Intellectuals, Politics and Bad Faith

Niall Ferguson has called the campus left the “biggest threat” to free speech in Donald Trump’s America.

Last week The Stanford Daily reported a curious story concerning Niall Ferguson, a conservative historian who is a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. The story itself, although ugly, isn’t that important. But it offers a window into a reality few people, certainly in the news media, are willing to acknowledge: the bad faith that pervades conservative discourse.

And yes, I do mean “conservative.” There are dishonest individuals of every political persuasion, but if you’re looking for systematic gaslighting, insistence that up is down and black is white, you’ll find it disproportionately on one side of the political spectrum. And the trouble many have in accepting that asymmetry is an important reason for the mess we’re in.

But how can I say that the media refuses to acknowledge conservative bad faith? While some journalists remain squeamish about actually using the word “lie,” and there’s still a tendency for headlines to repeat false talking points (which are only revealed to be false in the body of the article), readers do get a generally accurate picture of the extent to which dishonesty prevails within the Trump administration.

It seems to me, however, that the media makes Donald Trump’s lies seem more exceptional — and more of a break with previous practice — than they really are. Trump’s seven-lies-a-day habit and his constant claims of being victimized by people who accurately report the facts are only a continuation of something that has been going on in the conservative movement for years.

At a fundamental level, after all, how different is Trump from Fox News, which has spent decades misinforming viewers while denouncing the liberal bias of mainstream media? How different is he from Republicans who accused Democrats of fiscal irresponsibility and now denounce the Congressional Budget Office when it points out how their tax cuts will increase the deficit?

And the same kind…

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