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Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Truth?

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When Andrew Smith said, “People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer,” he was laying out the blueprint for the modern conservative movement, especially the Trumpist Republican Party. There is plenty of information available that could provide understanding and clarity, but then where would they get fuel for the lies they tell?

I was in church a few years ago when the assistant worship leader stepped to the microphone and began rallying the audience to the appeal of living in God’s grace versus the punitive aspects of traditional, “rules-based” Christianity. He was making a good case when, suddenly, he got political.

“American media is the greatest terrorist organization on this planet. Their singular purpose is to instill fear into the American public.”

“Duuude,” I groaned to myself.

I let the comments pass, because I knew he didn’t know me well enough to know I was a journalist. But I took note, though, on several occasions after that the pastor urged members of his congregation to “turn off the TV, turn off the news” and find the truth in the Bible and in their own personal experiences.

I couldn’t argue with that sentiment, but I did wonder, how were these people so sure the media had bad intentions if they never read or watched? What were they basing their opinions on?

How could they make such confident assertions about something they knew nothing about? It might have helped me then to know how commonplace that would become in later years.

See, I don’t dislike conservatives because they are conservative. I get that their natural instincts are to preserve the status quo. The status quo works for them, so why change?

But the ways they try to preserve, the things they do and, more dangerously, the things they say, are too often based on ignorance. Sometimes, prideful ignorance. And that drives me nuts.

Right now, the western United States are on fire as they sit under another “heat dome,” an atmospheric pocket of extreme high temperatures. Pacific coast cities like Portland (112 degrees) and Seattle (104) are cooking under temperatures they have never seen. The New York Times reported more than 200 heat-related deaths in Oregon and Washington State in the month of June.

While “heat domes” are natural occurrences, the rising temperatures are being exacerbated by global warming. Temperature increases that were predicted to happen later this century are happening now.

But, according to Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, climate change Is “bull___t.” Government attempts to curb its progress by transitioning from fossil fuels and adopting new technology and new regulations are “self-inflicted wounds,” he told a group of fellow Republicans.

Former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, in an effort to undermine the premise behind critical race theory, told Fox News, “We know most of our forefathers, all of our main Founding Fathers were against slavery, recognized the evils of it.”

She is partially correct. They recognized its evils, and some even wrote against it. But they also enslaved people. It’s one thing to decry the inhumanity of holding another human being in bondage, but that cotton wasn’t going to pick itself. I mean, somebody had to plant and harvest and cook and clean and build and maintain and get beaten within an inch of their lives for trying to escape or learn to read, right?

At the recent CPAC conference, some of the loudest cheers were for speakers who bragged about not getting the COVID-19 vaccine. I have heard excuses ranging from fears about the vaccines rewriting DNA (they don’t), not knowing what’s in them (we do know) to their containing tissue from aborted fetuses (they don’t). I actually found one article that addressed all three of those concerns, and the person I shared the article with wouldn’t budge.

The latest reasons for not getting the vaccine are downright conspiratorial: The government wants to control us. Vaccines will make recipients more vulnerable to the next round of outbreaks. Planned door-to-door outreach to promote the vaccine will instead be used to … confiscate guns and Bibles? Why settle for simply being wrong when you can throw anti-government paranoia into the mix?

In newspapers, we used to talk about feeding readers spinach or cake. Cake was the good news they liked; spinach was the boring news they needed. Too many of our political leaders are feeding us something else entirely (ask Ron Johnson) and we’re letting them get away with it.

Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at teemanning@gmail.com.

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