Any sufficiently shameless and ambitious politician knows that a smoothly delivered fabrication on live television impresses millions more than will read the next day’s refutations. Take Carly Fiorina (please), the never-quite-senator from California with her bag of imaginary business triumphs, whose numbers shot up after her well-delivered zingers at last week’s Republican presidential debate.
Never mind that repeated investigations of Benghazi have turned up no sinister actions by Hillary Clinton. Never mind that several state investigations have turned up no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. Carly has to appease the Ignorati (as I dub the right-wing base), so she touts a nonexistent fetus-harvesting video. Just as her $40 million golden parachute cushioned the impact of being sacked by Hewlett Packard, her bump in the polls softened the blow of being called a liar.
The facts don’t matter any more. Donald Trump pushes a discredited link between vaccines and autism. Mike Huckabee says the Dred Scott decision remains in effect despite the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment. Ben Carson says no Muslim should be president, ignoring the Constitution’s Article VI prohibition against religious tests for public office. Marco Rubio dubiously claims North Korea has the capacity to hit America with a nuclear weapon. Jeb Bush says, “My brother kept us safe,” as if 9/11 never happened. Bobby Jindal (in the “undercard” debate) raises the specter of an influx of terrorists by falsely saying Obama wants to “short-circuit the vetting process” for Syrian refugees. If one lie flops, you move on to the next.
This mad march of misinformation is more than mere coffee chat fodder. Spreading baseless fears of vaccines endangers the public health. Portraying America as weak promotes wasteful military spending while our domestic infrastructure crumbles. Stoking Islamophobia endangers lives at home and strains relations abroad.
As any twelve-year-old on a playground can tell you, assuming he hasn’t been shot by police, discriminatory profiling does not only target adults. In Texas, as the world now knows, police refused to admit they were wrong despite having arrested 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed for bringing a clock to school even though they knew it wasn’t a bomb. They tried to cover themselves by calling it a “hoax bomb,” though he never said it was anything but a clock.
Some suggested that anything with wires and a clock looks like a bomb. Saying “I don’t know what it is, so it must be a bomb” is true in the same sense as when you’re unable to identify a disk-shaped cloud over a mountain and conclude that it must be an alien spaceship.
This is called the argument from ignorance. There are too many examples already in this campaign, from Huckabee’s exhibitionistic constitutional cluelessness to Trump’s endless bullshitting. Confidently mouthing urban legends no more makes you an expert in climate science or medicine than playing Neil deGrasse Tyson makes you an astrophysicist.
Profiling disproportionately targets people of color. This harms the America we have, in defense of one that exists only in the minds of people clinging desperately to unmerited privilege. As Edward R. Murrow said in 1954, “We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.”
The brown-skinned teenager who tinkers with clocks today might make an engineering breakthrough in a decade or two. We cannot afford to squander the gifts and crush the hopes of a growing portion of our population, as we do when we encourage reflexive bias. If we are going to demonize young Ahmed, we might as well revise the security warning on the Metro to “See something, say something, learn nothing.”
The GOP’s pageant of know-nothings will not end any time soon. We who know better must do more than resist joining the rabble; we must raise our voices. Once stirred up, a mob is hard to quell and can cause mayhem beyond the imaginings of the instigators.
This toilet needs a plunger.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2015 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.