and family are a threat. Hispanics doing the cheap labor on their farms are somehow viewed a threat. The black president is a threat. Two billion Muslims are a threat. The Chinese are a threat. Women wanting to be autonomous are a threat. The college educated are a threat. Godless scientists are a threat. Everyone who isn’t just like them has been sold to them as a threat and they’ve bought it hook, line, and grifting sinker. Since there are no self-regulating mechanisms in their belief systems, these threats only grow over time. Since facts and reality don’t matter, nothing you say to them will alter their beliefs. “President Obama was born in Kenya, is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood who hates white Americans and is going to take away their guns.” I feel ridiculous even writing this, it is so absurd, but it is gospel across large swaths of rural America. Are rural, Christian, white Americans scared? You’re damn right they are. Are their fears rational and justified? Hell no. The problem isn’t understanding their fears. The problem is how to assuage fears based on lies in closed-off fundamentalist belief systems that don’t have the necessary tools for properly evaluating the fears.

I don’t have a good answer to this question. When a child has an irrational fear, you can deal with it because they trust you and are open to possibilities. When someone doesn’t trust you and isn’t open to anything not already accepted as true in their belief system, there really isn’t much, if anything you can do. This is why I think the whole, “Democrats have to understand and find common ground with rural America,” is misguided and a complete waste of time. When a 3,000-year-old book that was written by uneducated, pre-scientific people, subject to translation innumerable times, edited with political and economic pressures from popes and kings, is given higher intellectual authority than facts arrived at from a rigorous, self-critical, constantly re-evaluating system that can and does correct mistakes, no amount of understanding, no amount of respect, no amount of evidence is going to change their minds, assuage their fears.

Do you know what does change the beliefs of fundamentalists, sometimes? When something becomes personal. Many a fundamentalist has changed his mind about the LGBT community once his loved ones started coming out of the closet. Many have not. But those who did, did so because their personal experience came in direct conflict with what they believe. My own father is a good example of this. For years I had long, sometimes heated discussions with him about gay rights. Being the good religious fundamentalist he is, he could not even entertain the possibility he was wrong. The Church said it was wrong, so therefore it was wrong. No questions asked. No analysis needed. This changed when one of his adored stepchildren came out of the closet. He didn’t do a complete 180. He has a view that tries to accept gay rights while at the same time viewing being gay as a mortal sin because his need to have his belief system be right outweighs everything else.

This isn’t uncommon. Deeply held beliefs are usually only altered, replaced under catastrophic circumstances that are personal. This belief system alteration works both ways. I know die-hard, open-minded progressives who became ardent fundamentalists due to a traumatic event in their lives.

A really good example of this is the comedian Dennis Miller. I’ve seen Miller in concert four different times during the 1990s. His humor was complex, riddled with references, and leaned pretty left on almost all issues. Then 9/11 happened. For whatever reasons, the trauma of 9/11 caused a seismic shift in Miller’s belief system. Now he is a mainstay on conservative talk radio. His humor was replaced with anger and frustration. 9/11 changed his belief system because it was a catastrophic event that was personal to him.

The catastrophe of the Great Depression along with the progressive remedies by FDR helped create a generation of Democrats from previously die-hard Republicans. People who had, up until that point, deeply believed the government couldn’t help the economy only the free market could change their minds when the brutal reality of the Great Depression affected them directly, personally.

I thought the financial crisis in 2008 would have a similar, though lesser, impact on many Republicans. It didn’t. The systems that were put in place after the Great Recession to deal with economic crises, the quick, smart response by Congress and the administration helped make what could have been a catastrophic event into merely a really bad one. People suffered, but they didn’t suffer enough to where they were open to questioning their deeply held beliefs. Because this questioning didn’t take place, the Great Recession didn’t lead to any meaningful political shift away from poorly regulated markets, supply side economics, or how to respond to a financial crisis. This is why, even though rural Christian white Americans were hit hard by the Great Recession, they not only didn’t blame the political party they’ve aligned themselves with for years, they rewarded them two years later by voting them into a record number of state legislatures and taking over the U.S. House.

Of course, it didn’t help matters there were scapegoats available they could direct their fears, anger, and white supremacy towards. A significant number of rural Americans believe President Obama was in charge when the financial crisis started. An even higher number believe the mortgage crisis was the result of the government forcing banks to give loans to unqualified minorities. It doesn’t matter how untrue both of these are, they are gospel in rural America. Why reevaluate your beliefs and voting patterns when scapegoats are available?

How do you make climate change personal to someone who believes only God can alter the weather? How do you make racial equality personal to someone who believes whites are naturally superior to non-whites? How do you make gender equality personal to someone who believes women are supposed to be subservient to men by God’s command? How do you get someone to view minorities as not threatening personal to people who don’t live around and never interact with them? How do you make personal the fact massive tax cuts and cutting back government hurts their economic situation when they’ve voted for these for decades? I don’t think you can without some catastrophic events. And maybe not even then. The Civil War was pretty damn catastrophic yet a large swath of the South believed and still believes they were right, had the moral high ground. They were/are also mostly Christian fundamentalists who believe they are superior because of the color of their skin and the religion they profess to follow. There is a pattern here for anyone willing to connect the dots.

“Rural, white America needs to be better understood,” is not one of the dots. “Rural, white America needs to be better understood,” is a dodge, meant to avoid the real problems because talking about the real problems is viewed as “too upsetting,” “too mean,” “too arrogant,” “too elite,” “too snobbish.” Pointing out Aunt Bee’s views of Mexicans, blacks, gays…is bigoted isn’t the thing one does in polite society. Too bad more people don’t think the same about the views Aunt Bee has. It’s the classic, “You’re a racist for calling me a racist,” ploy. Or, as it is more commonly known, “I know you are but what am I?”

