The enemy of empiricism is ideology. Translated that means politics make people see the world as they want it to be, rather than as it is.
Take the NFL. Any disinterested observer could see that since 2016 and the beginning of Colin Kaepernick’s crusade to sit or kneel during the National Anthem, the player protests have been an utter financial and public relations disaster for the NFL.
Depending on the calibrations of game attendance and television viewing, and adjustments for diverse local markets and weekly venues, most estimates range from a 15 percent to a 20 percent drop in patronage from the pre-Kaepernick 2015 norms. The league stands to lose well over $1 billion per year.
Yet social justice warriors still praise Kaepernick to the skies and suggest that he is making headway in winning over others to his cause. Supporters of the protests have even said the NFL was mostly unaffected financially or, in Orwellian fashion, that a drop off in viewers was actually due to Kaepernick’s supporters’ own solidarity with the protesting players.
For more than a year sports analysts have cited almost every possible extraneous reason for a decline in viewership—from worries over brain injuries to saturation of the market to competition from other entertainment and recreation. All, in theory, are true. All, in fact, are not the main reason why the league is suffering an abrupt erosion of support.
The truth is, most NFL viewers—middle-aged, male, and center-right politically—want entertainment and a refuge from politics. They do not tune in for multimillionaire players to insult the National Anthem. They do not want uninformed, 20-something multimillionaires lecturing fans on their purported sins. How can it ever be wise for a business to insult its consumer base? Again, reality apparently has been intolerable to the owners, the players, and the media. So it is massaged, disguised, or rejected—up to the point when facts make further fantasy impossible.
The same disconnect is true of the entire “Russian collusion” narrative. An empirical examination would conclude that if several congressional committees, federal investigators, a frenzied media, and highly motivated Democratic operatives could not—after a year(!)—find proof of Trump’s personal collusion with the Russians, then there likely was none. To save the credibility of the investigation Mueller has had to advise indictment for former and fired Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, in part on the basis of his wheeler-dealer past.
If Manafort’s indictment now sets the bar for “collusion,” then an entire array of Clinton, Inc. operatives are facing even more exposure. Why would Russian interests pay Bill Clinton $500,000 for a brief speech or give more than $140 million to the Clinton Foundation (do they continue to do so now?)—when at roughly the same time control of sizable percentages of small but vital U.S. uranium holdings were transferred to Russian companies, sanctioned by a decision in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had considerable influence?
Why would anyone believe that a “dossier” with bizarre salacious detail, funded by an opposition research firm with a history of destructive invective, and purchased by the Clinton campaign—and later by the FBI to warrant politically motivated surveillance on U.S. citizens—be considered disinterested “proof” of Trump wrongdoing, especially given that it relied on bought Russian sources? And how could a fine man like Robert Mueller escape charges of conflict of interest? His very appointment was the result of deliberate leaks and machinations of his former associate and successor at the FBI, the now largely discredited James Comey—while Mueller himself had overseen, in 2010-11, FBI investigations into Russian efforts to rig the transfer of U.S. uranium? Eventually, there will be an investigation into what Mueller himself found out about Russian collusion six years ago, what he did about it, and why his findings were either ignored or set aside. Pretending there is no conflict of interest, does not mean there is not any.
Despite the absence of proof of Trump collusion and the plethora of evidence that pointed the other way, the media and larger culture have clung to the Trump collusion narrative all the way to the point of absurdity. If Paul Manafort’s indictment hinges on Robert Mueller’s evidence that Manafort was receiving Russian money, it will more likely establish standards by which the Clinton campaign will face even greater legal exposure—given that its purchase of the Steele document was, in essence, a transfer of monies to Kremlin sources.
Recently Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) have offered stinging denunciations of Donald Trump. They argue that he is either mentally unfit to hold the presidency or so flawed a human being that he cancels out his otherwise conservative message.
The media, some NeverTrump Republicans, and the Democratic establishment have welcomed such attacks. That is not surprising. But what is surreal is the further anti-empirical claim that Corker and Flake spoke entirely out of conviction and their writs against Trump were evidence of a serious erosion in his Senate support.
All the evidence confirms that nothing could be further from the truth.
Both senators were facing a dramatic drop in Republican support—so much so that their “retirements” were predicated on being unlikely to win their own primaries in 2018. If either were neck-and-neck in the polls, it would be unlikely either senator would be retiring, much less attacking a president of their party.
Politicians rarely retire unless their cause is hopeless and they no longer have anything to lose and so discover both “courage “and “integrity.” And they voice actual courage only when they enjoy such overwhelming support they can afford to say almost anything they please.
