During the hot-headed days following the shooting of young black man Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white police officer named Darren Wilson, a story emerged from the Left: Brown had surrendered to Wilson, held his hands up, and said “don’t shoot” – and Wilson then gunned down Brown. This story took hold on the Left, setting the media ablaze, and leading to mainstream figures holding up their hands in the famed “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” pose.
Congresspeople did it:
Congressional staffers did it:
Members of the media did it:
Professional athletes did it:
There was just one problem: it never happened. Witness testimony debunked it. Forensic evidence debunked it. It simply didn’t occur.
So the Left fell back on a tried and true strategy: they claimed that while the facts weren’t true, the narrative was. It was more important for Americans to think that cops went around shooting surrendering black folks than that they be told the truth about Brown and Wilson. Instead of supporting their broader contention with actual facts – which they couldn’t do anyway – they kept pushing a known falsehood.
The Right protested. People like me said often and loudly that if a narrative couldn’t be bolstered by facts, perhaps the narrative was just wrong. Furthermore, if we couldn’t have an argument based on the same set of facts, there was no argument to be had: we can’t just stand around all day shouting slogans at one another without providing underlying facts to buttress those slogans.
We know the Left does this routinely: they lie about facts in order to bolster narratives they couldn’t otherwise defend.
Yet now, the Right seems to be falling prey to the same phenomenon.
Trump says factually untrue things. A lot. And then the Right defends him for saying factually untrue things because we like the narrative we wish he were promulgating, instead of defending true narratives on factual grounds.
Sure, we hear, President Trump doesn’t have the facts to back the fact that Obama purposefully surveilled him and his team. But the narrative – that he was victimized by the Obama apparatus through leaks – is true! Well yes, it is true that Obama intelligence staffers must have leaked information illegally to the press – but that’s a narrative backed by facts, and also a separate narrative than the one Trump pushed with his evidence-free wiretapping allegations. The narrative that Obama had his intelligence community monitor Trump team communications specifically, has no evidence to support it. Therefore, we must assume it’s not true until such time as evidence is revealed to prove it true.
But the opposite seems to be taking place. Every time Trump promulgates an evidence-free narrative, Trump and his most ardent fans on the Right say, “Well, the narrative is true – and eventually the facts will be too! And if they aren’t, so what? At least what he’s saying is generally true!”
This is dishonest. It’s not just dishonest, it’s anti-conservative.
It’s anti-conservative because in a battle between facts and narrative, facts must win. Otherwise, we’re just in a fight between unsupportable narratives – and in that fight, the only thing that matters is power. If you have power, you can successfully push an unsupportable narrative. You can push a big lie. If you don’t, you can’t. So if you want your fact-free narrative to succeed and survive, you must maintain power.
Might makes right.
This is the opposite of conservative philosophy, which holds that might not only doesn’t make right, might must be checked and balanced to prevent it from squashing right under its heavy heel. We must all call for narratives to be backed by facts, particularly when the person pushing the narrative has power. We must have higher standards for truth when the person occupying the Oval Office has none. That’s why the Founders thought that small government was the only solution to the tendency of politicians to lie, cheat, and steal: might could not be allowed, lest it murder right.
We’re complicit in a might-makes-right universe when we intentionally obfuscate truth in pursuit of defending a narrative. Trump is not right when he says untrue things. He is wrong. And his narrative, if it is right, cannot be supported by reference to the untrue things he says. If you have facts to back a true narrative, bring those facts – but don’t twist the non-facts he pushes in order to defend his narrative, or a narrative you wish he were promoting. Otherwise you’re merely complicit in kowtowing to power because you think power can help you push your agenda – and that calls for more centralization of power in the hands of the guy you think is on your side, not less power generally handed over to a centralized source.