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Two Americas, Two Different Movies

This July 1, 2016 photo shows a jail cell inside the decades-old Crook County Jail in Prineville, Ore. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

Scott Adams had a brilliant insight a few years ago. He wrote about the “two movie” phenomenon, in which Americans are looking at the same screen of reality but seeing two very different movies play on that screen. 

I have been saying since Trump’s election that the world has split into two realities – or as I prefer to say, two movies on one screen – and most of us don’t realize it. We’re all looking at the same events and interpreting them wildly differently. That’s how cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias work. They work together to create a spontaneous hallucination that gets reinforced over time. That hallucination becomes your reality until something changes.

This phenomenon has nothing to do with natural intelligence. We like to think that the people on the other side of the political debate are dumb, under-informed, or just plain evil. That’s not the case. We’re actually experiencing different realities. I mean that literally.

This seems crazy, but look at the last few years—and the last few days. On one side, Trump colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election. On the other side, Russia wanted Hillary to win and the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign in an unprecedented and dangerous effort to prevent his election and then undermine his administration. 

Only one of those realities is actually real—the second one. Here’s another one:

To many on the left including all of the Democratic presidential candidates, Stacey Abrams is the rightful governor of Georgia despite the empirical fact that she lost that election by about 50,000 votes. To everyone else, she lost fair and square and should accept that. 

Coronavirus Movie

Here’s one more. I have left, right, and middle, journalists and non-journalists, in my social media timelines. Almost without exception, the people on the left and the journalists are describing a movie in which coronavirus infection rates and death rates are always out of control and getting worse. If you’re not in a panic, they will passive-aggressively accuse you of believing the virus is a “joke” or even a “hoax.” In this movie, the 38.6 million Americans unemployed by the lockdown never get mentioned at all.

The journalists appear to be unaware that if business collapses, so do their advertisers, and their subscribers can no longer afford them. The bell will toll for them soon enough. 

And most of them appear to be allergic to reporting about the scandalous nursing home death rates. They’re both watching and creating a movie at the same time.

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In the other movie, people are concerned about the virus (a friend of mine just recovered from it) but they are also fed up with being locked down and they either want to get back to work to feed their families, or they’re worried that the lockdown will eventually take their job away too, and collapse our entire economy. It looks like two entirely different countries, but it’s not. It’s the two movies phenomenon at work again. 

At this point, claims on Stacey Abrams’ behalf are no more nor less than virtue signaling. It’s very unlikely that Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., ever did a deep dive into voting patterns in Georgia and has decided, for himself and based on real evidence, that Abrams actually won.

It’s also very unlikely that any media actually see Abrams as a potential supermodel, yet the Washington Post recently wrote that she is, despite Abrams being very much heavier than her ideal weight. Praising her as the rightful governor and such is virtue signaling to the part of the country that’s watching the movie in which she’s Georgia’s rightful governor, and in which Russia helped Trump steal 2016. 

It’s also dishonest, which raises a question no one has yet addressed: Is it possible to signal virtue while simultaneously lying about facts? 

Lockdown Illogic

Keeping the two movies idea in mind, the lockdowns to prevent the spread of coronavirus were at least justifiable (whether they were wise and effective are other questions) in the early days. Two, maybe three weeks. We had to keep apart to keep the virus from moving too fast for our medical system to keep up. We were told we would have to shut down for 15 days or so to “flatten the curve.”

The first place the lockdown authoritarians went wrong was to take this new inch of power and turn it into mile after mile. Two weeks have stretched into months. And they took those miles in arbitrary and very questionable directions. They claimed they were acting “if it saves one life,” and then taking actions that potentially endangered many lives without acknowledging the balance they had to strike.

But most Americans were willing to cut them some slack, as we were all dealing with a new phenomenon that those now-notorious models said would grow exponentially and overwhelm our healthcare system. We would give up much, for a short time, to save lives. 

Side question: Are the models still scientific, or are they now scientism? 

The event that tipped me into opposing the lockdown for good was the freeing of convicts from jail in the name of containing the coronavirus. This decision made no sense. It could not be justified by lockdown logic but it obviously pandered to one of the left’s core ideas — that incarceration is almost always unjustified and is almost always the result of cultural biases rooted in racism. That society is to blame for the individual criminal’s actions. 

It was always Democrat officials emptying the jails. Always. And the same journalists who continue spreading panic about very small infection numbers never questioned why officials were springing open the jails. 

Officials like Harris County, Texas, Judge Lina Hidalgo argued that the inmates must be freed to protect them from potential outbreaks within the jails. But there were no known outbreaks in jails at the time. Testing for the virus was not widely available, and was concentrated on those who had symptoms.

If there were any cases in the jails, these Democrat officials had just unleashed an unknown number of coronavirus carriers onto the rest of us. This would move potential carriers from where they could be monitored to where they cannot be monitored, and out moving among the wider population. 

In the name of protecting inmates, some of them repeat offenders and some of them violent, officials had recklessly endangered everyone else. 

Lockdown Nonsense

It made no sense at all from an epidemiological perspective, but it made total sense from a left-wing political perspective. Given the one opportunity they’re likely to ever have to virtue signal to each other in this extremely public way, they acted. They obviously acted in bad faith, almost daring anyone to oppose them. 

Within days of releasing thousands of inmates, Democrat officials also threatened to jail Americans who defied shutdown and lockdown orders which were questionable from a constitutional point of view. We didn’t surrender our freedoms indefinitely to contain this virus.

The crackdown started in trickles, a ticket for a father in a park with his kid and that sort of thing, but soon grew into actually sending people to jail. These threats are still in place, though strong blowback and protests have made officials far less likely to carry them out. But they are deploying the machines of state to shut down defiant business owners, as in the Michigan barber and the New Jersey gym owner. Democrats govern both states. 

This sequence of decisions broke the logic of the lockdown for good. It could not be justified as anything other than injecting politics into the fight against the virus. It split the country’s view of the lockdowns, probably for good, at a time unity would be useful.

Freeing convicts was a massive and overt form of virtue signaling by people who are watching a certain movie up on the screen. We’re not all watching that same movie. The officials who did it knew what they were doing and why. In their own way, they were Pete Buttigieg standing on a stage claiming Stacey Abrams is the rightful governor of Georgia, when he knows (or at one time knew) that it isn’t actually true.

Delusional and Dangerous

Freeing convicts endangered the public in multiple ways. It unleashed known criminals who may not be reformed into the wilds. And it may have unleashed coronavirus carriers too. Jailing people who want to work endangers them and their families. On one hand the emptying of the jails is reminiscent of Saddam Hussein emptying the jails to unleash havoc on his own people and American troops at the beginning of the 2003 Iraq war.

On the other hand, jailing otherwise law-abiding people who defy lockdowns looks uncomfortably—like the North Korean policy of punishing dissenters by imprisoning or ostracizing their families. Neither is as extreme as the examples I’ve used, but they’re trending in the wrong direction from a civil peace and civil liberties point of view. 

None of this should ever be acceptable in America. 

Somewhere along the way, the majority of the media and the entire Democratic Party lost the concept of moral authority. Without morality, what is authority based upon? It slips away from authority to become authoritarian, not based on right or justice but mere possession and accumulation of power. 

People see it, and while they are still free to resist it, they will. 

Is it possible to virtue signal while not being virtuous? Can “greater truths” be served by obvious lies? I’d say no, but that’s my reality. That’s the movie I’m watching. 

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Bryan Preston is the author of Hubble’s Revelations: The Amazing Time Machine and Its Most Important Discoveries. He’s a writer, producer, veteran, author, Texan, and conservative strategist.