I do think rational arguments are needed, even if they go mostly ignored and ridiculed. I believe in treating people with the respect they’ve earned but the key point here is “earned.” I’ll gladly sit down with Aunt Bee and have a nice, polite conversation about her beliefs about “the gays,” “the blacks,” “illegals,”…and do so without calling her a bigot or a racist. But, this doesn’t mean she isn’t a bigot and a racist and if I’m asked to describe her beliefs these are the only words that honestly fit. No one with cancer wants to be told they have cancer, but just because no one uses the word, “cancer,” it doesn’t mean they don’t have it. Just because the media, pundits on all sides, some Democratic leaders don’t want to call the actions of many rural, Christian, white Americans, “racist/bigoted” doesn’t make them not so.

Avoiding the obvious only prolongs getting the necessary treatment. America has always had a race problem. It was built on racism and bigotry. This didn’t miraculously go away in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It didn’t go away with the election of Barack Obama. If anything, these events pulled back the curtain exposing the dark, racist underbelly of America that white America likes to pretend doesn’t exist because we are the reason it exists. From the white nationalists to the white, suburban soccer moms who voted for Donald Trump, to the far left progressives who didn’t vote at all, racism exists and has once again been legitimized and normalized by white America.

The honest truths that rural, Christian, white Americans don’t want to accept and until they do nothing is going to change, are:

-Their economic situation is largely the result of voting for supply-side economic policies that have been the largest redistribution of wealth from the bottom/middle to the top in U.S. history.

Immigrants haven’t taken their jobs. If all immigrants, legal or otherwise, were removed from the U.S., our economy would come to a screeching halt and prices on food would soar.

Immigrants are not responsible for companies moving their plants overseas. Almost exclusively white business owners are the ones responsible because they care more about their share holders who are also mostly white than they do American workers.

No one is coming for their guns. All that has been proposed during the entire Obama administration is having better background checks.

Gay people getting married is not a threat to their freedom to believe in whatever white God you want to. No one is going to make their church marry gays, make gays your pastor, accept gays for membership.

Women having access to birth control doesn’t affect their life either, especially women who they complain about being teenage, single mothers.

-Blacks are not “lazy moochers living off their hard earned tax dollars” anymore than many of your fellow rural neighbors. People in need are people in need. People who can’t find jobs because of their circumstances, a changing economy, outsourcing overseas, etc. belong to all races.

They get a tremendous amount of help from the government they complain does nothing for them. From the roads and utility grids they use to the farm subsidies, crop insurance, commodities protections…they benefit greatly from government assistance. The Farm Bill is one of the largest financial expenditures by the U.S. government. Without government assistance, their lives would be considerably worse.

-They get the largest share of Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

-They complain about globalization but line up like everyone else to get the latest Apple product. They have no problem buying foreign-made guns, scopes, and hunting equipment. They don’t think twice about driving trucks whose engine was made in Canada, tires made in Japan, radio made in Korea, computer parts made in Malaysia.

-They use illicit drugs as much as any other group. But, when other people do it is a “moral failing” and they should be severely punished, legally. When they do it, it is a “health crisis” that needs sympathy and attention.

-When jobs dry up for whatever reasons, they refuse to relocate but lecture the poor in places like Flint for staying in towns that are failing.

-They are quick to judge minorities for being “welfare moochers” but don’t think twice about cashing their welfare check every month.

-They complain about coastal liberals, but the taxes from California and New York are what covers their farm subsidies, helps maintain their highways, and keeps their hospitals in their sparsely populated areas open for business.

-They complain about “the little man being run out of business” then turn around and shop at big box stores.

-They make sure outsiders are not welcome, deny businesses permits to build, then complain about businesses, plants opening up in less rural areas.

Government has not done enough to help them in many cases but their local and state governments are almost completely Republican and so too are their representatives and senators. Instead of holding them accountable, they vote them in over and over and over again.

All the economic policies and ideas that could help rural America belong to the Democratic Party: raising the minimum wage, strengthening unions, infrastructure spending, reusable energy growth, slowing down the damage done by climate change, healthcare reform…all of these and more would really help a lot of rural Americans.

What I understand is that rural, Christian, white Americans are entrenched in fundamentalist belief systems; don’t trust people outside their tribe; have been force-fed a diet of misinformation and lies for decades; are unwilling to understand their own situations; and truly believe whites are superior to all races. No amount of understanding is going to change these things or what they believe. No amount of niceties will get them to be introspective. No economic policy put forth by someone outside their tribe is going to be listened to no matter how beneficial it would be for them. I understand rural, Christian, white America all too well. I understand their fears are based on myths and lies. I understand they feel left behind by a world they don’t understand and don’t really care to. They are willing to vote against their own interest if they can be convinced it will make sure minorities are harmed more. Their Christian beliefs and morals are truly only extended to fellow white Christians. They are the problem with progress and always will be, because their belief systems are constructed against it.

The problem isn’t a lack of understanding by coastal elites. The problem is a lack of understanding of why rural, Christian, white America believes, votes, behaves the ways it does by rural, Christian, white America.

See:http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/rural-america-understanding-isnt-problem?akid=14946.123424.kspCKT&rd=1&src=newsletter1068152&t=2

Seven Years Late, Media Elites Finally Acknowledge GOP’s Radical Ways

Source: NationalMemo

Author: Eric Boehlhert

Emphasis Mine

This article originally appeared on Media Matters

Now they tell us the Republican Party is to blame? That the Obama years haven’t been gummed up by Both Sides Are To Blame obstruction?

