Grand Old Party of Denial

The Republican Party has threatened its existence by denying reality and by rewarding arguments divorced from facts and science. For years, the GOP has rejected facts, opposed government efforts to find facts, and rewarded politicians who made counterfactual arguments that aligned with their policy preferences. Prizing common sense over expert analysis and encouraging ignorance over research into facts not only undermines the pillars on which the Founding Fathers built the United States, but also creates a constituency that will not respond to facts. The Republican Party has created a crevasse between its two constituencies that only truth can meld.

Republicans have closed their ears and eyes to facts for decades. Most remarkably, they have denied climate change despite indisputable evidence and scientific consensus. In 2004, the George W. Bush administration even suppressed federal government scientists’ conclusions that climate change is happening. But the GOP’s denial does not end there. Republicans recently stopped the Center for Disease Control from studying gun-related deaths.[1] And between 2010 and 2014, the United States cut research and development funding by $24 billion.[2] That anti-fact, anti-knowledge campaign has painted the GOP into a corner that has split the party.

Donald Trump is gathering the voters who appreciate his cavalier attitude toward policies and facts. He led the charge that President Barak Obama was not born in the United States of America. Trump’s supporters like him because he makes the arguments that people are making at barbecues and to their neighbors across the back fence. Some of those arguments make sense only by failing to account for counter-arguments or contradictory facts.

All during the Republican primaries, Trump provided completely impractical policy ideas. He proposed building a wall between the United States and Mexico, although Congress already passed that law in 2007.[3] The George W. Bush Administration declined to build the wall because, it concluded, the wall “is not the most appropriate means to achieve and maintain operational control” of the border.[4] Trump argues that he wants a better trade balance with the world, but right now, the United States is benefitting from the trade imbalance. The United States imports $44.5 billion more in goods and services every year, and it exports only promises of future money. But by the time we pay the money back, inflation will have eroded the value of a dollar. So we will pay less back than we are paying now, anyway.

Trump supporters often advocate Constitutional values, but those values reject resisting knowledge and facts. We built this nation by confronting facts and seeking truth. In the first State of the Union Address, George Washington wrote, “Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”[5] For that reason, he advocated spending federal funds on science and literature. Thomas Jefferson also believed that only by “the diffusion of knowledge among the people” will human governments improve.[6] And President John F. Kennedy concluded that “only an educated and informed people will be a free people, that the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”

When arguments conflict with facts, they cannot prevail on their own merit. Counterfactual arguments invariably contain the allure of believing one can have one’s cake and eat it, too. The GOP has been selling this same story for eighty years. Franklin D. Roosevelt confronted it directly in 1936:

“Let me warn you and let me warn the Nation against the smooth evasion which says, ‘Of course we believe all these things; we believe in social security; we believe in work for the unemployed; we believe in saving homes. Cross our hearts and hope to die, we believe in all these things; but we do not like the way the present Administration is doing them. Just turn them over to us. We will do all of them. We will do more of them. We will do them better; and, most important of all, the doing of them will not cost anybody anything.’ . . . You cannot promise to repeal taxes before one audience and promise to spend more of the taxpayers’ money before another audience. You cannot promise tax relief for those who can afford to pay, and, at the same time, promise more of the taxpayers’ money for those who are in need. You simply cannot make good on both promises at the same time.”[7]

Now, again, Republican Party leaders wonders why their members are insisting upon a candidate that rejects reality. Their post-2012 autopsy concluded that the party would lose the next presidential race if it did not expand its appeal to immigrants and women. And their membership supported the most anti-immigrant, anti-women’s rights candidate in decades.

Republican politicians have sown the turmoil within their own party by encouraging counterfactual conclusions: by encouraging a belief in having one’s cake and eating it too. Now they are reaping the results of their denial. Only by returning to reality can the Republican Party paint itself a path out of its corner.

 

NOTES

[1] Sarah Ferris, GOP blocks Dem attempts to allow federal gun research, The Hill (July 7, 2016), at http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/286847-gop-blocks-dem-attempts-to-allow-federal-gun-research.

[2] Matt Hourihan, A Primer on Recent Trends in Federal R&D Budgets, Am. Assoc. for the Advancement of Science (Jan. 15, 2015), at https://www.aaas.org/news/primer-recent-trends-federal-rd-budgets; Sean McElwee and Philip Cohen, The GOP vs. the pursuit of knowledge: Inside the Republican crusade against science, Salon.com (Apr. 11, 2016), at http://www.salon.com/2016/04/11/the_gop_vs_the_pursuit_of_knowledge_inside_the_republican_crusade_against_science.

[3] Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-161 § 564(a)(2)(B)(ii) (Dec. 26, 2007).

[4] Id.

[5] Jan. 8, 1790, available at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29431.

[6] Letter from Thomas Jefferson to P.S. Dupont de Nemours (Apr. 24, 1816), at http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas-jefferson/jefl243.php.

[7] Address at the Democratic State Convention, Syracuse, N.Y. (Sept. 29, 1936), available at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15142.

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