Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date

Fall 10-5-2012

Conference or Event

Western Political Science Association


African American Studies


Early in 2011, a colleague asked, “When did we start just making shit up?” By “we,” she meant Americans but also, more specifically, those involved in politics—directly or as in­terested parties.

We an­swer her question variously in this paper.[1] But our overarching answer is that poli­ti­cos started flatly concocting misin­for­ma­tion when our propaganda polity mutated into a pseudocracy.

We wend our way to that answer as follows. After reviewing an­swers we deem insuffi­cient, we provide two sorts of tentative, rough an­swers. Our first answer is that the stretch­ing of what counts as an untruth combined with the lengthening of political con jobs yielded “pseu­do­cracy,” a sys­tem in which falsehoods proliferate, both absolutely and as rela­tive to de­finable, defensible truth and honesty. Our second sort of answer is that be­fore “we” started just making shit up, propagandists in general and mass media, mass marketing, and mass elec­tion­eer­ing in particular started from and adhered to verifiable or at least plausible ren­derings of reality as much and as well as they could. Through the lat­­ter parts of the 20thcentury and continuing into the present century, we then argue, de­vel­op­­ments in old and new media, “advances” in marketing, and innova­tions in elec­tion­eer­ing evolved multiple ways in which to purvey untrue, misleading claims, shibboleths, in­nuendos, and propagandas

[1] We take the “we” in her question to refer mainly to the United States polity as a whole, but we concede that the question might embrace subsets of that polity: 1) politi­cians and those who work with them and for them; 2) those who pay for politicians’ ser­vices and tell them what to do or what to say; 3) pundits, news-readers, media-performers who talk politics; 4) professional and amateur partisans and ideologues; 5) aca­dem­ics like us; or some combination of subsets one through five. We do not, however, take our colleague to have meant the person in the street. That person is more likely to repeat shit than to just make shit up, at least when it comes to politics.