The truth is, anyone with clear vision recognized a long time ago that the GOP has transformed itself since 2009 into an increasingly radical political party, one built on complete and total obstruction. It’s a party designed to make governing difficult, if not impossible, and one that plotted seven years ago to shred decades of Beltway protocol and oppose every inch of Obama’s two terms. (“If he was for it, we had to be against it,” former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained.)

And for some of us, it didn’t take Donald Trump’s careening campaign to confirm the destructive state of the GOP. But if it’s the Trump circus that finally opens some pundits’ eyes, so be it.

Recently, Dan Balz, the senior political writer for the Washington Post, seemed to do just that while surveying the unfolding GOP wreckage as the party splinters over Trump’s rise. Balz specifically noted that four years ago political scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein examined the breakdown in American politics and zeroed in their blame squarely on Republicans.

“They were ahead of others in describing the underlying causes of polarization as asymmetrical, with the Republican Party — in particular its most hard-line faction — as deserving of far more of the blame for the breakdown in governing,” Balz acknowledged.

“We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional,” Mann and Ornstein wrote in The Washington Post in 2012. “In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”

They continued: The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

Tough stuff.

And what was the Beltway media’s response when Ornstein and Mann squarely blamed Republicans during an election year for purposefully making governing impossible? Media elites suddenly lost Mann and Ornstein’s number, as the duo’s television appearances and calls for quotes quickly dried up. So did much of the media’s interest in Mann and Ornstein’s prescient book.

“This was far too much for the mainstream press,” noted New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. “They couldn’t assimilate what Mann and Ornstein said AND maintain routines and assumptions that posited a rough symmetry between the two parties. (‘Both sides do it.’) It was too much dissonance. Too much wreckage. So they pushed it away.”

For anyone who still harbors the naïve notion that the political debates staged by the Beltway press represent free wheeling discussions where anything goes, the Mann/Ornstein episode helped shed some light on the fact that certain topics and analysis remain off limits for public debate for years — even topics that are accurate, fair and essential to understanding our government’s current dysfunction.

See:http://www.nationalmemo.com/seven-years-late-media-elites-finally-acknowledge-gops-radical-ways/

Sarah Palin’s Feel-Bad Politics: The Dark Allure of Right-Wing Nihilism, Self-Pity and Curdled Nostalgia For a Once ‘Great’ America

The American right’s rococo, self-devouring period reached its apex with Sarah Palin’s deranged rant.

Source:  Salon, via AlterNet

Author: Andrew Hehir

Emphasis Mine

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” sang Simon & Garfunkel in February of 1968, a year of innocence and chaos. “Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” If that line is difficult to parse several generations later — as in, who the hell is Joe DiMaggio? — it confused people back then too. Songwriter Paul Simon was tweaking the nostalgic yearning for a vanished America found among people slightly older than himself, but at least as he explained it 30 years after the fact, the song also shares in that sadness. In a New York Times Op-Ed after DiMaggio’s death in 1999, Simon wrote that in an era of political discord (meaning the Bill Clinton presidency and the Lewinsky scandal), “we grieve for Joe DiMaggio and mourn the loss of his grace and dignity, his fierce sense of privacy, his fidelity to the memory of his wife and the power of his silence.”

That yearning for an imaginary or idealized past is found throughout American culture and American politics. It showed up this week, with Whitmanesque poetic fervor, in the widely celebrated speech delivered by Sarah Palin in Ames, Iowa, where she endorsed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. (I owe the Whitman reference to my Salon colleague Amanda Marcotte, who may have written the best of all the Palin exegeses thus far.)

(N.B.: her post follows this in http://www.charlog.me).

If Palin’s glorious paean to the “right-wingin’, bitter-clingin’, proud clingers of our guns, our God and our religions and our Constitution” was a gift to legions of late-night comedy hosts, it was also an enlistment in a lengthy American rhetorical tradition. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” as the most famous ending in American literature puts it.  (N.B.: “The Great Gasby”)

Quite likely Sarah Palin was assigned to read that book, at some point in her peripatetic college career. If she never got around to it she is not alone, but she received the gist of Nick Carraway’s American epiphany because no American can entirely avoid it. Similarly, it does not seem likely that Palin has any clear idea who Joe DiMaggio was, or why he played an important symbolic role in a folk-rock hit released just before the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. DiMaggio was born in California and played baseball in New York City, two places that from Palin’s point of view seem only marginally American. She might be perplexed to learn that the parents of this supposed American hero were immigrants who spoke little English and were classified as “enemy aliens” — potential terrorists, as we might say today — during World War II. (They were prohibited from traveling more than five miles from home, and Giuseppe DiMaggio’s fishing boat was confiscated by the government.)

All Palin would need to know about Simon & Garfunkel is that another of the duo’s ‘60s hits, “America,” showed up in a Bernie Sanders campaign ad this week. (Which may tell us more than we wanted to know about the Bern’s degree of pop-culture savvy.) It’s not a tribute to right-wingin’, bitter-clingin’ America, not a celebration of the “Reaganesque power that comes from strength.” How dare those hippies, in fact, use that proper noun? It’s not theirs! But the ache and loss expressed in Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson,” and in “America” too, is closely akin to the spirit Palin was trying to conjure in her torrent of psychotronic free association on Wednesday.

Except that it’s all gone sour: The paradoxical longing for what cannot be recaptured, expressed so beautifully by Simon and by Scott Fitzgerald (and before them by Marcel Proust, for that matter) has turned from sadness to bitterness and anger. As Marcotte argues, there is an almost literary artfulness at work within Palin’s apparently unhinged rambling, especially in the way she evades the traditional responsibility of a political speech (that is, to make some sort of argument and offer points to support it) and goes for pure emotion. But the only emotions available, it seems, are those of uncontained negativity: “Anger is turned into hate is turned into more anger, until it spins off, completely unmoored from any considerations like ‘why’ or ‘how.’”

