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Truth to epistemological nihilism

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Pam Karlan at impeachment. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi / ALM

Dahlia Lithwick on Pam Karlan and the other women who are the opposite of the Jonathan Turley and Amy Chuas and Lisa Blatts of the world is a must-read:

It is worth recalling that Karlan—like Fiona Hill before her, and Yovanovitch before her, and Thunberg, and Carroll, and Karen McDougal, and Christine Blasey Ford, and Debbie Ramirez, and Sandra Diaz, and Lisa Page, and all the other women who have subjected themselves to the raging Trump campaign of abuse—was simply speaking the truth. In the face of lies, imaginary conspiracies, smear campaigns, and disinformation, each was simply relating the facts as she knew them.

The truth does not really have a place in this administration. Attorney General Bill Barr’s pretend investigation into his conviction that federal agencies were illegally “spying” (his words) on the Trump campaign will be a bust. Never mind, they will refocus the umbrage on some attenuated fact about the Steele dossier. The evidence that Donald Trump has, on several occasions, conditioned foreign aid on domestic political favors is now so unequivocal that Republicans have advanced three dozen alternate defenses for it, without even attempting to coordinate a theory beyond the Russian propaganda line upon which they now seem to have settled. Any attempts to pierce the logic of that illogic is pointless, which is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has no option other than to keep seeking and speaking truth into the factual void. Doug Collins somehow kept up his refrain on Wednesday that nobody in the room could agree on the most elementary facts, even as every single fact witness (including those selected by the GOP) and every single legal expert (including one selected by the GOP) agrees substantially on all of the material facts surrounding the Ukraine transaction.

Michelle Goldberg, in response to Collins’ repeated claim that “there are no set facts here,” described all this as “epistemological nihilism.” Which is why it’s all the more important to understand what these women are doing when they stride into these hearings, and into their press conferences, and into their lawsuits, to tell the truth in the face of disingenuous Republican tears about incivility and partisanship. These women all know they’re being catapulted into the epistemological wood chipper, and that, if they’re lucky, the death threats and the violence directed at them and their families will eventually subside. But this is about much more than speaking truth to power—in its own way, speaking truth to nonsense is even more important. Power is immune to truth-tellers these days, but history may not be. And women have had centuries of experience in what happens when you let the gaslighters win.

For one last example, take a look, if you have a moment, at the utterly extraordinary amicus brief filed by 366 women in June Medicalthe abortion case that will be heard at the Supreme Court in March. The litigation is poised to overturn Whole Women’s Health, a case decided only three years ago that upholds women’s constitutional right to abortion. If it succeeds, it will only be thanks to the lies about women’s health outcomes, lies about abortion providers, and claims about religious dogma that come dressed as solicitude for women’s health. Indeed, if Whole Women’s Health stands for anything, it’s for the proposition that lies about abortion are not to be ignored in the courts. In a few months, we will learn if that is still the case.

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