Dishonesty? Or Cognitive Decline?

  • About Katie Britt’s response to Joe Biden’s SOTU speech, from Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, The New Republic, Heather Cox Richardson, Saturday Night Live, and Paul Krugman;
  • Trump’s cognitive decline, and how ‘polarization’ in the US is due to GOP’s radicalization;
  • And my speculations about why all of this is happening now, and science fiction’s ideas about variable intelligence.

Much in the news this past week is the GOP response to Joe Biden’s SOTU speech, delivered by an Alabama senator named Katie Britt. The first odd thing about her speech, and revealing the thoughtless sexism of the Republican party, is that, since Katie Britt is a woman, she delivered her speech from *her kitchen.* Because that’s, ya know, where women are the most comfortable. And because, as Tommy Tuberville said, she spoke as a *housewife*, which is much more important than being a senator.

The second odd thing about her speech was the weird, creepy, anxiety-ridden tone of her speech. She *so* wanted to sound sincere and *deeply concerned* about how Joe Biden is ruining America. She sounded histrionic instead. Even many Republicans panned the result.

The worst thing about her speech is that she described an incident of sex trafficking that she *implied* — because of the context of her speech — was due to Biden’s border policies. When it was revealed that the incident happened 20 years ago, under George W. Bush’s presidency, she doubled down and insisted her story was accurate.

At the very least, she was dishonest. And Republicans don’t seem to care.

Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 9 Mar 2024: Biden said Republicans oppose women’s rights — Katie Britt’s “tradwife” response proved him right, subtitled “The ‘pro-life’ lie gives way to GOP leaders denouncing women’s suffrage and attacking birth control”

(This was before details of her sex trafficking story emerged.)

Politicians love to talk about their families, but in her Thursday night response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech, Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala. went even further, portraying her powerful position as little more than the hobby of a housewife. While allowing that it’s an “honor” to be a senator, Britt argued, “that’s not the job that matters most.” Instead, she said her real job is to be “a proud wife and mom of two school-aged kids.”


AlterNet, Jake Johnson/Common Dreams, 9 Mar 2024: ‘Handmaid’s Tale coming to life’: Katie Britt’s SOTU response sparks alarm

Republican Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama delivered her party’s official response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union on Thursday night and offered viewers a horrifying glimpse of the far-right Christian nationalism now embedded in the GOP, which has succumbed fully to Donald Trump’s fascist vision for the country.

Speaking in hushed tones and intermittently flashing a menacing smile, Britt—the former CEO of an Alabama corporate lobbying organization and the wife of a lobbyist—said from the comfort of her posh kitchen inside her 6,000-square-foot mansion that she understands and sympathizes with “what real families are facing.”


The New Republic, 8 Mar 2024: Tuberville Tried to Defend That SOTU Response. It Did Not Go to Plan., subtitled “Tommy Tuberville says “housewife” Katie Britt did quite well during that State of the Union rebuttal. (She’s also a senator, by the way.)”


Then the details of the sex-trafficking story came out.

Heather Cox Richardson: March 10, 2024

The Republicans’ rebuttal to the State of the Union on Thursday stayed in the news throughout the weekend. On Friday, independent journalist Jonathan Katz figured out that a key story in it was false. Senator Katie Britt (R-AL) described a twelve-year-old child sex trafficked by Mexican cartel members, implying that the young girl was trafficked because of President Joe Biden’s border policies.

Katz tracked down the facts. Britt was describing the life of Karla Jacinto, who was indeed trafficked as a child, but not in the present and not in the U.S. and not by cartels. She was trafficked from 2004 to 2008—during the George W. Bush administration—in Mexico, at the hands of a pimp who entrapped vulnerable girls. Jacinto has become an advocate for child victims and has told her story before Congress, and she met Britt at an event for government officials and anti-trafficking advocates.

Britt’s dramatic delivery of the rebuttal had already invited parody and concern about the religious themes she demonstrated. The news that a central image in it was a lie just made things worse. “Everyone’s f*cking losing it,” a Republican strategist told The New Republic’s Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling. “It’s one of our biggest disasters ever.”


Also, her daughter saw Jesus in a Tornado!


And Saturday Night Live made fun of her, via Scarlett Johanssen

(begins 2:30 in)


Meanwhile, the victim of that sex-trafficking incident calls Katie Britt out.

