Working 12-hour days in the blazing sun doesn’t leave a lot of time for independent reading. What my father knows about the world may be at odds with empirical reality, but his views line up almost perfectly with the opinions of the people who lie to him. The people who lie to my father long ago earned his allegiance, leveraging his biases to turn his political influence to their own interests. They will probably never be punished for what they have stolen from him, but they will always have my special contempt.
To be clear, my father has made his own choices. As Homer Simpson once explained, it takes two to lie: one to lie and the other to listen. In theory, he could have tapped into a very different collection of alignments.
He is not without education. My father has a college degree, though that might not mean what you’d think. He earned it across seven grueling years of plodding part-time study in a small regional state school.
He took classes when he could, without much sense of a degree plan. Apart from an older brother, no one in the family had ever been to college. The goal of his education was cloudy, but terminating his studies early would probably have meant joining his brother in Vietnam. So he stuck with it year by year, class by class, supporting himself with physically demanding, dangerous night work in a metal smelter. He spent very little time on campus and earned the grades he needed to get out with a degree.
It is true that the Internet is at his fingertips in all its depth and variety, from the BBC to 4chan and beyond. Though it arrived relatively late in his life, a vast pool of unfiltered data is available to be categorized and sorted into the most comprehensive, global vision of reality that human beings have ever been able to assemble.
In theory he might have formed very different, independent views on the world by studying contrasting ideas, but that isn’t how most people form their worldview. None of us have the time to sort and weigh our entire reality against an endless wave of dissonant data. Most of us have about as much individual influence over our political inclinations as we do over our preference for sports teams. Born a Sox fan? You’ll probably die a Sox fan. Our assumptions about the world are heavily influenced by the culture around us.
Three hundred years ago my father’s alignments would have been steered by clan chiefs. Now his mental framework is shaped far away, by people he’ll never meet or know. Those opinions are transmitted and reinforced by the provincial retainer class where he lives in Southeast Texas. A thin layer of ministers, attorneys and other professionals with some education and access to the world set the frame for their community based on ideas crafted elsewhere.
Donald Trump enjoys remarkably higher support from people who still live in their original hometown. While this fact has some roots in education and economic mobility, it also reflects the power of local opinion networks in shaping political behavior, especially in places left behind by the accelerating pace of global change. Thinking independently carries hefty costs. The people who lie to my father enjoy their strongest influence among those who have seen relatively little of the rest of the world.
The preferences, prejudices, and alignments of that narrow local retainer class explain why my father gravitates toward the charlatans at Breitbart and Fox News while regarding the Washington Post and New York Times with contempt. Over the past thirty years, entire industries have emerged to lie to my father; shaped, steered and exploited by these local influencers.
Three categories of professional liars have played a special role in shaping my father’s framework of reality, destroying his and his community’s capacity to leverage politics to improve their lives. A few of them, like the modern shamans who have set themselves up as folksy provincial ministers, he knows personally. However, most of them are far away and unknown. People who built Fox News, Breitbart and the galaxy of far right propaganda networks are impossibly distant. And political disinformation engines like The Heritage Foundation and the Heartland Institute, are almost entirely unknown to him.
Preachers play a crucial role in this network. If you live in some coastal city, the word ‘preacher’ may conjure an image of a kindly man in a collar. Compared against that paradigm, this assessment of their role might sound harsh. Out in flyover country and especially in the South, churches are more often founded and led by venture-pastors, setting up their own “ministries” absent any accountability or preparation. In my father’s community, “pastors” often have as much qualification and vetting as your local palm reader. They have built a business model on alienation, a machine built to exploit the decline of community and accountability.
Local characters who ‘hear the voice of God’ one day and decide to set themselves up with a congregation play a very special role in lying to my father. These cultish apocalyptic venture pastors with their storefront ministries are scarcely more conscious of their role in this scam than my father. Yet, no one in this entire matrix of disinformation has done more to reinforce the influence of the people who lie to my father.
Aspiring venture pastors hold inspirational “healing services.” Right next to the testimonies of healing on their Facebook page you’ll find advertisements for their mortgage services. Let me repeat this in case it slipped by unnoticed. The same self-anointed evangelists touting their ability to conjure miracles from the throne of God are simultaneously selling stuff to their flocks.
If it’s not mortgages, it’s debt relief or one of the most ubiquitous money-making ventures in low-rent religion – Plexus. If you’ve never listened to a pitch for Plexus’ miraculous nutritional supplements, then you probably haven’t been Born Again. The preacher sells congregants the idea that evolution and climate change are liberal hoaxes. Meanwhile his wife sells them unregulated nutritional supplements and “scientific” weight loss cures.
A lifetime of listening to hack preachers ramble about the apocalypse has conditioned my father to believe almost anything. However, if credible figures in the community felt some urge to curb the extremes they could. Using their power to tamp down the paranoia would require some courage, integrity and compassion. Instead, community and political leaders, such as they are, have aligned themselves with the people who lie to my father. They have learned to ride the grift.
What happened when the Jade Helm hysteria went viral? Morally compromised leadership capitalized on it rather than resisting. My father’s Governor, US Senator, and Lt. Governor all stepped up to ride the unmarked helicopters of paranoia.
My father worked hard to earn a modest living until the physical toll of his third life-threatening industrial accident rendered him unemployable. Then, at an advanced age, he took what savings he had accumulated and struggled to build a small business of his own that narrowly supported him and his wife for several more years.
