As anyone who had the misfortune of wading through the disgusting pool of homophobic misinformation being promoted by right-wing politicians and media regarding the in-home attack on Paul Pelosi, the elderly husband of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, knows by now, we cannot afford to keep up the “both sides” narrative when it comes to misinformation.
On one side of the political aisle, we have thoughtful responses to violent attacks on politicians and their families. In 2017, when a man opened fire during Congress members’ baseball practice, shooting Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi had this to say: “This morning, the U.S. Congress suffered a despicable and cowardly attack. My thoughts and prayers are with Whip Steve Scalise and the others wounded, Capitol Police and staff, and their families. We are profoundly grateful for the heroism of the Capitol Police, whose bravery under fire undoubtedly saved countless lives. On days like today, there are no Democrats or Republicans, only Americans united in our hopes and prayers for the wounded.”
In stark contrast, when a man who was known to have been “completely caught up in the MAGA fantasy” and obsessed with the dark web of far-right disinformation and outlandish Qanon conspiracy theories he’d found online over the past few years broke into Pelosi’s home and bashed her 82-year-old husband over the head with a hammer while asking for the Speaker of the House, many on the right were quick to come to the defense of a suspect police have said had other targets and was “on a suicide mission.” Right-winger Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a conservative youth organization, called on “amazing patriots” to bail Paul Pelosi’s attacker out of jail.
The disinformation and smears coming from those on the far right have reached epic proportions since the 2016 election of Donald Trump to our nation’s highest political position and the promotion of such conspiracies online and in far-right media outlets.
As Carl Cameron, a former Fox News correspondent, recently told the Washington Post, right-wing “merchants of misinformation” are pulling the wool over millions of Americans’ eyes and “creating a dystopia wherein lying and physical violence become part of our politics.”
Much of this misinformation is being recycled by right-wing political candidates, including, locally, Joe Kent, the Republican candidate running against a Washougal small business owner (Democratic candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez) for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.
During an Oct. 15 League of Women Voters debate between Kent and Perez, misinformation was rampant from Kent’s side. For instance, Kent claimed that not only were migrants crossing our nation’s southern border smuggling in massive amounts of the synthetic opioid known as fentanyl, but also that the drug is the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 15 and 50. Neither of these statements are even close to being true.
“Social media users, including some Republican elected officials, have claimed online in recent days that fentanyl … is the No. 1 killer of adults in the U.S.,” the Associated Press reported in August 2022, but the claims are false. “ Fentanyl overdose deaths, while high, are not the leading cause of deaths among all adults in the U.S., experts say. Heart disease and cancer kill more people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
What’s more, as Arizona media reported this week, “most fentanyl is smuggled by U.S. citizens, not migrants, and seized at legal ports of entry.”
According to the Cato Institute, the right’s misinformation is working its magic on voters, with 60% of Republicans and 39% of Americans now believing a lie: that the majority of fentanyl coming into the U.S. is being smuggled in by unauthorized migrants. Instead, the Institute points out in a Sept. 14 article, more than 86% of the people convicted of fentanyl smuggling in the U.S. in 2021, were actually U.S. citizens, not undocumented immigrants, and “over 90 percent of fentanyl seizures occur at legal crossing points or interior vehicle checkpoints, not on illegal migration routes, so U.S. citizens (who are subject to less scrutiny) when crossing legally are the best smugglers.”
And fentanyl wasn’t the only issue showing how much Kent has bought into the right-wing’s misinformation campaigns.
The Republican candidate blamed Democratic politicians — calling out President Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and even former President Barack Obama several times during the Oct. 15 debate — for rising crime and claimed Democrats were going to come for everyone’s guns and prevent people from being able to protect themselves during such a crime-ridden time period.
Trying to scare voters about rising violent crime — especially in urban areas — is an age-old Republican tactic. Fortunately, it’s just that: a tactic. When you actually investigate crime rates, you see that the murder rate in our country skyrocketed during Trump’s tenure, rising 30% between 2019 and 2020, “the largest single-year increase in more than a century,” according to the Pew Research Center. Even more disturbing: a Southern Poverty Law Center report warned in 2020, that far-right, white nationalist hate groups grew by 50% and anti-LGBTQ groups grew by 43% during Trump’s time in office.
Additionally, research studies have proven over and over and over again that our nation’s loose or totally nonexistent gun restrictions have not kept us safe. As Scientific American pointed out in 2017, “The claim that gun ownership stops crime is common in the U.S., and that belief drives laws that make it easy to own and keep firearms. But about 30 careful studies show more guns are linked to more crimes: murders, rapes, and others. Far less research shows that guns help.
Kent liked to bring up Biden, Obama and Pelosi during his debate with Perez, and knock the Democratic leaders’ handling of the U.S. economy. And while we all recognize the fact that prices on everything from gasoline to produce have skyrocketed during the second half of 2022, it is misleading to simply place blame on one political party. The fact remains that the U.S. economy grew 5.7% under Biden last year — the best growth in nearly four decades – and created more than 6.5 million new jobs. Unemployment fell from a high of nearly 15% during the pandemic to under 4% in December 2021. And while we had a bit of an economic slump earlier this year, the U.S. economy actually grew at a rate of 2.6% in the third quarter, reversing that six-month “slump,” as the Washington Post recently reported. When it comes to inflation, we have to look at what’s happening worldwide because the U.S. is far from the only nation experiencing high inflation right now. The global average for inflation in 2022 is at 8.8%, with 95 countries “from the developed and the developing world projected to see inflation above 5 percent but below 10 percent,” according to a Statista report published Oct. 20, which also noted that the International Monetary Fund revised its worldwide inflation estimates upwards after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
“This shows that even before the war in Ukraine disrupted global energy and food supplies, inflation projections had already been quite high as supply chains overstretched by restocking needs after the end of major COVID-19 lockdowns had already caused inflation to rise to levels not seen since the aftermath of the Great Recession,” the report noted.
Corporate greed is likely another factor influencing the higher-than-normal costs we’re experiencing right now. As CBS News recently pointed out, many of our nation’s largest companies are experiencing their most profitable year since the 1950s.
“When corporate profits are at their highest levels in nearly 50 years and companies are showering their shareholders with billions in new benefits over the last year, it raises serious questions whether industries like retail have had to hike prices on families to such excessive degrees,” Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig told CBS MoneyWatch.
Blaming Biden and the rest of the Democratic Party’s leaders for worldwide inflation caused by supply chain issues after a hopefully once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, corporate greed, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, labor shortages and strong consumer demand shows Kent either doesn’t understand how our economy works, is just parroting yet another Republican talking point or is spreading misinformation. Is that who people living in the 3rd District really want to elect to one of the highest public positions in the nation?
We could debunk more of Kent’s claims during the Oct. 15 debate — for instance, requiring firefighters to get a COVID-19 vaccine in order to prevent a disease that was the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths of firefighters and police during the pandemic, does not mean we will have trouble fighting climate-change-driven wildfires — but, instead, we simply ask 3rd District voters here in Washington to take Kent’s claims with a grain (or maybe a shaker) of salt before casting a vote for our next Congressional representative.