Instead of the dignity and silence of Joe DiMaggio, or the stoicism of John Wayne, we get only endless complaining and empty, childish, unfulfillable promises — the boastful bloviation of Trump and the “post-argument” imagistic slam poetry of Palin. The American right has reached a rococo, self-devouring period, almost an ironic period. It has become exactly what it has long accused the left of being, not entirely without justification: a bunch of whiners and perennial victims who never shut up about how much they have suffered at the hands of evil but nebulous enemies.

Much as the contemporary Republican Party claims to venerate Ronald Reagan, this represents a dramatic turnabout from the era of Reagan’s ascension, which was built on invariably sunny and upbeat political rhetoric and dedicated to at least the appearance of inclusivity. (Of course Reagan’s policies, which I hated so much at the time, look almost moderate today as well.) Well, it ain’t morning in America anymore, folks. It’s the dark night of the soul; it’s fear and trembling and sickness unto death. Those GOP candidates who began the 2016 campaign with some semblance of an optimistic message — Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee and about half of the software package that comprises Jeb Bush — have gotten swamped beneath the unrelenting meanness and hostility of Trump and Ted Cruz. I was going to say that the Palin-Trump contingent does not blame Society or the Establishment or Racism for their ills and afflictions, after the fashion of a stereotypical liberal. But in fact they do exactly that, with some minor differences in nomenclature. Of course it’s disgraceful that in the immediate aftermath of her Trump speech Palin tried to spin the news about her son Track’s arrest on domestic violence charges into an attack on President Obama. But we should be aware of the potential hypocrisy in our response: If I were to suggest that Track Palin may have suffered psychological damage in an unnecessary and destructive war, and that we should not withhold our compassion from his family just because his mom is a right-wing icon, many people in the Salon readership would nod respectfully. Sarah’s argument skips over all of that and goes for a literal bogeyman: Track had a difficult homecoming from Iraq because he had a commander-in-chief who wasn’t quite American enough, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Amid the pathological context of American politics in 2016, it’s not surprising to learn that middle-aged white people are dying at a disproportionate and alarming rate in our country, and largely of preventable causes like lung cancer or heart disease or suicide. They hate so many things, including themselves, that it’s difficult to go on living. Thanks, Obama! The Palin-Trump demographic feels bad about itself and about America pretty much all the time, and its so-called political movement amounts to little more than a celebration of feeling bad, a collective agreement that once upon a time things were great and now they’re irredeemably screwed up.

From the beginning of the Trump campaign, I have suspected that his supporters were not actually dumb enough to believe that he or any other president could really build an impregnable wall along the Mexican border, or bar all Muslims from entering the country. Those are nihilistic fantasies emerging from the depths of the white American Id, a desire to inflict the pain of alcoholism and obesity and hypertension, along with the paradoxical anguish of a sense of entitlement coupled with relentless downward mobility, on as much of the outside world as possible.

On a larger scale, it’s also possible that the right-wing, pseudo-populist rejection of science and reason and logic is less a matter of not believing that industrial development is destroying the planet, or that unfettered capitalism and the gruesome American diet are literally killing us, than of not caring. It’s a dangerous and in many ways heartbreaking dilemma, and in the end I don’t want to be snarky about it. Many people in our country responded to a promise of permanent prosperity in a great land that was loved and envied around the world. Instead, things kept getting worse and their fellow citizens inexplicably elected a Muslim usurper not once but twice, and the only part of the promise that was kept was the cheap 30-pack at the mini-mart and the wings at TGI Fridays. The squirmish with the American Id has been lost; all that’s left is the politics of feeling bad, the nearness of death, the promise that #NoLivesMatter.

Andrew O’Hehir is a senior writer for Salon.

 

See: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/sarah-palins-feel-bad-politics-dark-allure-right-wing-nihilism-self-pity-and?akid=13911.123424.hwbR_f&rd=1&src=newsletter1049468&t=8

Post Republican Debate Reality: GOP Field and Base Dominated By Right-Wing Extremists

No matter who’s leading, the agenda is far to the right.

Source: AlterNet

Author: Stephen Rosenfeld

Emphasis Mine

Presidential debates matter but follow-up polls tracing shifting fortunes can also miss the big picture.

That picture isn’t whether or not Donald Trump is still the Republican frontrunner for the 2016 nomination, or whether Carly Fiorina has surged, or whether Jeb Bush has stalled. It’s that a majority of Republican primary voters are supporting candidates who share many extreme right-wing views.

That evidence is not found in Trump’s numbers, which slipped from 26 percent in pre-debate national polls by Rasmussen Reports, which specializes in GOP campaigns, to 17 percent after the confrontation with Fox News’ moderators and his competitors. Rather, it comes from adding up the percentages of the candidates with 5 percent or more, and realizing that 70 percent of likely GOP primary voters favor right-wing extremists.

The polls’ fine-print tell one story—of shifting fortunes in a crowded field. Nationally, Trump now has 17 percent, followed by Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, each at 10 percent, according to Rasmussen. Then Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina each have 9 percent, followed by Ben Carson at 8 percent, and Ted Cruz at 7 percent. State polls find even more movement, such as Trump pulling ahead of Walker in Iowa and John Kasich climbing in New Hampshire.

But no matter who is out front now—or who might be leading as the fall campaign looms, when you add up the shares up of the GOP candidates pollings at 5 percent or more, fully 70 percent of Republicans want a candidate who is authoritarian and anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, anti-science, anti-tax, anti-government, anti-labor, and more.

