How Gullible Are We?

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Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) recently drew a large, standing-room only crowd at Austin’s popular SXSW Festival. By most accounts, Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks were met with rapt attention and thunderous applause. Yet, as Karl Rove detailed in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, what she had to say was reminiscent of  the predictable, doctrinaire rants that you’d find in the Communist Party USA’s Daily Worker 60 years ago.  For example:

The effort to divide race and class has always been a tool of the powerful to prevent everyday working people from taking control of the government. . . . [America’s leaders also helped] racial resentment to become legitimized as a political tool.

Ironically, this assertion is most applicable in recent times to the Democratic Party under President Barack Obama, though Ocasio-Cortez’s comment clearly wasn’t intended to implicate him. (It was followed by the usual name-calling directed at toward President Trump.) Yet the audience apparently missed the irony, because it does not comport with their worldview.

Ocasio-Cortez went on to make several factually inaccurate claims. According to Rove:

But so was President Reagan [a racist], who in 1976 criticized a Chicago woman for bilking the welfare system for $150,000 a year. That attack was “rooted in racism,” according to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, even though the woman in question was white.

. . . the New Deal “allowed white Americans to have access to home loans that black and brown Americans did not have access to.” By doing so, it “accelerated . . . a really horrific racial wealth gap that persists today.” Yet studies show that FDR’s Home Owners’ Loan Corp. did not discriminate against African-Americans, and the gap between black and white homeownership remained around 20% from 1900 to 1990, though ownership levels increased for both groups.

Having no clue about the inaccuracies, the conference audience reveled in her words.

Confirmation bias—that is, the willingness of people to accept without question dubious or false assertions that fit their prejudices—is a phenomenon with a long and bipartisan history, but it has been especially intense since President Trump took office. He is indisputably a focus of fanatical dislike from some quarters, but confirmation bias is also, we believe, the culmination of the transition from education to indoctrination that pervades our school systems.

One needs only to talk to employers of the Millennial generation to understand the self-absorption and lack of insight they embody. Whether it is the law firm that finds its new associates unwilling to work for clients they dislike, or the inability of many recent graduates to write a properly constructed sentence, the misappropriation of our educational system is evident.

It was not long ago that kids went to college to improve their analytical, observational, and organizational skills. Even in the humanities, the focus was to study classic works, critical historical periods and events, and psychology (among other subjects), with the goal of understanding the underlying messages, patterns, and implications. The choice of material was driven by this educational purpose, rather than deference to trendiness or political correctness. Institutions of higher learning existed primarily to transcend secondary education’s tendency to emphasize memorization and mechanical learning.

Relatively new majors such as gender and ethnic studies were created to address perceived social injustices. While it might be possible to bring rigor to these “woke” subjects, more often than not real learning takes a back seat to activism, victimization, and “empowerment.” Greater emotional commitment to causes have become a primary goal.

At the same time, the skills of debating and viewing all sides of a polemical subject are on the wane. Instead, there is now  a “right” view and a “wrong” one, an ethic reinforced overwhelmingly by liberal faculties that have consolidated control over colleges and universities. And for the generation that received trophies merely for participation (to avoid the recognition that individuals’ abilities are unequal), campuses became inundated with safe spaces, crying booths, trigger warnings, constant validation, and other manifestations of intellectual coddling. This spoof of a twentysomething interviewing for a job captures the result perfectly.

To make matters worse, young people’s’ sensitivity to uncomfortable or dissonant ideas have made them more susceptible to the peer pressure inherent in social media, which has few restrictions or boundaries. Deviation brings swift retribution. The mob is far more influential than rational analysis or inconvenient facts.

As this generation has moved beyond their college years, it has become the most exploitable segment of today’s electorate. They gravitate toward celebrity politicians, “woke” policy prescriptions, and fawning devotion to idealistic wishful thinking.

Social media has grossly amplified the influence of this generation, as evidenced by fear in establishment politicians no matter their party affiliation. That fear has overwhelmed the sense of responsibility of many in political power to make decisions based on data, rational analysis, and what is best for the nation in the long run. Too often, it seems that pandering is the best strategy to retaining or attaining power.

The eponymous character in the Hans Christian Andersen fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” who was ignorant of the fact that he wore no clothes, reminds us of the advocates of the Green New Deal. As anybody who is not self-deluded can see: the United States cannot ameliorate global climate change unilaterally, by “setting an example” for the world; our economy would implode without fossil fuel energy; safe, inexpensive, and clean nuclear power is well within technological abilities; and the rewards of capitalism are the foundation of our country’s current prosperity.

It is time to acknowledge that although Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the media’s and liberals’ flavor of the month, she is as intellectually naked as the emperor of the fable.

Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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About Andrew I. Fillat and Henry I. Miller

Andrew I. Fillat spent his career in technology venture capital and information technology companies. He is also the co-inventor of relational databases. Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a Senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He was the founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology. They were undergraduates together at M.I.T.