David French Has Looked At Misinformation From Both Sides Now
One big rule, when talking about "division" in the US — if one is a relatively wealthy heterosexual white man who will basically be OK regardless of what happens or who is in charge — is to wisely state that, actually, both sides are to blame. And probably the Left is more to blame, because after all, the Right wouldn't have to be so wacky if the Left didn't make them feel bad or stupid every time they did something bad or stupid.
On Friday, Bill Maher gave all of us on the Left a good talking to about politicizing Ivermectin.
"One of the problems [...] is that we have politicized medication now. I mean, Ivermectin. It keeps-Ivermectin. It's a drug. It's not a politician. It should not have any reputation, except does it work or not," he said. The audience applauded that line, which he then said was "completely non-controversial."
"Like on the left, it was like, Oh no, you can't even mention it," Maher continued. "And of course, the comedians on the left would only talk about the fact that it was used to worm horses, leaving out that it's been prescribed millions of times for humans now."
It has been prescribed for humans! But many of these people are taking the version for horses and cows, which is very different from the version prescribed for humans. Humans take aspirin, and so do cows and horses. However, it's probably not a great idea to take cow aspirin.
It's especially not a good idea if you are taking that cow aspirin to treat your agita, as that is not what aspirin for cows, or humans, is for. Just like Ivermectin is used to treat parasites in cows, horses, humans, whatever, and not coronaviruses.
Now, the reason these people are taking the horse ivermectin is spite. They are taking that and refusing to get the vaccine, because the Left thinks it is a good idea to get the vaccine and to do other things that have been proven effective. Just like how people literally drank bleach because we said "Hey, don't drink bleach, that's a bad idea." So I don't know that we're the ones politicizing medication. It's not like we can say, "Oh wow, good job, you guys! Keep taking that horse medication! We're super proud of you!" If we did, people who are not complete dopes might start taking it. That would be bad.
Sunday, David French published an article in The Dispatch in which he lamented the division in America, bringing up a study from last week about how a majority of Trump supporters and about four in 10 Biden voters think "it's time to split the country." This is an idea that feels good to consider every time something terrible happens, like coming close to losing our reproductive rights, for instance. It would make some amount of sense, until you realize that not everyone has the ability or desire to pack up and move to the part of the country that is in line with their values. Also, new people are born every day. People who will someday be able to get pregnant' who may be queer or trans; who may grow up and decide they don't believe in God; who need the kind of protections that we are all supposed to be fighting for.
French, who has certainly contributed his share of "divisiveness" during his career, in classic articles like "Modern Feminism: Appalling Stupidity Backed by Hysterical Rage," thinks this is sad. That our failure to get along is about a failure to communicate on both ends, brought about by exaggeration and misinformation. On both sides.
One of the things French brought up for his "We're not so different after all, you and I" spiel is that even many Republicans — the majority in some cases — are in favor of a lot of what is in the reconciliation bill.
That is not even sort of surprising. Of course people like things that would make their lives better and less stressful. When people who would benefit from these kinds of ideas find out what they actually are, they tend to be pretty into them. Unfortunately, rather than finding out what Democrats and the Left actually want to do, Republicans have, for the most part, just made things up.
While part of the blame for this rests on the shoulders of Democrats who were for many years careful not to be too loudly in favor of anything anyone might hypothetically be against, it also rests on the shoulders of Republican pundits who have insisted for years that any social program meant to help people live is one step away from everyone standing in breadlines, not being allowed to even own their own toothbrushes, and the corpse of Fidel Castro being elected President For Life.
This is actually where David French comes dangerously close to making a point:
The cycle works a bit like this. Malice and disdain makes a person vulnerable to misinformation. Misinformation then builds more malice and disdain and enhances the commercial demand for, you guessed it, more misinformation. Rinse and repeat until entire media empires exist to supply that demand.
Alas, he then misses it entirely by claiming "both sides." It's not both sides. It's not even close to both sides.
There's no right-wing Bill Maher (well, other than Bill Maher) extolling conservatives to stop being so mean to the Left and try to be more understanding. No one on Fox News, no one at the National Review is going to areas where there are a lot of Democrats and sincerely trying to find out where they are coming from. Not one conservative pundit is telling them their obsession with the white supremacist replacement theory is going to really put off Democratic moderates who just might vote Republican someday. There is an entire cottage industry of liberals scolding the Left over not being nice enough to or understanding enough of conservatives. This does not exist on the Right. They are not interested.
Even as French notes Trumpists' "increasingly dangerous and radical politics," he points out their good intentions.
Moreover, they are absolutely, positively, pass-a-polygraph convinced that they're saving democracy, not destroying it. All of the state election reforms? They're motivated to make sure that no one can "steal" an election again. Even if they're not convinced of the Kraken-style massive fraud theory, they're convinced that the 2020 election was "rigged" by Big Tech and Democrats colluding to change the rules and then suppress Trumpist speech (never mind that virtually every act of Twitter censorship only worked to amplify the censored speech, making it a topic of endless conversation on right-wing media).
This is not something that gets both sides-ed. There used to be a time when the Right loved saying if you're young and not a liberal you have no heart and if you're older and not a conservative you have no brain. They used to call us, in derogatory fashion, bleeding hearts. But now that there is no question that to be conservative means to believe in completely batshit things, the Left must be portrayed as full of bad intent. We want people to take vaccines because we want them to "comply" (whatever the hell that means), we oppose racism and sexism because we want white people and men to feel badly about themselves, those of us who believe everyone should have healthcare simply want to control everyone and take away their beloved private insurance companies.
The only way French is able to point to the Left being misinformed is that we overestimate the percentages of people on the Right who hate us and who believe terrible things.
For example, other polls have found that Americans "substantially exaggerate the extent to which members of the other party dehumanize, dislike, and disagree with them." In addition, "Democrats and Republicans imagine almost twice as many of their political opponents as reality hold views they consider 'extreme.'" Moreover, this "perception gap" gets worse with increased education and media consumption.
I think we could be forgiven for that assumption given the extremely vocal percentage of conservatives who think we are trafficking children in Wayfair cabinets in order to harvest their adrenal glands to make drugs.
We know what conservatives believe in and what they do, and we don't have to make up weird side-conspiracies in order to make them look bad. They do a good enough job of that themselves. They're the ones who have to desperately fling out bizarre theories about false flags and evil Mark of the Beast vaccines and lose their minds over literacy-promoting drag queens. The polite "both sides" fiction is actually what normalizes these conspiracy theories. It allows them to tell themselves "Well, the Left does it too!" Except the Left does not.
We disdain the Right because they are taking our reproductive rights away; because they are extending this pandemic due to their refusal to take vaccines; because they inflicted Trump on us for four embarrassing, exhausting years; because they're trying to ban teaching children that racism is bad; because they try to force their religion on us; and because they say horrible, insulting things about people all of the time. We can't do anything to save the planet because they don't want to hear that climate scientists know more than they do about the environment than they do. We can't do anything about cops killing unarmed Black people because they find this personally insulting for some reason. These are real, concrete things that effect our actual lives. It's not "malice." We're pissed, and rightfully so.
When we start coming up with theories about how everyone in the Republican party is a secret lizard person from Mars, we can talk with David French about misinformation leading to "malice" and disdain. For now, any disdain we have is pretty well-informed.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse