by Andy Schmookler
Perhaps the story can begin with the way an “aide to [President] George W. Bush [apparently Karl Rove] spoke dismissively of “the reality-based community.” Rove, in an interview with reporter Ron Suskind, contrasted that “reality-based” approach (which starts with a careful study of the real circumstances in which one is acting) with the way of the Bush gang: “[W]hen we act, we create our own reality.”
This was in 2004, before it was yet fully manifest how profoundly reality was going to punish the Bushites – and the nation they were leading – for their hubris in “creating their own reality” with their invasion of Iraq.
The story of the right’s growing refusal to respect reality surely must include how the right has been dealing with climate change.
On certain kinds of questions, science is clearly the most powerful tool that humankind has come up with for learning about reality. The question, “What’s happening in the earth’s climate system?” falls squarely within science’s proper realm. And the climate scientists, after letting reality speak to them, are raising an alarm the likes of which humankind has never before heard from that precinct.
Nonetheless, in the ranks of the “reality is for losers” right wing, the voice of science – speaking for reality – is almost universally ignored if not denigrated.
But the immediate matter that prompts me to look at the right’s disconnection from reality is the publication of a piece with the title The Dark Truth of John Boehner’s resignation,” by a Daily Kos writer who goes by the name of RETIII.
While RETIII does not break new ground (the basic point is one that I wrote about months ago), he does an excellent job of assembling relevant facts and ideas around this theme: that the Republican base is angry at its leaders for failure to accomplish what – in view of the political realities – was clearly impossible for them to achieve.
So the Republican base cheered when Speaker Boehner resigned—cheered because, in their eyes, his failure to abolish Obamacare made him that most despised thing, a “compromiser.” But, as RETIII cites Philip Bump as saying, the only “compromises” Boehner made “have been between reality and fantasy.”
In this unreality-based community that’s developed on the right, “we are witnessing a sort of collective Republican denial where they cannot accept that they are not the ruling party…” (Jonathan Chait, via RETIII).
This angry Republican base is not just protesting reality, but denying it altogether. In RETIII’s own words: “What is important here is not that Republicans object to the limits of their power, but that Republicans apparently cannot accept that such limits even exist.” (Emphasis in the original)
But then, as I see it, RETIII stops short of the heart of the matter when he sums up the issue (i.e. this non-acceptance of the limits to the right’s power) as “another significant step in the Republican party’s shocking withdrawal from our system of democratic governance.”
Yes, it is that. In our system, we are all called upon to accept that sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose; sometimes we have power, and sometimes we are subject to the power of others, whom the people have chosen. And sometimes we and the other side must share power, and are therefore – for the good of the nation — called upon (to employ what has become a dirty word in the right-wing’s lexicon) to compromise.
But beneath that rejection of democratic governance lies something more fundamental. It’s a manifestation of that profound form of human brokenness: the lust for power.
Out of some deeply wounding experience, some people emerge insistent upon having unchallenged control of their world. Unchecked power– if not for one’s “I” than for the “We” with which they identify.
The insistence on control, in turn, is a reaction to what I call — in my book, WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST — “the terror of the subordinate role.” The power of another is too frightening to accept.
When, in 1860, an election took power out of the hands of the slaveholders of the South, they chose secession and war. When the election of 2008 took power out of the hands of today’s Republican party, they chose unending obstructionism rather than the normal role of an opposition party.
This obstructionism has represented an all-out war against their political opponents—specifically, President Obama and the Democratic Party. But with their ritual repealing of Obamacare — more than fifty times — the Republicans have also enacted what might be called a war against reality.
So now — like the Bush regime in its hubris in thinking it could compel reality to conform to its will; and like the Republicans in Congress who rejected not only the apportionment of power determined by the people through our democratic system, but also the limits to their power that reality imposed – the Republican base is now enacting its own form of a power-lust so intense that it refuses even to bow before inescapable reality.
Rather than accept the reality that their power is limited, they reject political leaders like John Boehner who – for all their gestures and playacting to appease their maddened base – understand that they lack the means to impose their will upon the nation.
(And, in that same lust for power, these Republicans in the base are turning to the snake-oil salesman Donald Trump selling fantasies of enjoying so many “victories” we’ll get bored with winning.)
Reality is not always wonderful. But whether reality is good or bad at any given time, reality is the only thing we’ve got.
Those who feel compelled to reject reality — in order to maintain falsehoods they desperately need — are a menace to themselves and to everything they touch.