Mythbusting: Harder Than You Think

Dana Milbank

[T]he United States is experiencing the worst economy we never had. The economy is going gangbusters — historically so. Yet Americans, particularly Republicans, express a gloom not matched by economic reality — or by their own spending behaviors. Polls and consumer-confidence indices show an economic pessimism as grim as when millions lost jobs in the pandemic shutdown. This is, in large part, because disinformation has prevailed. Partisanship long colored economic views, but now Republicans, in addition to occupying a parallel political reality, are expanding an alternate economic universe.

“America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years notwithstanding the contrary media narrative contributing to dour public opinion,” Matthew Winkler, former editor in chief of Bloomberg News, wrote last week. Among the gains: The economy expanded an estimated 5.5 percent in 2021 (fourth-quarter growth dramatically outpaced Europe and even China). Unemployment plunged to 4.2 percent. Record-setting U.S. stock markets (the S&P 500 is up nearly 30 percent) outperformed the world. Productivity jumped. Corporate profits are the largest since 1950 and corporate debt the lowest in 30. Consumer credit expanded. Confidence among CEOs is the highest in 20 years. The American Rescue Plan cut child poverty in half.

“The force of the American expansion is also inducing overseas companies to invest in the U.S., betting that the growth is still accelerating and will outpace other major economies,” added the Wall Street Journal.
Yet a Gallup poll out last week found that “Americans’ confidence in the economy has dropped to where it was in April 2020, when nationwide shutdowns brought on by the covid-19 pandemic plunged the nation into a recession.”
The reason is clear. As The Post’s Philip Bump explained, Republicans in April 2020 were evenly split on whether the economy was in excellent/good condition or fair/poor. Now, despite dramatic improvements, 91 percent of Republicans say the economy is in fair/poor condition. (The Democratic shift, in the opposite direction, was smaller.)
This happened — surprise! — during Fox News’s hysterical coverage of inflation, gas prices and supply chain problems. It invoked inflation roughly twice as often as CNN and MSNBC. Now, as Bump reported, three-quarters of Republicans say prices are the most important measure of the economy’s health (only one-quarter did a year ago), eclipsing unemployment, personal finances and the stock market.

In post-truth America, the economy is just another target for fakery.

The Post also highlighted a Ted Koppel segment for CBS Sunday Morning about Mt. Airy, North Carolina, hometown of Andy Griffith, and (debatable) inspiration for his eponymous television show. Which is all fine and good…until

[T]he segment’s defining scene, on a tourist trolley: Koppel decides to “wave the political thermometer across the forehead of Mount Airy” and asks how many people there thought the 2020 presidential election was a fair one. Only two out of about a dozen people raise their hands.

“I think there was a lot of voter fraud,” one tourist says. “I think it’s more the mail-in ballots. You don’t know how much of those were duplicated, triplicated, the whole bit.”
“Look how many dead people voted for Biden,” another adds, referring to a false and debunked conspiracy theory.

The discussion continues as one person claims the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was a “staged” event with “BLM people.” (“I don’t understand why they’re focusing so much on that one issue, when there are so many cities being burned down every day by protesters.”) Others chime in to call the media the enemy of the people and profess their love for Donald Trump.

OK, and not to snipe too much at either Koppel or Milbank, but has either given a thought to the decades they spent contributing to the mythology via their platforms?

Koppel especially — television is underestimated at our peril, and the “Town Hall,” concept, which I think he claims some credit for creating, is a cartoonish gimmick.

Milbank might not have as much reach, but Mouthpiece Theater gets awarded no points (and may god have mercy on his soul) for sheer banality and co-starring Chris Cillizza.

No, neither will singlehandedly scrub away the generations of toxic buildup that resulted in the Constitutional (but NOT small “d” democratic) election of DJT in 2016 or the equally toxic and profoundly anti-democratic reaction the MAGAts have to Biden’s decisive win in 2020 (that said, and a source of hope, they lack majority support, and are forced to rely on coercive tactics like gerrymandering, voter suppression, the Electoral College, etc.).

But pandering to them for generations sure hasn’t helped.

Oh, most of them are reasonable (minus the Capitol rioters)?

Well, bless their hearts.

There were a lot of equally reasonable people who accepted (if not supported) segregation.

Bless their hearts, too.

By which I mean, fuck ’em.

As for Koppel, Milbank, et al, congratulations.

Thanks to your service, and regardless of what you might add in rebuttal, a large segment of the electorate not only won’t be persuaded by reason, but rejects popular sovereignty without a whole lot of consideration.

Well done.