Immunity to Falsification

Immunity to Falsification


Howard Adelman

The New York Times published an interesting article yesterday on the belief in birtherism showing that one-third (33%) of Republicans still say that Obama was not born in the U.S. 22% of independents and even 10% of Democrats agree as well, even though Trump himself finally stated that Barack Obama was born in the U.S. As the NYT wrote, “the human capacity to resist contradictory evidence can be remarkable.” One reason: rationalizing Trump’s about face: “the birthers and non-birthers all seemed to think that Trump has privately agreed with them all along, and all praised his flip-flop as a shrewd political stratagem to change an inconvenient subject.” This was reinforced because Trump did not admit he was wrong, but simply stated that Barack was born in the U.S. so he could get on with his campaign.

In the debate last night, the moderator said to Trump that the birth certificate was produced in 2011, yet you continued to question the President’s legitimacy in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and as recently as January, so the question, in the context of racism, is, “What changed your mind?” Trump, as usual, did not answer the question of why he changed his mind, or even if he really did. He said, “Nobody was pressing it; nobody was caring much about it, but I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate and I think I did a good job.”

Lester Holt, the moderator, unlike his usual practice of allowing Donald to go on and on, said, “We are talking about racial healing in this section. What do you say to Americans…” Trump then cut him off. “I say nothing. I say nothing. Because I was able to get him to produce it. He should have produced it a long time before.” He then continued to blame Hillary for introducing the birther issue. “Well, it’s very simple to say. Sidney Blumenthal works for the campaign and a very close friend of Secretary Clinton, and her campaign manager, Patty Doyle, went to—they were in the campaign, her campaign against President Obama, fought very hard, and you can go look it up and you can check it out, and if you look at CNN this past week, Patty Solis Doyle was on Wolf Blitzer saying that this happened. [CNN followed the debate by showing a clip where Doyle said no such thing.] Blumenthal sent McClatchy, a highly respected reporter at McClatchy, to Kenya to find out about it, they were pressing it very hard; she failed to get the birth certificate. When I got involved, I didn’t fail, I got him to give the birth certificate.”

When CBS News did a fact check, they concluded, “This has been Trump’s line since the “birther” issue resurfaced this fall, but Clinton’s campaign has repeatedly denied being involved. Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton’s 2008 campaign manager, told Wolf Blitzer a volunteer forwarded an email promoting “birtherism” and that that person was fired. “The campaign nor Hillary did not start the ‘birther’ movement, period, end of story,” Solis Doyle told CNN, saying the volunteer’s actions were “beyond the pale” and that Clinton called Obama campaign manager David Plouffe to apologize.
Blumenthal, a longtime Clinton confidante but not a current campaign staffer, denies ever contacting McClatchy; the former McClatchy bureau chief, James Asher, recently said he clearly recalled the conversation with Blumenthal. Hillary then came into the debate and said, “Just listen to what you heard. Clearly, as Donald just admitted, he knew he was going to stand on this debate stage…so he tried to put the whole racist birther lie to bed.” Hillary and the moderator both attested that Donald’s claim that Hillary started the birther movement was an outright lie.

Further, even if Donald had “forced” Obama to release his long form birth certificate, why is this an accomplishment unless one had sowed the seeds of suspicion along the way? Finally, why continue the issue – the certificate could be a forgery… for four years afterwards if Trump had put it to bed? But the question asked – why Donald changed his mind – was never answered. Videos were broadcast with Trump questioning Obama’s legitimacy year after year. But there is little indication that this has any effect on Trump supporters.

Two outright and blatant lies – Hillary started the birther campaign. Second, Donald Trump forced Obama to produce his long form birth certificate and that ended the issue when it did not. As Lester said, Trump Two-Two continued to raise the issue for a further four years. His diehard followers continue to hold onto the birther issue because they join the Democrats in not believing he has been sincere on the issue, but for very apposite reasons. Further, the Republicans want to back a winner. Trump won the primaries largely because they came to believe that the Trump candidacy offered them the best chance of winning the White House. As the Washington Post wrote this morning, “His (Trump’s) answer on his five-year quest to show that President Obama was not born in this country was like watching a car accident in slow motion.” The newspaper also provided a list of 23 of the most noteworthy claims that Trump made that were false.