This big-picture is largely lost in the campaign commentary and analysis, such as Nate Silver’s recent post at fivethirtyeight.com, entitled, “Donald Trump Is Winning The Polls – And Losing The Nomination.”

Silver’s points are all good—but he’s looking at the microcosm not the macrocosm. Yes, the Iowa caucuses are nearly 175 days away. And states do vote one at a time; there is no national primary. And of the 17 GOP contenders, some will drop out. And many states do not award delegates on a winner-take-all basis. And many poll respondents may not end up voting.

“This is why it’s exasperating that the mainstream media has become obsessed with how Trump is performing in the polls,” he wrote, then citing other historic and political factors why performance this early in a race is not a strong indication of who will win.

But what’s also exasperating is that the media’s fine print focus of post-debate polling is missing a very big point about the nature of the Republican field and the party’s current base: it’s filled with right-wing extremists, no matter how you parse it.  

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

See:http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/post-republican-debate-reality-gop-field-and-base-dominated-right-wing-extremists?akid=13379.123424.eR2xum&rd=1&src=newsletter1040825&t=4

49 percent of Republicans do not believe in evolution

Tyrannosaurus_rex_p1050042

Source: Daily Kos

Author: Hunter

Emphasis Mine 

There’s a new Public Policy Polling poll out identifying Scott Walker as the top Republican pick among their presidential maybe-candidates. But some of the other poll results among self-identified Republicans are doozies. For example:

49 percent of Republicans say they do not believe in evolution. Only 37 percent say they do.

66 percent of Republicans say they do not believe in global warming. Mind you, even the most science-denying Republicans in Congress have said they “believe” in global warming, they just don’t think we should do anything about it. Their base has not yet reached this enlightened state.

57 percent of Republicans would support establishing Christianity as our “national religion.”

So it would seem that Scott Walker indeed has the conservative id pegged, and that Republican candidates seeking primary frontrunner status will indeed need to learn to embrace a base that at this point has become very conspicuously stupid. People for whom even the basic sciences are conspiracies if it goes against what they would rather believe to be true. People who love America very, very much, but have never cottoned to the religious freedom part that was so obsequiously drilled into them in grade school as the very reason the people with the belt-buckle hats chose to settle on this landmass to begin with. People who consider Bill O’Reilly to be an upstanding individual.

Welp, now I’m depressed.

There is hope, I suppose. Sixty-six percent of Republicans don’t actually know thing one about “global warming,” for example, they just know they’re supposed to be against it because the angry-sounding guy on the radio was pretty clear on that subject. There’s nothing inherently conservative or Republican about that position, it is just the reactionary fad-of-the-moment, and it will likely change back when another sufficiently belligerent shouter comes along to shout the opposite stance. Or not, if the loathing of “science” as an entity has simply overtaken all the other conservative neural pathways.  As for the others, yep, we’re likely doomed. The thinking of the Republican base goes that we need to establish religious law in this country because otherwise we’ll be taken over by people who somehow convert us all and make us live under their religious law, and wouldn’t that be bad. Then we’ll burn down all the natural history museums because they are offensive to Our Lord, by which I mean whoever grovels to the base enough to win these upcoming primaries.

see: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/02/25/1366834/-49-percent-of-Republicans-do-not-believe-in-evolution?detail=email

“One Nation, Under Sputnik” – what If Sputnik occurred today …

Sputnik
Sputnik

October 1957

The Soviet Union announced Oct 4 that they – as part of the International Geophysical Year – had successfully launched an artificial satellite into earth orbit.  This creates a difficult situation for the USA, as:

1) If true, this means the Soviets have rockets which have the capability to deliver nuclear bombs to any location in North America.

2) The USSR gains substantial international prestige from the achievement.

 Sputnik ( meaning satellite) transmits a radio signal which has been monitored on earth.

The event has created great concern and anxiety in this country, and there has even been discussion of expanding our own satellite program.  Some members of Congress are reluctant to spend money on it, however, and some even question that Sputnik actually exists.  “This is just more Russian propaganda.  How could the Godless Communists have made such a technological achievement?”, asks a member of the House.  Another source critics of an expanded US space effort believe is an amateur astronomer who states the radio signals are not man made but emanate from a distant star.  “Why spend our tax dollars on something that isn’t even real?”

Spokespersons from the clergy question that God would have allowed such a thing to occur, and object to any new program.  To embark on such a mission would give more credibility to science and less to religion, they observe, and might even lead to the teaching of evolution in public schools.  What we need is more prayer, not more science and engineering they plead.  We must pray that the satellite is not real, and if it is, then for the safety of our country.

Post Scriptum: It has been observed that the launch of Sputnik came just a few years after the words “Under God” were inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, and “In God We Trust” adopted  as the national motto.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sputnik_1

The Science of Fox News: Why Its Viewers Are the Most Misinformed

Authoritarian people have a stronger emotional need for an outlet like Fox, where they can find affirmation and escape factual challenges to their beliefs.

Source:AlterNet

Author: Chris Mooney

Emphasis Mine

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Chris Mooney’s book The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality.

In June of 2011, Jon Stewart went on air with Fox News’ Chris Wallace and started a major media controversy over the channel’s misinforming of its viewers. “Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers?” Stewart asked Wallace. “The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.”

Stewart’s statement was factually accurate, as we’ll see. The next day, however, the fact-checking site PolitiFact weighed in and rated it “false.”In claiming to check Stewart’s “facts,” PolitiFact ironically committed a serious error—and later, doubly ironically, failed to correct it. How’s that for the power of fact checking?

