How the right wing steals your freedom

September 10, 2010

Over at, David Roberts sees GOP climate denialism as part of something bigger and more insidious:

The right’s project over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society’s leading institutions. Experts are made elites; their presumption of expertise becomes self-damning. They think they’re better than you. They talk down to you. They don’t respect people like us, real Americans. Here’s Americans’ trust in institutions…from Gallup data (click for larger version):

Of course the decline of trust in institutions is multi-causal, but the right’s relentless assault has certainly exacerbated matters. Here’s another graph to chill your blood, showing the only two institutions in which trust is rising:

Roberts sums things up well:

The decline in trust in institutions has generated fear and uncertainty, to which people generally respond by placing their trust in protective authorities. And some subset of people respond with tribalism, nationalism, and xenophobia. The right stokes and exploits modern anxiety relentlessly, but that’s not all they do. They also offer a space to huddle in safety among the like-minded. The conservative movement in America has created a self-contained, hermetically sealed epistemological reality — a closed-loop system of cable news, talk radio, and email forwards — designed not just as a source of alternative facts but as an identity. That’s why when you question climate skepticism you catch hell. You’re messing with who people are.

I’m reminded of this passage from the Vanity Fair article on Sarah Palin:

According to almost everyone who has ever known her, including those who have seen the darkest of her dark side, Sarah Palin has a great gift for making people feel good about themselves. Her knack for remembering names and faces and the details of her interactions with people—and for seeming to be present to the person in front of her—constitute an extraordinary power of engagement. Now she is using that power in a fundamentally different way. In part she is using it in the service of her own ambitions. But she is also planting the idea with audiences that they might not be good enough, by telling them she thinks they’re plenty good, no matter what anybody else may say. (“They talk down to us… They think that if we were just smart enough … ”) To some, the message sounds like an affirmation. But is it really? Or does it seed self-doubt and rancor among her partisans, and encourage them to see everyone else as malign.

Depressed yet?

Here’s something to keep in mind: addressing climate change is about preserving freedom!


5 Responses to “How the right wing steals your freedom”

  1. lneely Says:

    Not depressed, FRIGHTENED.

  2. […] How the right wing steals your freedom […]

  3. M.L. Says:

    People naturally seek out those who share and reinforce their own point of view. It isn’t a right wing or left wing thing. It’s called Cognitive Dissonance, and it’s a human thing.

    As for the graphs, perhaps the reason trust in police has increased is because they are the only institution that actually had some success in their respective domain.

    The rest of them – banks, schools, politicians, media, and so on – have all been moderately bad to failing horribly in the last 30 years. However, if you compare levels of violent crime from the early 1990s until now, you will find a huge drop. As crime falls, trust in police rises – seems pretty simple to me.

    As for the military, it has always been one of the most respected institutions in the U.S. This graph probably shows trust in the military rising because the data starts in the Viet Nam era.

    Notably, the data for the police starts in a period of high crime (and low trust), just like the military data – almost as if the author purposefully selected data to make support his point of view. The author appears to be doing exactly what he accused the right wingers of doing. Like I said before, it is a human (psychological) phenomenon – ideology is irrelevant.

  4. JR Minkel Says:

    You make a good point about the proper choice of baselines. I’ll agree it would be nice to see the data go farther back for the police. And in possible support of your point about crime, trust in the criminal justice system does seem to have gone up over the past two decades, although I don’t know enough to have any opinion on who should get the credit for a crime drop.

    I’m not convinced of the rest of your argument, though. It strikes me as glib to claim that all institutions except the police and military have been doing a bad job for the past 30 years! We’re talking about everything from religion to newspapers to business. Hell, maybe it’s a function of an aging population thinking everything is worse now than it used to be.

    In any event, I think the author’s larger point stands: conservatives have effectively constructed an alternate reality cut off from the real world. See this article for an interesting take on the situation.

    • M.L. Says:

      I don’t disagree that conservatives prefer to exists in insular, self-reinforcing communities. However, that is true of all human beings, or at least the vast majority. Download this slide presentation from the authors of the book “Connected” ( and take a look at slide 11. You’ll see that liberals are as insular as conservatives.

      Both think they have a monopoly on truth. Neither is correct.

      Back to the graphs – There is an alternate explanation for the data. The graph without the military or police generally tracks with the economy. When the economy is good, trust goes up. When the economy is down (late 1970s, early 1990s, and late 2000s), trust goes down. Perhaps this data does not indicate the existence a highly organized, covert conspiracy by right wingers to undermine the fabric of American society.

      Perhaps this data simply shows periods of time when Americans felt lousy.

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