by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The controversy stemmed from a photo of immigrant children lying in a cage. After left-leaning activists expressed their outrage, the truth emerged that the photo dated from 2014, during Barack Obama’s administration.
Yes, I know that much of the nation is in the grips of Trump Derangement Syndrome, but does that fully explain the gullibility on display here? After all, while some of the images and stories were shared by activist hacks, some of those who jumped on the outrage train were smart and careful people who ordinarily know better.
This is what happens when narrative trumps truth: Even responsible people are primed to believe lies. We see this all the time in the wars over our current president. We’re forgetting, however, the extent to which narrative still trumps the truth about the Obama administration. This is particularly true when the dominant narrative serves both sides of our ideological divide.
Let’s take immigration, for example. Much of the Left and the Right are invested in the notion that American policy and practice took a sharp and dramatic turn (from good to evil in the progressive mind, from feckless to responsible in the GOP mind) when Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016. And, yes, there have been changes, but those changes are exaggerated by both sides.
Take, for example, the shock and outrage at Trump’s first so-called travel ban. When he “slammed the door” on Syrian refugees, liberals said the Statue of Liberty wept. They said it was a betrayal of American values, and a dramatic reversal of the Obama administration’s longstanding openness and compassion.
They were wrong. The vast majority of Americans has absolutely no idea that the “compassionate” Obama administration admitted less than 2,000 Syrian refugees in the first five years of the Syrian Civil War. Millions of men, women, and children were fleeing their homes, and the U.S. opened its doors to almost none of them. It was only in the last year of Obama’s two-term presidency that the number substantially increased, and even then the 13,000 refugees admitted represented an insignificant contribution to efforts to ease the crisis.
Time and again, the black/white, good/evil categorization of Obama’s and Trump’s policies fades away into matters of degree.