Even stranger is the insistence that the departures of Corker and Flake are wounding Trump politically. More likely, more conservative and pro-Trump candidates will win the Republican nominations in their states and go on to be elected—empowering rather than weakening Trump’s agenda. Again, that some wish this media narrative to be true does not make it true. The electoral map of Tennessee is not Minnesota’s; Arizona is not yet New Mexico.
Persistent NeverTrump Fantasies
Much of the NeverTrump Republican establishment’s opposition to Trump last November also has ignored three important realities.
First, all the NeverTrump venom and invective essentially had zero effect on the voters. Trump won with about the same level of Republican voter support as had the losers McCain and Romney—roughly at or slightly above 90 percent. In today’s chaotic and crowded arena of Internet news, social media, blogs, and cable, voters don’t listen much either to father-figure Republican Party grandees or to sober and judicious journalistic pundits of any stripe.
Yet every time Trump says or tweets something outrageous, an “expert” writes or declares Trump to be in serious trouble or “finished” or fatally wounded, when he knows that there is no evidence in the past for such dire prognostications, and, further, that his own strident opposition has had no effect in swaying voters.
Second, a dispassionate analysis would also show that on about 90 percent of the issues (trade and illegal immigration excluded), the Trump Administration has adopted precisely those positions once held by almost all Republicans, including NeverTrumpers. Apparently, that fact is a circle that cannot be squared, and explains also why damning the messenger as unfit becomes difficult when he is actualizing one’s own agenda in a fashion not seen since Ronald Reagan.
Again, the self-evident paradox is mostly either ignored or denied.
Third, there is no evidence that Trump’s election is proof that conservatives or Republicans have suddenly gone off the deep end, turned bitter, mean, and nasty, or adopted new agendas of racism, nativism, and xenophobia. The Ku Klux Klan is as hated and marginalized now as it always has been. Sexism is as bipartisan as ever, as everyone from Harvey Weinstein to Bill Clinton and Mark Halperin show. Most Trump voters in Iowa have no idea what the “Alt-Right” is and don’t care to know. Instead, they continue to vote for at least the perception of secure borders, legal only immigration, lower taxes, strong defense, a Jacksonian/realist foreign policy, pro-life, less government, less gun control, and less identity politics.
And Now, a Dose of Reality . . .
What allowed Trump to gain the nomination was that he was more likely than his rivals to embrace all those positions and more effective in arguing that others had not done so in the past. Trump made the case, largely defensible, that so-called Republican establishmentarians and perceived elites were disengaged from the masses who supported or patronized them, and oddly appeared more culturally comfortable with their liberal counterparts than with their own conservative base.
But most importantly, no one seemed comfortable with the essential truth of Trump’s ability to win 90 percent of Republicans. Conservative voters were willing to divorce Trump, the often crude messenger, from Trump, the emissary of a consistently conservative message, because the alternative of a 16-year Obama-Clinton regnum was a guarantee that America would be made over into something like a European socialist state. Republican and conservative voters would do almost anything to stop it. Moreover, they were furious at their own leadership who seemed either unwilling or unable to halt that metamorphosis and had often demagogued and virtue-signaled their own displeasure with conservative voters.
Why are we unable to distinguish ideology from truth?
The consequences of being wrong come later; the benefits of seeming correct are in the here and now. The NFL will not fully know what hit them financially for a few more weeks; in 2016 it was cheap and easy to gush over the iconoclast Kaepernick, even as he began to bleed fans.
Jeff Flake is now speaking truth to power, but it will take a few more months to realize that he was symptomatic of a self-righteous hubris that had largely explained why the GOP lost the popular vote in four out of the last five national elections.
It was easy in January and February to boast without evidence and in groupthink fashion on cable news that Trump was doomed to impeachment, resignation, physical collapse, or removal by the 25th Amendment or Emoluments Clause due to “overwhelming” proof of Russian collusion. It took nearly a year for the pedestrian gathering of facts to demonstrate that the likes of Hillary Clinton, James Comey, and those who unmasked and leaked are far more likely and unceremoniously to have legal exposure for years to come.
Being ideologically wrong rather than empirically right pays dividends in our center-left culture. An author, athlete, celebrity, or pundit knows that if he is to wade into popular politics, there is more advantage in calling Kaepernick a needed maverick or Trump evil and a traitor than in suggesting evidence points to Hillary Clinton as a deeply dishonest and corrupt official or NFL players as often multimillionaire pampered adolescents completely unaware of the hypocrisies of their own privilege.
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