Opinion: Has reality become an outmoded concept?

According to a new Quinnipiac poll, 83 percent of Americans say that it’s important that the president be loyal to his or her spouse. Among Republicans, it’s even higher, with 86 percent saying that it’s important that the president be faithful in marriage.

The next question?

“Do you think President Trump has been loyal to his wife throughout his marriage, or don’t you think so?”

Just 14 percent of Republicans were willing to admit that Trump has not been faithful.

This finding comes days after Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitted that he paid $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence. It also comes after widespread coverage of Trump’s nine-month affair with Playboy model Karen McDougal, including publication of McDougal’s handwritten journal detailing the 2006 affair as it occurred.

In short, the evidence of Trump’s repeated infidelity is overwhelming. Yet only 14 percent of Republican voters can bring themselves to acknowledge it.

Let me be clear: On my personal list of Top 20 reasons that Trump should never be president, his marital infidelity doesn’t make honorable mention. But it does fascinate me to see the mental and moral contortions that Trump supporters will perform in order to keep believing what they need to believe.

It’s far from the only example. Historically, Republicans have been strongly supportive of the FBI; in a Reuters poll three years ago, 84 percent of GOP voters said they viewed the agency favorably. In more recent polls, however, that support has collapsed as Trump forces his followers to pick a side — him, or those liberals in federal law enforcement.

Likewise, Republicans historically have been very suspicious of Vladimir Putin and Russia, but loyalty to Trump has again altered those attitudes. The percentage of Republicans who express confidence in Putin has doubled in the last two years.

This isn’t just some polling curiosity; it has potentially grave consequences for how this country operates. If Republicans refuse to accept overwhelming evidence of Trump’s repeated marital infidelity, when the political cost of admitting that truth is relatively low, how will they respond if Robert Mueller comes back with evidence that the Trump campaign colluded or cooperated with Russia? The stakes there will be enormous, up to and including possible impeachment. What are the chances of that finding being given a fair, honest and reality-based hearing?

It’s a lot lower than 14 percent, I’m afraid.

We’re also wrestling with how best to combat the problem of fake news. Russia’s information war on the U.S. population is getting a lot of attention, and social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook are under pressure to cull fake news out of their feeds, either by human intervention or by changing the algorithms that determine which social-media posts get attention.

But the problem isn’t Facebook algorithms. It’s our own. When your belief system is contradicted by reality — and it happens to us all, every day — you alter your belief system to account for that reality. That’s really the basis of rational thought. But in the political world, people are increasingly taking the opposite course.

When their belief system and reality are in conflict, their belief system is set in concrete and instead they try to adjust reality. They aren’t merely susceptible to fake news; they actively seek and embrace it. And as long as there are millions of people demanding to be fed fake news, there will be people eager to supply it.

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