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The GOP’s willing suspension of belief

Lee A. Daniels

Two recent reports on very different topics in last week’s New York Times tell us a great deal about the terrible state of today’s Republican Party — if we factor in the psychological device that makes watching movies and television and reading fiction as well as science fiction so enjoyable.

One news story examines the research that scientists from the U.S. and other countries are conducting on the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. The other describes the recent appearance of some new conservative political action committees, or PACs, whose apparent primary goal is really only to enrich those who run them. Critics call them “scam PACs.”

The device that unites these stories relevant to considering the GOP is human beings’ willingness to suspend disbelief. Usually, that phrase refers only to the offerings of the entertainment industry — to accepting things in the film comedy or drama or novels that we well know in real life would range from unlikely to impossible because we just want to enjoy ourselves.

But the Republican Party has been reminding us for the last seven years that a willing suspension of disbelief can, in real life, be a political weapon with very negative consequences — as illustrated by these newspaper articles.

The headline of the article on the massive island of Greenland, located largely above the Artic Circle with 80 percent of its surface covered in ice for eons, fundamentally tells the tale. “Greenland is melting away,” it declares. Scientists are documenting that the island’s ice sheet is losing billions of tons of ice per year because of global warming. The resulting release of water into the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans over the next several decades will by the end of the century help raise sea levels around the world, flooding coastal regions and cities “from New York to Bangladesh.”

But the GOP prefers its own conclusion and that of the fossil fuels industry that climate change is a fiction cooked up by the worldwide scientific community and the Democratic Party. So Republicans in Congress are trying to gut federal aid for research on the topic.

Advocates of progressive policies likely will feel a chickens-coming-home-to-roost quality about the rise of the “scam PACs.” They operate by twisting conservative voters’ anger that the GOP establishment stoked against President Obama and progressive issues into an indictment of the GOP leadership’s failure to produce the “total victory” against them as it had promised. Their e-mails to conservative voters — which deride the GOP leadership as RINOs (Republican in Name Only) — contain online petitions calling for action of some sort or other that supposedly furthers conservative movement goals, and an appeal for donations to the PAC.

But what the appeals don’t say, according to the Times, is that the donations’ “ultimate beneficiaries, records suggest, are the consultants who created the campaigns rather than the causes they are promoting.” It appears that, generally speaking, less than 10 percent of the millions of dollars these PACs raise go to the politicians or the causes they claim to support.

The GOP’s head-in-the-sand approach to the necessity of slowing the world’s global warming — driven partly by the creationist beliefs of its heavily evangelical voting base and by its being the party of the fossil fuels industry — is of a piece with what makes some significant number of GOP voters susceptible to the three-card-monte schemes of those running the new conservative scam PACs.

Both are partly a manifestation of a willing suspension of disbelief: On the one hand, the willingness to disbelieve the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence about the climactic danger facing humanity. And, on the other, the willingness to disbelieve that they could not and would not out-maneuver the man who rose to become the first black President of the United States.

The GOP leadership’s own willing suspension of disbelief is why, as recent polls show, conservative voters as well as the reactionaries they’ve sent to Congress are furious with them, and why Donald Trump and Ben Carson — who, having not a shred of loyalty at all to the Republican Party, are the real RINOs — are atop the polls of Republican voters. It’s because Trump and Carson have promised they really will institute that longtime goal of the conservative movement: white conservative rule.

That that fantasy still fuels the conservative imagination also indicates how desperately the GOP remains a prisoner of a willing suspension of disbelief.

Lee A. Daniels’ new collection of columns, “Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014,” is available at www.amazon.com.