“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
True bipartisanship in American politics has often been a heavy lift.
When one party is being dragged into a black hole of falsehood and conspiracy theory, it’s nigh on impossible.
Good people can have honest, if vehement, differences about what is important and what should be done about it. When the disagreement is over, say, the proper role of government, how much spending is enough or how much taxes are too much, it is at least possible to find common ground, split differences and engage in what British observer Alistair Cooke said were the three basic principles of American government: compromise, compromise, compromise.
This ability to work together for the common good becomes much more difficult when the participants in the process differ not just on what should be but on what is. Talking about how to move forward when there is no agreement on where you are starting from, or how you got there, can be like speaking different languages altogether. Not only no progress, but no understanding.
No facts to build on.
These days, it is mostly Republicans in Congress and their supporters across the media and around the nation who are lamenting the lack of bipartisan agreement and action in Congress. Utah’s 2nd District Rep. Chris Stewart was on about it Tuesday, complaining that Republicans have been ignored in the crafting of such major actions as President Joe Biden’s American Recovery Act.
Stewart, of course, seems utterly oblivious to the fact that, when Republicans controlled Congress, and especially the Senate, Democratic ideas, bills and nominations were routinely blocked. That selective memory, perhaps, is just politics.
What seems new is the aspect of politics that is not about conflicting ideas but whole different plains of reality. Candidates, office holders, and ex-office holders who may be candidates again, basing their positions and argument on things that are just flat false.
The most obvious of these is the idea, still promoted by former President Donald Trump that the election of 2020 was somehow stolen from him — a falsehood that people such as Stewart, fellow representative Burgess Owens and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes have promoted.
That idea is now known in the reality-based community as The Big Lie, and it is prompting more than just the 45th president’s frequent missives from his Florida exile in Elba a Lago.
Actual harm is being done based on that fantasy. It was the root of the Jan. 6 assault on the nation’s Capitol, and it is the underlying rationalization for efforts in many states to change election laws to the disadvantage of minority and low-income citizens who tipped the last election toward the Democrats, both for president and for control of the Senate.
Utah and the nation are fortunate that not everyone has fallen into this reality distortion field.
In meeting with The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board Monday, Utah’s Sen. Mitt Romney expressed his appreciation America’s traditional news media, and frustration with the fact that so many people these days are getting their “news” — including what he recognizes as utterly false claims about a stolen election — from unmoderated, unedited, unchecked, unfounded social media streams.
Romney was not just being a gracious guest. He was noting that the widespread belief in conspiracy theories and lies makes it much harder for him to build the kind of bipartisan consensus on many issues he wants, the kind of compromise he sees as the point of representative democracy in general and the Senate in particular.
“We’re not getting news from sources where there are editors, where there are people who do their best to get their facts right,” Romney said. “People are prone to not always trust a media source where there are editors and fact-checkers as much as they trust some person on the internet that they don’t even know who they are.
“Think about that, folks.”
Believe us, senator, we do.
So do many others, as is evidenced by the amount of support The Salt Lake Tribune has received since it has become a community-owned resource. We are now a nonprofit institution, supported by its subscribers and advertisers and increasingly by donations, small and large, locally and nationally.
We all benefit from the crucial role played by a press that is not only independent, but grounded on the idea of putting forward the facts that must be commonly known, and commonly accepted, for democracy to function.