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It’s Not About Facts Or Fear: What Many Liberals Get Wrong About Religious Conservatives

Nov 19, 2020

By John Stoehr

On Monday, the Times ran an article as significant as it was generally overlooked. It was a short interview with Matthew Sheffield, a key architect of the right-wing media apparatus that not only spreads “alternative facts” but maintains an “alternative reality” that millions of Americans inhabit. “I basically built the infrastructure for a lot of conservative online people and personally taught a lot of them what they know,” claims Sheffield who’s now something of an apostate. He appears to be reckoning with what he hath wrought. In an interview I encourage you to read in full, he gives a Reader’s Digest version of about 1,000 editions of my Editorial Board newsletter. It’s an impressive feat of brevity.

“Almost all right-wing support in the United States comes from a view that Christians are under attack by secular liberals. This point is so important and so little understood. Logic doesn’t matter. Fact-checking doesn’t matter. What matters is if I can use this information to show that liberals are evil. Many of them are not interested in reporting the world as it is, but rather to shape the world like they want it to be.” [Italics are mine]

Where to begin? First, perhaps, is the central role of nihilism. Everything is as good or bad as everything else, and nothing matters—unless it can be used against the enemy. Reasonable people engaging in the democratic process in good faith will always be at a disadvantage when facing people who care about nothing but power. Deferring to the authority of facts and reason is itself democracy in practice. Denying the authority of facts and reason, however, is itself something else in practice. It’s authoritarianism.

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