Originally Printed in April 2011 and still relevant today!
Where wrong is right and false is true: The inverted moral world of the American Right
This history provides an important foundation for my ongoing quest to understand the right’s ability to operate without the constraints of hypocrisy or consistency in an environment of epistemic relativism so extreme that we end up believing that wrong is right. It’s literally mind-boggling.
There are a couple of mechanisms by which this is occurring. An example of the first kind was this truly mind-boggling exchange between Monica Crowley and Stuart Varney the other day on Fox News, wherein Crowley leapt upon the recent releases of intelligence from Guantanamo via WikiLeaks to declare that they established once and for all that, by golly, torture really did work!
VARNEY: I want your judgment. Do you think President Obama would order it done?
CROWLEY: I think if there were an imminent threat, the commander in chief, regardless of who it was, would order it done, yes.
VARNEY: And you think it should be done.
CROWLEY: I absolutely think it should be done. Listen, the commander-in-chief has one job, and that’s to protect American lives. You need to do what’s necessary when faced with an imminent threat to do it.
Nevermind that Crowley’s evidence that torture works is dubious at best. But it’s breathtaking how quickly Crowley and Varney leap over the question: If torture works, should you do it?
What seems not to cross either Crowley’s or Varney’s minds is the notion that the president might have a higher calling to the nation than simply keeping Americans alive — that preserving the Constitution and, concomitantly, both our long-term security and our standing in the world as a moral beacon, might be such a higher purpose. The president has an obligation not to make America into a nation of torturers, too. (Of course, it’s worth observing that the previous president — an object of ardent admiration by both these pundits — not only had a disastrous record on this latter obligation, he was also an abject failure in terms of preserving American lives, too.)
This really is a simple and clear moral issue: Does America torture or not? It is not just a cliche but a great truth that “the torturer is the enemy of all mankind”. Which side are we on?
But in the inverted moral world of conservatives, that is not even an issue. All that is at stake for them is criticizing any liberal politician or policy and ardently defending any conservative or Republican. That’s their moral compass.
This same imperative is what drives the second mechanism by which the Right’s world is turned inside out. And that is a simple and uncomplicated refusal to accepts facts as realities and to embrace lies in their place — if those lies burnish the emotional narratives upon which the Right ultimately relies for its appeal.
This is manifest particularly in the case of the Birthers, who are singularly immune to fact, logic, reason, or rationality, and ultimately reality. Instead, they’ve built their little bubble world and nothing, NOTHING will draw them out.
Here’s Michelangelo Signorile dealing with a Birther on his radio show the other day, which provides a classic example of this.
This is why President Obama’s release this morning of his long-form birth certificate will not be the air-clearing catharsis he hopes it will be — it’s just the beginning of the next phase in the Birthers’ conspiracism.
Because the overriding narrative in all this is what matters to these folks — namely, that Barack Obama is not a legitimate president.
They absolutely need to believe this, you see, because these folks are all right-wing authoritarians. As I’ve explained previously:
Right-wing populism is always fueled and populated by right-wing authoritarians — people who believe that the nation/state needs strong rulers and that it’s the duty of citizens to obey them assiduously. This why they suffer so much cognitive dissonance when the nation’s top authority is a Democrat/liberal/socialist/Marxist/fascist — and why their first impulse, in such situations, is to embark on a vicious campaign of delegitimization (see, e.g., Bill Clinton). It’s why they basically go insane.
And it’s true not merely of the Tea Partiers, but of Beltway Village Establishment conservatives too:
Nothing Obama does will ever satisfy the likes of Liz Cheney. Right-wing authoritarians believe above all in bowing and adhering to those in authority — and the thought of bowing to a Democratic president, liberal or otherwise, as a legitimate president is too much cognitive dissonance for them to handle.
So they turn the world upside down: Torture is hunky-dory, truth is falsehood, facts are fiction. It’s the only way they can continue to cling to a worldview that constantly runs aground on the hard shoals of reality.