Nothing to see here

Should Minnesotans believe politicians, or their own eyes?

We are living in a golden age of gaslighting. Our president tells us there is zero inflation, when in fact it is running at over eight percent. He says our southern border is secure, as millions of illegal immigrants stream across it.

The same happens here in Minnesota. Our governor tells us over 80 percent of children missed fewer than 10 days of school due to COVID shutdowns, when in fact most public schools were closed for over a year. And he claims that Minnesota has the fourth-lowest crime rate in the United States, when Minnesota — for the first time in its history — has a serious crime rate that is higher than the national average, and an overall crime rate that puts us in the bottom half of all states in terms of public safety.

Then, too, our establishment assures us that our elections are secure and cheating is rare if not impossible, even though basic measures like voter identification are absent, and a heavy reliance on mail-in voting opens the door to abuse.

Happy talk of this sort is often called gaslighting. Political figures (and sometimes journalists) tell us to ignore the evidence of our own experiences and supplant them by tossing out false “facts.” Many modern-day politicians apparently subscribe to Groucho Marx’s famous line: “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”

Can politicians really make us forget about expensive gas and groceries, high crime rates, and so on by asserting a fantasy version of reality? Our current Thinking Minnesota Poll suggests that the answer is no. Minnesotans trust their eyes.

Regardless of what our president tells us, Minnesotans know the cost of living has risen dramatically because we experience it in our own lives. Our poll indicates that large numbers of Minnesotans have had to alter spending habits because now they can’t buy things that were affordable just a short time ago. Likewise, the assertion that Minnesota is still relatively crime-free — as we generally have been throughout our history — fools no one. Homicide is running at near-record levels, and break-ins and carjackings have become a daily phenomenon. It seems, too, that local news media often join politicians in trying to downplay the crime problem.

Gaslighting can be a problem even when hardly anyone falls for it. If our government’s attitude is, “Inflation? What inflation?” Or, “Crime? What crime?” it tends to shut down debate over solutions. That, probably, is what our rulers have in mind.

But the price of a chronic lack of honesty is loss of confidence in institutions. The number of Minnesotans who express trust in our institutions is shockingly low, according to our Thinking Minnesota Poll. Government regulatory agencies, local school boards, Minnesota’s judicial system, the public health establishment, and the Metropolitan Council have more Minnesotans expressing a lack of confidence than confidence in those institutions.

And, while most Minnesotans express confidence in our state’s election systems, a substantial minority — 35 percent — say they lack such confidence.

In the current election season, we need a vigorous debate about the serious issues that blight the quality of living for citizens across the state. We need our elected officials to stop gaslighting, acknowledge the realities that Minnesotans face, and join the conversation about how we can best overcome these problems. Only then can we begin to cure what ails us.