In the Trump Era, Do Facts and Rational Arguments Still Matter?

Whenever I write something that exposes the lies and deceptions of Donald Trump and his congressional enablers, I can count on getting a response that goes something like this: “It doesn’t matter, because the president’s supporters don’t care and won’t believe you.”

The people who say that are right. It won’t matter. The reason is captured pretty well by these results from a recent NBC poll.

As the depth of the constitutional crisis we face grows, the people who are watching Fox News (and other right-wing outlets) are immune to the facts, primarily because they are consuming propaganda.

In that world, recent revelations by the New York Times don’t indicate that Trump is America’s biggest loser, but that ordinary Americans are incapable of understanding what it means to deal with that kind of money. Instead, the president’s business dealings are “pretty impressive” and go “beyond what most of us could ever achieve.”

That is truly crazy-making. And it’s even worse when you hear that kind of thing regurgitated by friends and family members who buy into the propaganda. It means that a rational conversation based on facts is impossible.

I’ve mentioned before that Republican hypocrisy is another form of propaganda. To demonstrate how that is crazy-making, take a look at the argument Trump’s chief enabler in the Senate, Lindsay Graham, made back in 1998 when he was leading the charge to impeach Clinton.

Today, Graham deepens the constitutional crisis by saying that the president should ignore congressional subpoenas, while counseling him to “fight like hell” against Democratic “political hacks.” A rational mind finds it impossible to reconcile the contradictions between what Graham said in 1998 and what he’s saying now.

The problem is that most liberals continue to rely on facts and rational arguments because that is how our political system is supposed to work. For example, Josh Marshall recently made an argument that should completely neuter the suggestion from the attorney general that the FBI engaged in the Trump-Russia investigation based on political motives.

Mounting an investigation and maintaining total secrecy about it was a hugely difficult undertaking at which the investigators succeeded…The fact that the key players kept the existence of the probe and the substantial evidence it already had secret really totally explodes any idea that it was a “set up” or “sting” or “political hit” as most Republicans now claim. Clearly the time to use the investigation to political effect was in August or September or October of 2016. The fact that they didn’t speaks for itself.

That is the same argument made by Peter Strzok when he testified about his involvement in the investigation before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.

There is, however, one extraordinarily important piece of evidence supporting my integrity, the integrity of the FBI, and our lack of bias.

In the summer of 2016, I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign. This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind.

That is, indeed, a solid rational argument. But when it comes to the people it is designed to convince, it doesn’t matter.

I point all of this out because, for those of us who value rational arguments, the fact that they don’t alter the current political dynamics in any meaningful way can ignite a feeling of hopelessness. I know because that has often been my response.

But there is another audience for facts and rational arguments—ourselves. The moment we give up speaking the truth, we lose our grounding, which is the ultimate aim of propaganda. It might be that we are only “preaching to the choir,” as the saying goes. But reminding each other of the facts is our best defense against the kind of gaslighting we are being subjected to on a daily basis. In other words, it matters.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.