Last month I published an essay about the importance of understanding the difference between fact and narrative, and I just want to quickly highlight a perfect illustration of this importance in a controversy arising from a recent Tulsi Gabbard tweet. The tweet reads as follows:
“Short-sighted politicians & media pundits who’ve spent last 2 years accusing Trump as a Putin puppet have brought us the expensive new Cold War & arms race. How? Because Trump now does everything he can to prove he’s not Putin’s puppet—even if it brings us closer to nuclear war.”
Now, all the facts say that Gabbard’s claim that Trump has been bringing the world closer to nuclear war with Russia is indisputably true. It is perhaps possible to dispute the notion that Trump has escalated tensions with Russia to try and “prove he’s not Putin’s puppet”; maybe an argument could be made that he’s simply reckless and violent or that he’s particularly beholden to cold war profiteers, or that despite all his rhetoric he just really, really hates Russia for some reason. But it is absolutely not disputable that Trump has greatly escalated tensions with a nuclear superpower by implementing a Nuclear Posture Review with a much more aggressive stance against Russia, withdrawing from the INF treaty, bombing and illegally occupying Syria, arming Ukraine, staging a coup in Venezuela, and many, many other hawkish actions taken against the interests of the Russian Federation which his predecessor Obama never dared to take.
— Moon of Alabama (@MoonofA) January 15, 2019
These facts are all well documented in the mainstream press and are entirely beyond dispute. The facts say that Donald Trump has escalated nuclear tensions with Russia more than any other president since the fall of the Berlin Wall. But if you go to Gabbard’s tweet and read the responses right now, you’ll find thousands and thousands of Democratic establishment loyalists calling her a liar for saying so.
“Gabbard staking out a bold ‘Trump is *too* tough on Putin’ lane in the Democratic primary,” tweeted former NSA attorney Susan Hennessey of CNN and the Brookings Institution. “As predictable as it is absurd.”
“Tulsi Gabbard’s is the only Twitter account other than Trump’s that I routinely have to check to make sure it’s actually hers, because the tweet is so absurdly ridiculous,” tweeted #Resistance pundit John Aravosis. “Now she’s defending Trump on Russia. Why is she a Democrat? And she’s actually using Kremlin talking points (nuclear war!). Unbelievable.”
“Tulsi, you aren’t the first American politician to cozy up to foreign dictators and to serve as a Putin mouthpiece,” tweeted former CIA officer Evan McMullin. “While you, Putin and Trump fear monger about nuclear war, we’ll protect our democracy and hold corrupted politicians accountable.”
Gabbard staking out a bold “Trump is *too* tough on Putin” lane in the Democratic primary. As predictable as it is absurd. https://t.co/M33rOtMiq6
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) March 17, 2019
There are many, many more, but you get the picture. The deluge of responses to Gabbard’s undeniably true statement about Trump’s dangerous escalations against a nuclear superpower are largely predicated on two assumptions: (1) that Trump has not in fact made the escalations that he has made, and (2) that the danger of nuclear war is not a real or significant thing. These are both, obviously, bat shit insane.
The primary risk of nuclear war is not that one will be planned out and deliberately started in an attempt to win, but that a warhead will be deployed amid the chaos of escalating tensions as a result of miscommunication, misunderstanding or technical failure, as nearly happened on more than one occasion during the last cold war. Once one nuclear weapon has been deployed in an already tense situation, it’s unlikely that the full arsenals of both sides won’t be unleashed upon each other. As journalist Glenn Greenwald pointed out in response to the uproar over Gabbard’s tweet, “The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ doomsday clock is at 2 minutes before midnight. By far its two greatest threats to *humanity’s existence* are climate change & US/Russia nuclear war. Yes, how crazy and treasonous to want to avoid ratcheting up tensions.”
The US and Russia are by an immensely wide margin the two biggest nuclear powers on the planet, which makes for a lot of small, unpredictable moving parts with mounting tensions steadily increasing the probability of something going catastrophically wrong. Dismissing a congresswoman’s attempt to point at this potentially world-ending risk as a “Kremlin talking point” is about the stupidest, craziest thing that a human brain could possibly come up with.
And yet here we are.
There are still more than 14,000 nuclear weapons left on the planet. Join us in reducing and eliminating nuclear threats today https://t.co/l6kBCUhnFs
— Ploughshares Fund (@plough_shares) September 4, 2018
So what’s up with that? Why is an indisputably true claim about an indisputably real danger being treated as a lie by Democratic Party loyalists, even though it attacks the same president they themselves claim to oppose?
The answer is because it doesn’t fit the narrative. A consensus has been built over the last two years that Trump is a Kremlin puppet, so the indisputable fact that his administration is endangering the life of every organism on this planet by escalating tensions with Russia looks like a lie against that backdrop. The facts say one thing, the narrative says another, and they go with the narrative. For most people, narrative takes precedence over fact.
And what’s interesting is that these same facts could have remained exactly as they are and allowed the exact opposite narrative to be constructed. If her plutocratic owners had wished it, Rachel Maddow would have spent every night over the last two years warning everyone that Donald Trump is taking dangerous actions against Russia that threaten to wipe all life off the face of the earth, and it would have worked. If Trump had continued making these escalations in our hypothetical alternate timeline while the mass media was constantly selling the “Trump’s going to get us all killed in a nuclear war with Russia” narrative, all the same blue-checkmarked Twitter pundits you see yelling at Tulsi Gabbard today would be yelling about the dangers of nuclear war in our alternate timeline.
Narrative really is that powerful. You see it in the behavior of social media users, you see it in the behavior of governments, you see it in religions, and you see it in abusive relationships which continue because of the narrative “He’s a good guy underneath it all and he really loves me” even though the facts say “He beats you and cheats on you all the time.” If you can control the stories that people tell themselves about a given situation, then you control those people on all matters pertaining to that situation. Regardless of facts.
Which is why the plutocratic class funnels so much money into buying up media influence, funding think tanks, and other means of narrative control: if you can control the narrative, no amount of facts will deter the mainstream public from going along with your agendas. This is why the behaviors of governments so consistently move in alignment with the interests of this same media-buying, think tank-funding, politician-owning plutocratic class. Whoever controls the narrative controls the world.
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