Dispatch From Ecuador

“What do you think of D—-d T—p?”, the young man asked me, uttering the vile name of He Who Must Not Be Named. So I promptly told him in no uncertain terms. Whereupon he asked me why I felt that way, and I gave him some of the more salient details — there was no way I had enough time to tell him the full story.

This Ecuadorian lad seemed quite surprised by what I had to say. It seems that he’d recently seen a documentary (which I suspect should be more properly called a “documentary”) that placed the Forty-Fifth White House Occupant in a favorable light — pointing out, for example, that he was the first U.S. president to visit North Korea. Yet failing to mention how much he and the North Korean dictator had in common.

This was a sobering conversation because I’d been under the impression that foreigners tend to have a better grasp of current events, even in the U.S., than most Americans do. But while that may be true overall, the impression came from my interactions with friends in Europe — as they are not easily impressed by Fox “News”. OAN, etc. But it may depend on the specific location. It doesn’t appear to be related to class or education, as this young man was well educated and came from a rather prosperous family. But it could be that within certain countries, or certain pockets within certain countries, misinformation and disinformation are more or less as successful at taking root as they are in Red State America.

Later, browsing through the little library, mostly of donated books, at the English language school where I was volunteering, I found a total of one book on the topic of current events in the United States: Conservative Comebacks to Liberal Lies by Gregg Jackson. This is a book so poorly researched, so ineptly argued, so packed with straw men, distortion, outright lies, and downright stupidity, that it’s amazing anyone would take it seriously. And yet, we all know that many people can be quite amazing indeed.

The book even rehashes the embarrassingly silly “Clinton body count” meme, which anyone with access to Google and a few brain cells can discredit in a matter of minutes. And Jackson vomits up many other right-wing talking points that have been debunked just as thoroughly — e.g., that there is a constitutional right to own guns, and that owning one makes you less likely to be a victim of crime; and that since the Democratic Party was the party of slavery 150 years ago, that means it’s still racist.

But rather than go into a lot of detail about this laughable volume here, I’ll devote a separate post to it in the future. The thing is, right-wingers are always very eager to share such garbage with the rest of the world. And when they do, they are not the least bit concerned about presenting “both sides” — in fact, they try very hard not to. (The “both sides” tactic is generally just applied in the U.S. information market, and only to beliefs that are so absurd — e.g., election fraud in 2020 — that putting them on the same footing with reasonable positions gives them much more public regard than they deserve.)

You’ve no doubt heard of Radio Free Europe and/or Radio Liberty — the two were originally separate organizations that merged in 1976. The purpose of RFE/RL is to provide information to citizens of nations where the government restricts access to news. Sounds like a noble goal, no? But much of the “news” that has been funneled into it has come from severely right-wing sources like The Washington Times, which was founded to advance the power and interests of Korean cult leader Sun Myung Moon and his empire. The Moonies also purchased UPI, a formerly respectable international news source, in 2000. Are the residents of those countries any better off being fed cult propaganda than they would be with heavily censored news?

In any country, it’s invariably easier to access fake news, misinformation and propaganda than it is to access truth. The propagandists work a lot harder to get their crap out there — and they have plenty of resources to do it. You’ve no doubt discovered that you can read any story or watch any video you want at any time, free of charge, if it’s produced by Fox “News”, OAN, Brietbart, etc. But try to read articles from reasonable media sources like The New York Times or The Washington Post, or even the quasi-reasonable Wall Street Journal, and you’ll hit a pay wall; you get 4 free articles per month, and after that, you have to shell out bucks to get real journalism. The facts are rationed, but lies are free and abundant.

Ecuador, of course, is named after the equator, which runs through the middle of the country. Just outside the capital of Quito, there’s a nifty little park called Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world) where you can go stand on, or straddle, the yellow stripe demarcating this imaginary line that divides the northern and southern hemispheres. It’s a classic photo op that draws tourists from all over the world. Pretty cool, huh?

Except that, um, the yellow stripe is not really on the equator. It’s where the equator was singled out by surveyors in 1736, and it was believed to be the actual equator until a few years ago when GPS more accurately determined that the true equator is in a less conspicuous location about 250 yards away. But by then, a great deal of investment had already been made, in both time and money, in building up Mitad del Mundo as the “official” equator. And so it’s still being promoted as such, even though everyone knows it’s not the real deal.

And that’s sort of how conservatism works. Someone draws the lines, and heavily promotes them, and even after the facts show them to be inaccurate or ineffective, conservatives insist on clinging to them and making them official. Even if they grudgingly acknowledge that Columbus didn’t really “discover America”, they still insist on painting him as a noble, heroic figure.

Gregg Jackson’s book is full of such lines. And contrary to what he and others like him claim, he is not trying to be corrective, but regressive: rather than debunking “liberal lies”, he’s trying to reassert conservative lies that have been discredited. And in pulling that off, it always helps to be first on the scene; conservative myths are hard to eradicate in part simply because they have been around a long time, and people are reluctant to shed the familiar no matter how harmful it may be. As one Republican politician declaimed, “I love Paul Revere, whether he rode or not.” (Revere did ride, by the way, but it wasn’t nearly the big deal it’s been blown up to be.)

Conservatives understand, instinctively if not consciously, that the longer a belief has been around, the harder it is to eradicate. Thus the endurance of the myths that capital punishment deters crime; that the white race is superior to all others; that homosexuality is a choice; that religion should be the basis of law; that trickle-down economics creates a healthy economy; and so on.

Right-wingers have long had the advantage of promoting older (and largely false) belief systems. They do it in their own country. They do it abroad. They try to do it before anyone else can get there with the truth. And they do it long after the truth has been revealed — appealing all the while to the longevity of their premises as if that were a substantiating factor. It isn’t.

(Photo credit: Hannelore Hopfe, Wikimedia Commons)

4 comments

  1. I will make a comment later but in the meantime, “This Ecuadorian lad seemed quite surprised by what I had to say. It seems that he’d recently seen a documentary (which I suspect should be more properly called a “documentary)” Did you mean to say it should be called a “mockumentary?”

    • Well, I just meant that “documentary” should have been in quotation marks. But yeah, mockumentary would probably be a good word.

      • OK, I noticed the quotation marks too and thought maybe they are meant to set it apart from other documentaries.

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