There probably is a small group of media consumers out there somewhere in the world who are more misinformed, overall, than Fox News viewers. But if you only consider mainstream U.S. television news outlets with major audiences (e.g., numbering in the millions), it really is true that Fox viewers are the most misled based on all the available evidence—especially in areas of political controversy. This will come as little surprise to liberals, perhaps, but the evidence for it—evidence in Stewart’s favor—is pretty overwhelming.

My goal here is to explore the underlying causes for this “Fox News effect”—explaining how this station has brought about a hurricane-like intensification of factual error, misinformation and unsupportable but ideologically charged beliefs on the conservative side of the aisle. First, though, let’s begin by surveying the evidence about how misinformed Fox viewers actually are.

Based upon my research, I have located seven separate studies that support Stewart’s claim about Fox, and none that undermine it. Six of these studies were available at the time that PolitFact took on Stewart; one of them is newer.

The studies all take a similar form: These are public opinion surveys that ask citizens about their beliefs on factual but contested issues, and also about their media habits. Inevitably, some significant percentage of citizens are found to be misinformed about the facts, and in a politicized way—but not only that. The surveys also find that those who watch Fox are more likely to be misinformed, their views of reality skewed in a right-wing direction. In some cases, the studies even show that watching more Fox makes the misinformation problem worse.

So with that, here are the studies.

Iraq War

In 2003, a surveyby the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland found widespread public misperceptions about the Iraq war. For instance, many Americans believed the U.S. had evidence that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been collaborating in some way with Al Qaeda, or was involved in the 9-11 attacks; many also believed that the much touted “weapons of mass destruction” had been found in the country after the U.S. invasion, when they hadn’t. But not everyone was equally misinformed: “The extent of Americans’ misperceptions vary significantly depending on their source of news,” PIPA reported. “Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions.” For instance, 80 percent of Fox viewers held at least one of three Iraq-related misperceptions, more than a variety of other types of news consumers, and especially NPR and PBS users. Most strikingly, Fox watchers who paid more attention to the channel were more likely to be misled.

Global Warming

At least two studies have documented that Fox News viewers are more misinformed about this subject.

In a late 2010 survey, Stanford University political scientist Jon Krosnick and visiting scholar Bo MacInnis found that “more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists, and with more belief that ameliorating global warming would hurt the U.S. economy.” Frequent Fox viewers were less likely to say the Earth’s temperature has been rising and less likely to attribute this temperature increase to human activities. In fact, there was a 25 percentage point gap between the most frequent Fox News watchers (60%) and those who watch no Fox News (85%) in whether they think global warming is “caused mostly by things people do or about equally by things people do and natural causes.”

In a much more comprehensive study released in late 2011 (too late for Stewart or for PolitiFact), American University communications scholar Lauren Feldman and her colleagues reported on their analysis of a 2008 national survey, which found that “Fox News viewing manifests a significant, negative association with global warming acceptance.” Viewers of the station were less likely to agree that “most scientists think global warming is happening” and less likely to think global warming is mostly caused by human activities, among other measures.

Health Care

In 2009, an NBC survey found “rampant misinformation” about the healthcare reform bill before Congress — derided on the right as “Obamacare.”It also found that Fox News viewers were much more likely to believe this misinformation than average members of the general public. “72% of self-identified Fox News viewers believe the healthcare plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants, 79% of them say it will lead to a government takeover, 69% think that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly,” the survey found.

By contrast, among CNN and MSNBC viewers, only 41 percent believed the illegal immigrant falsehood, 39 percent believed in the threat of a “government takeover” of healthcare (40 percentage points less), 40 percent believed the falsehood about abortion, and 30 percent believed the falsehood about “death panels” (a 45 percent difference!).

In early 2011, the Kaiser Family Foundation released another survey on public misperceptions about healthcare reform. The poll asked 10 questions about the newly passed healthcare law and compared the “high scorers”—those that answered 7 or more correct—based on their media habits. The result was that “higher shares of those who report CNN (35 percent) or MSNBC (39 percent) as their primary news source [got] 7 or more right, compared to those that report mainly watching Fox News (25 percent).”

“Ground Zero Mosque” 

In late 2010, two scholars at the Ohio State University studied public misperceptions about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”—and in particular, the prevalence of a series of rumors depicting those seeking to build this Islamic community center and mosque as terrorist sympathizers, anti-American, and so on. All of these rumors had, of course, been dutifully debunked by fact-checking organizations. The result? “People who use Fox News believe more of the rumors we asked about and they believe them more strongly than those who do not.”

The 2010 Election

In late 2010, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) once again singled out Fox in a survey about misinformation during the 2010 election. Out of 11 false claims studied in the survey, PIPA found that “almost daily” Fox News viewers were “significantly more likely than those who never watched it” to believe 9 of them, including the misperceptions that “most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring” (they do), that “it is not clear that President Obama was born in the United States” (he was), that “most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses” (it either saved or created several million), that “most economists have estimated the healthcare law will worsen the deficit” (they have not), and so on.

It is important to note that in this study—by far the most critiqued of the bunch—the examples of misinformation studied were all closely related to prominent issues in the 2010 midterm election, and indeed, were selected precisely because they involved issues that voters said were of greatest importance to them, like healthcare and the economy. That was the main criterion for inclusion, explains PIPA senior research scholar Clay Ramsay. “People said, here’s how I would rank that as an influence on my vote,” says Ramsay, “so everything tested is at least a 5 on a zero-to-10 scale.”

Politifact Swings and Misses

In attempting to fact-check Jon Stewart on the subject of Fox News and misinformation, PolitiFact simply appeared out of its depth. The author of the article in question, Louis Jacobson, only cited two of the studies above–“Iraq War” and “2010 Election”—though six out of seven were available at the time he was writing. And then he suggested that the “2010 Election” study should “carry less weight” due to various methodological objections.

