“Misinformation” has become the new political buzzword to label the trend popularized by the Trump White House and its right-wing lackeys to engage shamelessly in a concerted, crafted, and highly-disciplined campaign to spread outright distortions of reality in their efforts to secure political power.
From the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump, to the continued insistence that the COVID-19 pandemic was a hoax or could be cured by chugging Lysol, to the cornucopia of QAnon conspiracy theories, Trump and the armies of Trumpist militants across the nation have orchestrated this misinformation campaign, hornswoggling working Americans to the detriment of their own interests.
Trendy as the buzzword “misinformation” is and as perfectly as it describes a chief tactic of Trumpism, however, we have to recognize that misinformation campaigns are not a new practice for conservative ideologues in American politics. Indeed, as I’ve written about on multiple occasions in the pages of PoliticusUsa (here, here, and here), there is no such thing as a “conservative conscience” or “principled Republican” that differentiates itself from the contemporary Trump-inspired politics and practices of the Republican Party. Remember the ginormous lie that Saddam Hussein was hoarding weapons of mass destruction? Remember the Bush tax cuts that transferred wealth to the richest Americans, not unlike Trump’s, and led to a decline in earnings for working families, extending Reagan’s “big lie” that went by the name of trickle-down economics?
Nope, outrageous misinformation campaigns—well, outright big lies—are nothing new in the conservative politics of the Republican Party. The extremism and racism—big lies themselves–have always been there, if somewhat muted or thinly disguised in the language of “tax cuts” and “states’ rights” encoded in Lee Atwater’s notorious “Southern Strategy.”
Senator Joe Manchin’s recent spate of excuses for withdrawing his support from President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Plan, which he voiced in the name of “fiscal conservatism” (the same fiscal conservativism that brought us trickle-down economics), typifies the ongoing, if subtler and seemingly less extreme, misinformation campaign that fiscal conservatives, working as agents of the wealthiest individuals and corporations, have historically waged against working Americans.
The ongoing public negotiation among Manchin, Biden, and progressive Democrats has made clear that Manchin has been trafficking the same old stale misinformation fiscal conservatives have been peddling for ages.
Throughout this ongoing conversation, Manchin has been exposed as a liar, backed into a corner by truths and realities he refuses to acknowledge, exposing him as a dangerous obstructionist, serving the wealthy and his own narrow financial interests while neglecting to represent the interests of West Virginia’s workers, who recently pleaded with him to revisit his refusal to support Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.
First, as Jason Easley reported for PoliticusUsa early last November, while Manchin repeatedly complained that he feared the plan would cause inflation and increase the deficit, the nonpartisan House Joint Committee on Taxation as well as 17 Nobel Prize-winning economists and the hardly-liberal Moody’s Analytics determined that the plan would actually reduce the deficit, that it was fully paid-for, and that it would actually curb inflationary pressures by increasing participation in the economy.
In December, White House press secretary Jen Psaki basically demolished the bogus hand-wringing of Republicans and other fiscal conservatives like Manchin by pointing out that Build Back Better will actually pay for the Trump tax cuts that were never paid for and which ballooned the deficit while investing nothing in the American worker or the nation’s dangerously decaying infrastructure.
Manchin has continued to toe the obstructionist line of misinformation, calling for delays to see what happens with inflation.
Biden, among others, has been clear that his plan counters inflation by reducing key costs for Americans when it comes to big ticket expenditures like health care, child care, and education.
And while Manchin worries in bad faith that pumping some two trillion dollars into the economy will cause it to overheat and bring out-of-control inflation, the fact of the matter is that even if the bill proposes to two trillion dollars in spending, those funds will be spread over nearly a decade, meaning some $250 billion per year in an economy whose gross domestic product is about $23 trillion. In reality, this is a hardly a huge investment.
Of course, Manchin knows that, just as fiscal conservatives knew what the International Monetary Fund finally confirmed in 2017—that trickle-down economics was and is, literally, a joke.
And when it comes to addressing climate change and making key investments to upgrade long-neglected infrastructure, we know that continuing to defer this much-needed work of transforming our economy and nation only increases the price tag of making these improvements and repairs down the line.
Again, Manchin is simply peddling the crusty old lie that tax cuts to the wealthy, which invest nothing in our infrastructure and the American people, somehow yield returns and pay for themselves, which they don’t.
Build Back Better is not actually a “social spending bill,” as it has come often to be called. It’s an investment bill that will yield a return by improving the American economy, putting people to work in unionized and well-paying jobs, and building an infrastructure that makes us more competitive and better protects us from the inevitable disasters climate change brings.
Billionaire and Trump supporter Nelson Peltz has been clear that he conferences weekly with Manchin and encourages his obstructionism. And he we know that Manchin reaps millions from his stakes in coal companies and his support from the fossil fuel industry.
His behavior is in line with Trump’s and consistent with that of the Republican Party historically—abusing his political office to enrich himself, wealthy individuals, and corporations at the expense of American working families while engaging in a misinformation campaign to obscure and distract from their self-serving and socially-damaging behavior.
The United Mine Workers, representing West Virginian coal miners, recently called out Manchin on his refusal to represent faithfully and honestly the interests of West Virginia’s workers, exposing this misinformation campaign.
Will the rest of American voters wake up to this misinformation campaign as well and insist on honest and faithful representation, and not misinformation?
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.