CNN: 11 Mar 2024: Sex trafficking victim says Sen. Katie Britt telling her story during SOTU rebuttal is ‘not fair’


And this afternoon, Paul Krugman sums up.

NY Times, Paul Krugman, 11 Mar 2024: Sex Trafficking, De Facto Lies and Immigration

On Thursday, Katie Britt, the junior senator from Alabama, delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union address. Her overwrought performance has been widely mocked; that’s OK for late-night TV, but I’m not going to join in that chorus.

What I want to do instead is focus on the centerpiece of Britt’s remarks, a deeply misleading story about sex trafficking that she used to attack President Biden. Her use of the story — which turns out to have involved events in Mexico way back when George W. Bush was president — wasn’t technically a lie, since she didn’t explicitly say that it happened in the United States on Biden’s watch. She did, however, say: “We wouldn’t be OK with this happening in a third-world country. This is the United States of America, and it’s past time we start acting like it. President Biden’s border crisis is a disgrace.”

That’s a clear attempt to mislead — the moral equivalent of a lie — and the careful wording actually suggests that she knew she was being misleading, and wanted an escape hatch if someone called her bluff.

To really understand the significance of her de facto lie, however, we need to put it in political context.

He goes on about political implications.

Yes, figuring out how best to secure our borders is a real issue, but the data just doesn’t show that there’s a crisis of migrant crime. Indeed, homicides in America surged in 2020 — a year in which Trump was still president and apprehensions at the southern border were way down. By contrast, in the past couple of years, the homicide rate has come down even as border activity has increased.

So what do you do when the numbers don’t support your dystopian fantasies? You zero in on the most horrific individual stories.

Once again, anecdotes don’t prove anything. You can always find an anecdote to demonstrate whatever position you want to take.


But you can’t claim big picture changes without wondering why these changes would be happening now. My provisional conclusion: social media has not only allowed people with various viewpoints to find people who think like themselves, and so settle into silos, aligning with their tribes; it’s gradually moved people to align with one extreme or another. (That *is* polarization, which then enables radicalization.) To put it another way: there was always the cliche about some crazy uncle, or the town eccentric, who believed everything was fake, or a plot, or a conspiracy theory. But until the past couple decades, their influence was diluted by the majority of reasonable people. Now, via social media, those eccentrics have all found each other and drifted into…. the Republican Party. And there are more of them than we thought.

There are, of course, science fictional examples that have anticipated all this. The idea of a Trump-like dictator showed up in Octavia Butler’s 1993 novel Parable of the Sower, and there’s a long history of science-fictional dystopias, like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, that are increasingly cited as anticipations of our current state.

More interesting to me is this idea of a mass cognitive decline. Humans are smart in very limited ways, as all the nonfiction books I’ve been reading explain. What would happen if human intelligence abruptly expanded? That was the premise of Poul Anderson’s 1954 novel Brain Wave, which I reviewed in great detail at Black Gate, in July 2020, here. And I’m sure there are other science fiction stories that speculative on levels of intelligence — well, the most famous one is Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, in which a dimwitted man becomes a genius.


And is this where we find cognitive decline?

I’m beginning to wonder if the state of American politics isn’t due to some issue of cognitive decline, on a mass scale. First, let’s note this: one example. OK, an anecdote, but one about a very significant person.

The New Republic, 11 March 2024: Cognitive Decline? Trump Goes on Incomprehensible Rant About TikTok, subtitled “The Republican Party’s front-runner, everyone.”

And his fans don’t care. This piece takes a big picture view:

Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, 10 Mar 2024: Opinion | Forget ‘polarization.’ It’s the GOP’s radicalization.

The notion that the United States is “polarized” into two conflicting, equally stubborn and extreme camps infects much of the mainstream news coverage and everyday chatter about politics. Washington is “broken.” “Gridlock” is a problem. “No one goes out to dinner with someone on the other side.” Such mealy-mouthed language masks a stark dichotomy: Democrats have to move to the center to get bipartisan support; Republicans have become radicalized and unmovable.

This is not “polarization.” It is the authoritarian capture of much of the GOP by a right-wing movement bent on sowing chaos. Turkey, Hungary and other countries with autocratic strongmen are not polarized; democratic forces try their best to prevent their country’s ruin and collapse into total dictatorship. Our political scene, sadly, has come to resemble the global authoritarian assault on democracy.

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