Distrusting the MSM
As this anti-empiricism deepened over several decades, the remaining thinking people in America came to distrust the mainstream. The initials "MSM" -- standing for "mainstream media" -- became an expression of derision and contempt, not undeserved given the MSM's repeated failure to fight for the truth.
National Democrats, too, showed little fight. When evidence of Republican misconduct was available -- as in the investigations of the early 1990s into Iran-Contra, Iraq-gate and the October Surprise case -- accommodating Democrats, such as Rep. Lee Hamilton and Sen. David Boren chose to look the other way. [See Robert Parry's America's Stolen Narrative.]
The Democrats even submitted when the Right and the Republicans overturned the electoral will of the American people, as happened in Election 2000 when George W. Bush stole the Florida election and thus the White House from Al Gore. [For details, see the book, Neck Deep.]
In the decades after the Vietnam War, the American Left also drifted into irrelevance. Indeed, it's common in some circles on the Left to observe that "America has no Left." But what was left of the Left often behaved like disgruntled fans in the bleachers booing everyone on the field, the bad guys who were doing terrible things as well as the not-so-bad guys who were doing the best they could under impossible conditions.
This post-modern United States may have reached its nadir with George W. Bush's presidency. In 2002-03, patently false claims were made about Iraq's WMD and virtually no one in a position of power had the courage to challenge the lies. Deceived by Bush and the neocons -- with the help of centrists like Colin Powell and the editors of the Washington Post -- the nation lurched off into an aggressive war of choice.
Sometimes, the Right's contempt for reality was expressed openly. When author Ron Suskind interviewed members of the Bush administration in 2004, he encountered a withering contempt for people who refused to adjust to the new faith-based world.
Citing an unnamed senior aide to George W. Bush, Suskind wrote: "The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'"
""That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"
Reality Bites Back
Despite this imperial arrogance, real reality gradually reasserted itself, both in the bloody stalemate in Iraq and in the economic crises that Bush's anti-regulatory and low-tax policies created at home. By Election 2008, the American people were awaking with a terrible hangover from a three-decade binge on anti-reality moonshine.
In that sense, the election of Barack Obama represented a potential turning point. However, the angry Right that Ronald Reagan had built -- and the corresponding crippling effects on the Center and the Left -- didn't just disappear.
The Right counter-attacked ferociously against the nation's first African-American president, even intimating violent revolution if Obama acted on his electoral mandate; Obama often behaved like one of those accommodating Democrats (in retaining much of Bush's national security team, for instance); the mainstream press remained careerist; and the Left demanded perfection regardless of the political difficulties.
This combination of dysfunction contributed to the rise of the Tea Party and the Republican congressional victories in 2010. But Election 2012, with Obama's reelection and a general rejection of Tea Party fanaticism, has created the chance of a do-over for American rationalists.
After all, the United States continues to see the consequences of three decades of right-wing delusions, including high unemployment; massive deficits; self-inflicted financial crises; a degraded middle class; poor health care for millions; a crumbling infrastructure; an overheating planet; costly foreign wars; a bloated Pentagon budget; and children massacred by troubled young men with ridiculously easy access to semi-automatic assault rifles.
Yet, if rational and pragmatic solutions are ever going to be applied to these problems, it is not just going to require that President Obama display more spine. The country is going to need its conscious inhabitants of the real world to stand up with at least the same determination as the deluded denizens of the made-up world.