Diane Roberts: Brexit — where belief trumps facts, reality

Conservative leadership bid

Michael Gove, the turtle-featured candidate for Tory Party leader — and thus Prime Minister of Great Britain — declared just before the Brexit vote that the British people are “tired of experts.”

The so-called “professionals,” economists, MBAs, bankers, lawyers, and suchlike riffraff, who claimed that if the Leave campaign won, the pound would decline in value, the stock market would go down, and poorer British regions would lose EU grants and subsidies, are nothing but a bunch of toffee-nosed overeducated out-of-touch types not worth listening to.

OK, so the pound tanked, the stock market slid, and the inhabitants of Cornwall, the Northeast and parts of the Midlands will feel the lack of that nice EU money that helped pay for schools and parks pretty damn quick once the UK flounces off out of the EU, but who cares about “reality”? Go wave a Union Jack!

Everything is now a matter of “belief,” not fact, not information from experts. Around 40 percent of Republicans “believe” that Barack Obama is Muslim, despite zero proof. Geological evidence shows that the earth is somewhere around 4.54 billion years. But Mr. Ken Ham of Williamstown, Kentucky, insists it’s more like 6000 years.

He’s the fellow who built a big-ass Ark complete with animatronic Noah and animals — including dinosaurs — to push “young earth creationism.”

Historians can show you documents showing that yes, the South seceded because of slavery; evolutionary biologists can walk you through natural selection, demonstrating how it’s the only thing that explains the development of life on this planet; and nothing in the $7 million Benghazi Report, prepared by experts, implicates Hillary Clinton in evil Libyan plots.

It doesn’t matter: Americans (and our British cousins) seem to have adopted the Looking-Glass Land theory of reality: “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’”

Gove, who had said he’d act as campaign manager for his friend Boris Johnson in his bid to head the Conservative Party, announced he wanted the job himself. Johnson was blindsided: Et Tu, Gove?

Gove swore he’d tried to call Johnson “multiple times” to tell him, but “couldn’t get through.” Johnson’s camp says there were no missed calls. Which do you trust, that nice Mr. Gove or the actual evidence?

It’s the era of post-truth — which is to say, many of our leaders and a substantial cadre of their media sympathizers, just make stuff up. Anyone who tries to verify the stuff they make up is obviously a political enemy, a truster of experts instead of upstanding, virtuously-ignorant voters. Well-sourced, double-checked knowledge is suspect: The experts, the people who spend their lives studying the fossil record or researching international banking operations or interviewing the witnesses — well, why should their facts be more important than your prejudices?

The International Monetary Fund and the Institute for Fiscal Studies warn that if Britain leaves the EU, the mess will take years to untangle and cost a lot of money while potentially hamstringing the economy. Citizens who don’t agree (not that they have much in the way of hard information to back up their opinions) see them as “tainted” organizations, unreliable, biased.

Brexiteers preferred to believe their man Boris Johnson, writer of newspaper columns making extravagant and demonstrably untrue claims, such as the EU is responsible for manufacturing job losses in the UK and that “leaving the EU would be like escaping from jail.”

Here in the U.S., a Moody’s Analytic report indicates Donald Trump’s economic plans for the country will cause a recession, complete with job losses and a decline in the living standard of the middle class. The Trumpniks shrug: what the hell do these financial people know?

Trump himself is the ultimate post-truth candidate, saying anything, everything: The Obama administration supported al-Qaida in Iraq; Ted Cruz’s father was with Lee Harvey Oswald just before JFK was shot, the federal government sends Middle Eastern refugees only to states with Republican governors — he’s either a pathological liar or he genuinely thinks it doesn’t matter to his supporters.

Jeffrey Lord, one of Trump’s surrogates appeared on CNN and declared that Americans don’t care about what’s true: Fact-checking, he said, is an “out-of-touch elitist media-type thing.”

This is where we are: facts are never facts, information is always partisan, the truth is so, you know, 20th century.

Anything that might discomfit us, or challenge our cherished — if uninformed — ideas, can be dismissed. Vaccines may cause autism. Orlando shooter Omar Mateen wasn’t a disturbed guy obsessed with guns and gays, he was a sinister ISIL operative. Global climate change isn’t an emergency, despite the way the polar ice keeps melting and South Florida keeps flooding. It’s a hoax by scientists trying to get rich.

God help the planet if Britain lets a bunch of lies drive it out of Europe and if America elects a man whose relationship with the truth as casual at best.


Diane Roberts is the author of “Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America.” She teaches at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University. Her latest book, “Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America,” will be out in paperback in the fall.


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