Yesterday, in The Globe and Mail, Konrtad Yakabuski wrote (“Get ready for anything in presidential debate”) that, “many in the Republican Party and media have been complicit in allowing Mr. Trump to get away with the utter debasement of political language and incivility that have characterized his campaign. Trump rallies, which for months have been broadcast live and unfiltered on U.S. cable networks, are truth-free zones where conspiracy theories go to procreate. The Republican nominee wantonly twists, distorts and perverts reality. Confronted with the facts, he simply shoots the messenger in some ad hominem tweet/slur, while conjuring up yet another shameless lie… Mr. Trump lies effortlessly and with the compulsion of someone who just can’t help himself.”

Once again, the fact checkers pronounced Trump wrong and wrong and wrong and Hillary and Lester right, though, in one case, Hilary misrepresented her original position on the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (TPP). So why do his supporters continue to believe him and believe in him? Note, other beliefs totally resistant to correction:

“Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” 33% of all Americans.

There is no “solid evidence that the average temperature on Earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades.” 26% of Americans – 46% of Republicans and 10% of Democrats in spite of the fact that virtually 100% of climate scientists believe that there has been an increase in the temperature of the Earth over the last few decades. 97% of them believe that this increase has largely resulted from human activity. The deniers do not lack the information. They are simply not convinced by the evidence for evolution or for climate change. The roughly same group is unlikely to be convinced that Barack Obama was born in the US even when Donald Trump, the father of Obama birtherism, says he was. As Yakabuski concluded, “his core supporters are deeply distrustful of established media outlets, preferring to get their news (to the extent they do at all) from alt-right websites… White voters without a college education are with Mr. Trump. And for many of them, nothing but nothing will change their mind.”

So one third of the U.S. electorate seems beyond the reach of reason and persuasion by means of scientific evidence. Trump has by far the vast majority of these as his supporters. That means, he only needs possibly as little as another 10% of the public to swing his way to win the race. Since many Republicans who are not immune to reason and evidence have swung behind him to ensure other Republicans on the ticket get elected and to even get Trump Two-Two elected just to prevent Hillary appointing judges to the Supreme Court, there is certainly a real possibility that he could win.

So the results of the presidential debate do not seem to be dependent on a mastery of facts – and Trump Two-Two knows this. But this conclusion may very well be wrong. For the debate is not intended to separate Trump Two-Two from this block of voters, but to win over Republicans and Independents who are repelled by a candidate who not only believes in myths, but is a propagandist for such myths. In a focus group of 20 independents in a key race in Florida, 18 of the 20 believed that Hillary won the debate. But only 4 of the 20 were persuaded to vote for Hillary. If even the rest split evenly, and if 18% of voters have not made up their minds, that would mean that Hillary won 20% of the eighteen more than Trump, or a 4% increase above her 41% support, more than enough to trounce Trump in Florida.

The debates are also intended to shore up and invigorate the Democratic vote. Given the debate on race, given the debate on women and Trump’s demeaning reference to a Hispanic woman, given the debate on truth, Hillary will undoubtedly enhance her support and the determination to vote of women, Blacks and Hispanics. One suspects this will also be true to a small extent with independent educated white voters, but this is clearly speculation. I suggest, however, that it will do little to bring millennials into her political debate.

I offer one more quote before I move on tomorrow to try to answer the question of immunity to evidence and the direction of the vote of millennials by the strangest of comparisons of two apparently total opposites – Donald Trump and Martin Heidegger.

“In the populist rebellion Mr. Trump leads, there are no facts, only Us and Them, and anything They say is just the Establishment and its enablers protecting their privilege. This is exactly what the youthful Left proclaimed 50 years ago. It’s what the aging Right proclaims today. History has inverted itself.” History has not, but that is for tomorrow.


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