Despite a lifetime of experience to the contrary, the people who lie to my father have convinced this intelligent, insightful man that his enemies are “takers” who game the system. They have convinced him that his culture is under siege from “godless liberals.” Leveraging generations of careful racial programming, they have taught him to feel suspicious of and threatened by people he sees as different.
A man whose family was repeatedly rescued from abject poverty by a liberal innovation called the workers’ compensation system is convinced that the social safety net is destroying America. A man whose wife in her late sickness would have had no access to medical care absent Medicare is convinced that “socialized medicine” is a threat to the survival of western civilization.
My father doesn’t think of himself as a racist, quite the opposite really. As the saying goes, ‘a fish don’t know he’s wet.’ He has no inclination of how his unquestioned assumptions create barriers in the world for people of color. The people who lie to my father are not planning to tell him.
This detail is very important – Those who leverage race to undermine my father’s interests have offered him some tangible value in return. When he enrolled in college, no black man had ever graduated from that school. Women were strongly discouraged from taking classes. A bare advantage offered by race granted him exclusive access to jobs that were marginally more lucrative and less dangerous than those available to blacks and Hispanics.
Race is more than just insularity or ignorance. Race has played a critical role in my father’s survival. And through these narrow racial advantages my father enjoyed, my own life prospects were improved. The people who lie to my father know that his attachment to race is deeper than bigotry or misunderstanding and they use those attachments relentlessly. The race baiters are the mafia of my father’s world. Having performed a favor in the past, they keep coming back to collect.
Of all the people who lie to my father, some of the darkest are unknown to him. They work in so-called “think tanks,” or phony news outlets. Or they operate businesses that thrive on the gray line between political advocacy and fraud. These are people with the education, exposure, and intellect to fully understand the great rightwing grift. Most of the low-rent backwater preachers and politicians who lie to my father are barely more aware of the grift than he is himself. But this network of professional liars carries out their work with eyes wide open and conscience closed tight.
The Heartland Institute is only one dark star in a sick firmament of so-called think tanks. They first gained prominence in the 90’s taking money to generate lies that protected the tobacco industry. Now they have branched out, accepting payments to generate lies about climate change and support the Tea Party Movement. Heartland no longer discloses its donors, for reasons which should be obvious. However, as an homage to their earliest johns, these assholes still brazenly retain a page on their website dedicated to tobacco truthers.
Aligned with these phony policy institutes is a network of ambiguously organized businesses. Former Arkansas Governor and serial Presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, makes a fine living selling his contact list to hucksters pitching miracle cures to my father. Glenn Beck made a fortune off the gold-coin and food storage industries. Where did my father get the idea that the Clintons murdered Vince Foster? A subsidiary of a conglomerate called Agora that earns millions selling scams to people like my father published a book that launched that particular conspiracy theory.
Why would my father vote for Donald Trump? That’s simple. The people who lie to my father have shared with him the “real” plans of liberals, concealed by the “mainstream media.” Thanks to the people who lie to my father, he is privy to a secret reality, known only to the recipients of certain select newsletters or the visitors to enlightened blogs. For example, he knows that the government has prepared internment camps for “resisters” by repurposing abandoned WalMarts. Trump is, of course, the only chance we have to stop this plan from swinging into action. He believes this shit with the deepest sincerity. And he isn’t alone.
These stupid ideas don’t just emerge out of ether. From fears of the replacement of the dollar with the Amero, to Obama’s campaign to steal your guns, to the ‘climate hoax,’ most of the crazy stories you read on right-wing blogs were born as a carefully tailored grift. Crafted by opportunists and refined in bogus think tanks, these ridiculous stories are then amplified for free by outlets like Breitbart, NewsMax and the DailyCaller. Those sites then rake in cash from ads for gold coins and ‘secret’ investment strategies – the grift that keeps on grifting.
Some of the people who lie to my father are probably true believers, but it would be tough to muster any moral defense of their life’s ambitions. They are paid to invent lies that protect wealthy people from accountability for their abuses. They can color this in any manner they chose, that is, after all, both their talent and their vocation, but they are some of the lowest creatures on the planet.
What were the odds that my father, in his half an hour a day of free time over the past forty years, would ever successfully escape the cultural tractor beam created by these professional crooks? Those odds were low enough that thousands of people could build careers on them, stripping my father and millions of other people of their political power just as blatantly as if they had robbed them on the street. My father had little chance against this machine.
My father might read this. He isn’t going to like it. Years of his hard work placed his children in a position to earn an education, an opportunity they seized. By stepping outside the grift that fed on my father and limited his life choices, his son saw a different path. That path led to a fine, prosperous life, but it placed a chasm between us.
My father might read this, but it won’t reach him. It’s too late for that. So why write it at all?
It would be nice to claim a motive higher than fury, but that would be dishonest. I did not write this for my father. I wrote this for the people who lie to my father. They will probably carry his unwavering trust to the end, but the wider world is beginning to understand what they have done.
I can’t stop them. I can’t stop their vocation from being wildly profitable. I can’t even bring them to any form of justice. But I can let them know that I see them. Formal, material justice may never reach them, but karma can be shockingly relentless.
I love my father and I resent what has been stolen from him and millions of others like him. This post is for the people who lie to my father. It is my promise that I will never forget them or the things they have done.