Meanwhile, Jacobson dug up three separate studies that we can dismiss as irrelevant. That’s because these studies did not concern misinformation, but rather, how informed news viewers are about basic political facts like the following: “who the vice president is, who the president of Russia is, whether the Chief Justice is conservative, which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives and whether the U.S. has a trade deficit.”

A long list of public opinion studies have shown that too few Americans know the answers to such basic questions. That’s lamentable, but also off point at the moment. These are not politically contested issues, nor are they skewed by an active misinformation campaign. As a result, on such issues many Americans may be ill-informed but liberals and conservatives are nevertheless able to agree.

Jon Stewart was clearly talking about political misinformation. He used the word “misinformed.” And for good reason: Misinformation is by far the bigger torpedo to our national conversation, and to any hope of a functional politics. “It’s one thing to be not informed,” explains David Barker, a political scientist at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied conservative talk-radio listeners and Fox viewers. “It’s another thing to be misinformed, where you’re confident in your incorrectness. That’s the thing that’s really more problematic, democratically speaking—because if you’re confidently wrong, you’re influencing people.”

Thus PolitiFact’s approach was itself deeply uninformed, and underscores just how poorly our mainstream political discourse deals with the problem of systematic right wing misinformation.

Fox and the Republican Brain

The evidence is clear, then—the Politifact-Stewart flap notwithstanding, Fox viewers are the most misinformed. But then comes the truly interesting and important question: Why is that the case?

To answer it, we’ll first need to travel back to the 1950s, and the pioneering work of the Stanford psychologist and cult infiltrator, Leon Festinger.

In his 1957 book A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Festinger built on his famous study of a doomsday cult called the Seekers, and other research, to lay out many ramifications of his core idea about why human beings contort the evidence to fit their beliefs, rather than conforming those beliefs to the evidence. That included a prediction about how those who are highly committed to a belief or view should go about seeking information that touches on that powerful conviction.

Festinger suggested that once we’ve settled on a core belief, this ought to shape how we gather information. More specifically, we are likely to try to avoid encountering claims and information that challenge that belief, because these will create cognitive dissonance. Instead, we should go looking for information that affirms the belief. The technical (and less than ideal) term for this phenomenon is “selective exposure”: what it means is that we selectively choose to be exposed to information that is congenial to our beliefs, and to avoid “inconvenient truths” that are uncongenial to them.

If Festinger’s ideas about “selective exposure” are correct, then the problem with Fox News may not solely be that it is actively causing its viewers to be misinformed. It’s very possible that Fox could be imparting misinformation even as politically conservative viewers are also seeking the station out—highly open to it and already convinced about many falsehoods that dovetail with their beliefs. Thus, they would come into the encounter with Fox not only misinformed and predisposed to become more so, but inclined to be very confident about their incorrect beliefs and to impart them to others. In this account, political misinformation on the right would be driven by a kind of feedback loop, with both Fox and its viewers making the problem worse.

Psychologists and political scientists have extensively studied selective exposure, and within the research literature, the findings are often described as mixed. But that’s not quite right. In truth, some early studies seeking to confirm Festinger’s speculation had problems with their designs and often failed—and as a result, explains University of Alabama psychologist William Hart, the field of selective exposure research “stagnated” for several decades. But it has since undergone a dramatic revival—driven, not surprisingly, by the modern explosion of media choices and growing political polarization in the U.S. And thanks to a new wave of better-designed and more rigorous studies, the concept has become well established.

“Selective exposure is the clearest way to look at how people create their own realities, based upon their views of the world,” says Hart. “Everybody knows this happens.”

Indeed, by 2009, Hart and a team of researchers were able to perform a meta-analysis—a statistically rigorous overview of published studies on selective exposure—that pooled together 67 relevant studies, encompassing almost 8,000 individuals. As a result, he found that people overall were nearly twice as likely to consume ideologically congenial information as to consume ideologically inconvenient information—and in certain circumstances, they were even more likely than that.

When are people most likely to seek out self-affirming information? Hart found that they’re most vulnerable to selective exposure if they have defensive goals—for instance, being highly committed to a preexisting view, and especially a view that is tied to a person’s core values. Another defensive motivation identified in Hart’s study was closed-mindedness, which makes a great deal of sense. It is probably part of the definition of being closed-minded, or dogmatic, that you prefer to consume information that agrees with what you already believe.

So who’s closed-minded? Multiple studies have shown that political conservatives—e.g., Fox viewers–tend to have a higher need for closure. Indeed, this includes a group called right-wing authoritarians, who are increasingly prevalent in the Republican Party. This suggests they should also be more likely to select themselves into belief-affirming information streams, like Fox News or right-wing talk radio or the Drudge Report. Indeed, a number of research results support this idea.

In a study of selective exposure during the 2000 election, for instance, Stanford University’s Shanto Iyengar and his colleagues mailed a multimedia informational CD about the two candidates—Bush and Gore—to 600 registered voters and then tracked its use by a sample of 220 of them. As a result, they found that Bush partisans chose to consume more information about Bush than about Gore—but Democrats and liberals didn’t show the same bias toward their own candidate.

Selective exposure has also been directly tested several times in authoritarians. In one case, researchers at Stony Brook University primed more and less authoritarian subjects with thoughts of their own mortality. Afterwards, the authoritarians showed a much stronger preference than non-authoritarians for reading an article that supported their existing view on the death penalty, rather than an article presenting the opposing view or a “balanced” take on the issue. As the authors concluded: “highly authoritarian individuals, when threatened, attempt to reduce anxiety by selectively exposing themselves to attitude-validating information, which leads to ‘stronger’ opinions that are more resistant to attitude change.”

The psychologist Robert Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba has also documented an above average amount of selective exposure in right wing authoritarians. In one case, he gave students a fake self-esteem test, in which they randomly received either above average or below average scores. Then, everyone—the receivers of both low and high scores—was given the opportunity to say whether he or she would like to read a summary of why the test was valid. The result was striking: Students who scored low on authoritarianism wanted to learn about the validity of the test regardless of how they did on it. There was virtually no difference between high and low scorers. But among the authoritarian students, there was a big gap: 73 percent of those who got high self-esteem scores wanted to read about the test’s validity, while only 47 percent of those who got low self-esteem scores did.

Authoritarians, Altemeyer concludes, “maintain their beliefs against challenges by limiting their experiences, and surrounding themselves with sources of information that will tell them they are right.”

The evidence on selective exposure, as well as the clear links between closed-mindedness and authoritarianism, gives good grounds for believing that this phenomenon should be more common and more powerful on the political right. Lest we leap to the conclusion that Fox News is actively misinforming its viewers most of the time—rather than enabling them through its very existence—that’s something to bear in mind.

Disinformation Passing as “News”

None of which is to suggest that Fox isn’t also guilty of actively misinforming viewers. It certainly is.

The litany of misleading Fox segments and snippets is quite extensive—especially on global warming, where it seems that every winter snowstorm is an excuse for more doubt-mongering. No less than Fox’s Washington managing editor Bill Sammon was found to have written, in a 2009 internal staff email exposed by MediaMatters, that the network’s journalists should:

. . . refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.

And global warming is hardly the only issue where Fox actively misinforms its viewers. The polling data here, from the Project on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) are very telling.

PIPA’s study of misinformation in the 2010 election didn’t just show that Fox News viewers were more misinformed than viewers of other channels. It also showed that watching more Fox made believing in nine separate political misperceptions more likely. And that was a unique effect, unlike any observed with the other news channels that were studied. “With all of the other media outlets, the more exposed you were, the less likely you were to have misinformation,” explains PIPA’s director, political psychologist Steven Kull. “While with Fox, the more exposure you had, in most cases, the more misinformation you had. And that is really, in a way, the most powerful factor, because it strongly suggests they were actually getting the information from Fox.”

Indeed, this effect was even present in non-Republicans–another indicator that Fox is probably its cause. As Kull explains, “even if you’re a liberal Democrat, you are affected by the station.” If you watched Fox, you were more likely to believe the nine falsehoods, regardless of your political party affiliation.

In summary, then, the “science” of Fox News clearly shows that its viewers are more misinformed than the viewers of other stations, and are indeed this way for ideological reasons. But these are not necessarily the reasons that liberals may assume. Instead, the Fox “effect” probably occurs both because the station churns out falsehoods that conservatives readily accept—falsehoods that may even seem convincing to some liberals on occasion—but also because conservatives are overwhelmingly inclined to choose to watch Fox to begin with.

At the same time, it’s important to note that they’re also disinclined to watch anything else. Fox keeps constantly in their minds the idea that the rest of the media are “biased” against them, and conservatives duly respond by saying other media aren’t worth watching—it’s just a pack of lies. According to Public Policy Polling’s annual TV News Trust Poll (the 2011 run), 72 percent of conservatives say they trust Fox News, but they also say they strongly distrust NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN. Liberals and moderates, in contrast, trust all of these outlets more than they distrust them (though they distrust Fox). This, too, suggests conservative selective exposure.

And there is an even more telling study of “Fox-only” behavior among conservatives, from Stanford’s Shanto Iyengar and Kyu Hahn of Yonsei University, in Seoul, South Korea. They conducted a classic left-right selective exposure study, giving members of different ideological groups the chance to choose stories from a news stream that provided them with a headline and a news source logo—Fox, CNN, NPR, and the BBC—but nothing else. The experiment was manipulated so that the same headline and story was randomly attributed to different news sources. The result was that Democrats and liberals were definitely less inclined to choose Fox than other sources, but spread their interest across the other outlets when it came to news. But Republicans and conservatives overwhelmingly chose Fox for hard news and even for soft news, and ignored other sources. “The probability that a Republican would select a CNN or NPR report was around 10%,” wrote the authors.

In other words Fox News is both deceiver and enabler simultaneously. First, its existence creates the opportunity for conservatives to exercise their biases, by selecting into the Fox information stream, and also by imbibing Fox-style arguments and claims that can then fuel biased reasoning about politics, science, and whatever else comes up.

But at the same time, it’s also likely that conservatives, tending to be more closed-minded and more authoritarian, have a stronger emotional need for an outlet like Fox, where they can find affirmation and escape from the belief challenges constantly presented by the “liberal media.” Their psychological need for something affirmative is probably stronger than what’s encountered on the opposite side of the aisle—as is their revulsion towards allegedly liberal (but really centrist) media outlets.

And thus we find, at the root of our political dysfunction, a classic nurture-nature mélange. The penchant for selective exposure is rooted in our psychology and our brains. Closed-mindedness and authoritarianism—running stronger in some of us than in others—likely are as well.

But nevertheless, it took the emergence of a station like Fox News before these tendencies could be fully activated—polarizing America not only over politics, but over reality itself. 

Chris Mooney is the author of four books, including “The Republican War on Science” and “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality.”

See: http://www.alternet.org/media/science-fox-news-why-its-viewers-are-most-misinformed?akid=12394.123424.sZQV7X&rd=1&src=newsletter1024187&t=3