For many of us, mornings have taken on a certain nauseating sameness. We roll out from beneath the blankets and, before the perfume of coffee has reached our nostrils, we are checking the news feeds for the most recent semi-literate tweet coughed up by the spout, traitorous squatter occupying the Oval Office.
The rest of the day is were used in a kind of horrified suspension, comprising our breath, waiting for whatever anger will unavoidably belch forth from the White House–once a bastion of seriousness and decorum , now ground zero for the demise of western republic. How many lies will Trump spew today? Which despots will he suck up to? Will he smear a Gold Star family? Attack a woman who dares to call out his smarmy predations? Unveil a puerile, racist moniker for a Senator or member of his own cabinet?
As much as we loathe it, nonetheless sickening it might have become, every day seems all about him, a former game show host and real estate failing, a hawker of rot-gut vodka and bullshit degrees from a fraudulent “University” who once styled himself as” the Donald “. The cable news shows lead with its recent flatulence, the op-ed pages brim with intimations of doom, late night comics are having a field day.
He is the president and, thus, endures watching. But we would be mistaken to think that he is truly the centre for human rights of our cosmo, a boy with a programme, commanding the altitudes, directing the action.
Virulent as he may be, Donald J. Trump is a symptom not the disease. Without us, he would amount to nothing more than what he had always been before the bizzaro presidential election of 2016: a foppish narcissist desperate for any measure of affirmation; a joke; a nothing. He did not create his voters. They have been there all along, seething with sometimes justifiable rage and suffering their various anxieties. They created and enabled Trump. And stimulate no mistake, in all their vulnerable humanity, they are us: Gullible, compliant, distracted, marinating in incongruity.
At root, we the people are the problem.
We are understandably reluctant to impugn the intelligence and soundnes of our fellow citizens. It is arrogant, uncivil, bad form. Who are we, any of us, to hold ourselves superior? When Hillary Clinton referred to some Trump advocates as “deplorables”, she was roundly castigated on all sides. How dare she? Yet it is an uncomfortable reality that anywhere from a fifth to a third of our electorate can be fairly( if gently) described as low-information voters. If the results of numerous polls and questionnaires are to be trusted, they are aware very little about “the worlds” they inhabit and what they do “know” is often woefully incorrect.
Surveys conducted every two years by the National Science Foundation consistently demonstrate that slightly more than half of Americans reject the decided science concerning human evolution. They are not unaware that virtually all believable scientists accept the overwhelming proof that we evolved from earlier species. They simply choose not to accept that consensus because it doesn’t comport with their deeply held faiths. Many also espouse the absurd notion that the earth is simply six thousand years old. Astonishingly, in the early 21 st century, around a one-quarter of our citizenry seems unaware that said ground revolves around the sunlight.
It is a mistake to regard concern about such ignorance as effete snobbery or elitist condescension. While misapprehensions about basic astronomy, earth science and biology may have little impact on these folk’s daily lives, does anyone actually believe that similarly uninformed views aren’t likely to affect their grasp of policies considering, say, climate change? Income inequality? Gun violence? Immigration?
Profound knowledge gaps like the aforementioned uncover an inability to think critically and leave a person vulnerable to all the types of chicanery. We are all ignorant about many things. Don’t get me started on my dismal comprehend of maths! But the hallmark of a voice education is not glorying in what you think you know, but, instead, realizing the vastness of what you don’t know.
If ignorance is the key that opens the door for charlatans like Trump, improved education, whether in school or in the public square, would seem to provide an obvious answer. But here we confront the perverse Dunning-Kruger Effect identified by psychologists–essentially, the less we are aware, the more certain we become of our superior knowledge. We have also discovered that exposure to realities and evidence does not ever have the expected impact. Many people, when confronted by irrefutable proof that some core belief is incorrect, don’t change their intellects but dig in their heels. What feels right to them must be right and no quantity logic and reasoning will dissuade them. Feeling trumps proof.
Not too long ago, I fell into dialogue with a woman aboard an airplane. Our chat somehow turned to health care. She offered the opinion that people who couldn’t render health insurance didn’t deserve medical services. Why should she pay for someone’s care when they were obviously too lazy to earn their own fund?
Because I’m my own kind of clown, I rose to the bait. Did that mean they should be allowed to die in the street? I pondered. Well , no, she said. That would be inhumane. They could always go to an emergency room. So she was willing to pay for their care, I find, but simply in the least efficient, most expensive way. This gave her momentary intermission, but she speedily regrouped, simply recurring her prior affirm: Why should she pay …? I didn’t ask who she planned to vote for in the then-upcoming presidential election, but given that she had also voiced the opinion that girls were, by virtue of their gender, unqualified to be news anchors, I’m guessing it wasn’t Hillary Clinton or Jill Stein.
She is hardly the worst instance of an unthinking voter. Bill Maher once invited onto his show former GM Executive Bob Lutz. One guesses that such a chap has benefited from an adequate education and that he’s open to reason. Yet, when the subject of climate change develop, Lutz denied it was happening. A bunch of nonsense as far as he was concerned.
As it happened, Maher had also invited Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, educator and Director of the Hayden Planetarium. Tyson patiently explained why Lutz was misinformed. The planet was warming. Humans were largely to blame. This is how we know.
You might expect an educated person to respond by at least engaging on the topic. Tyson was, after all, vastly more knowledgeable on the subject at hand. Had their roles been overruled, with the topic being cars, I have no doubt he would have deferred to the automaker, asking questions, trying to improve the nation of his own knowledge. Not Lutz. You could see him shutting down before Tyson had even warmed to the topic( no pun intended ). As Upton Sinclair famously set it,” It’s hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it .”
Anyone who has watched the focus groups of Trump voters has seen this sorry dynamic played out again and again. Everything , no matter how tawdry or malicious, is apologized or minimized. You get the feeling these folks would accept the sex molestation of teenage girls as a trade-off for Neil Gorsuch. In fact, many did in supporting Roy Moore.
Welcome to the Post-Truth Era.
Much has been written about potential impacts social media and the internet in general have had on how people receive and absorb datum. By now, we know about bots, trolls, phony scandals and the tendency of folks to hunker down in their own info-silos. The old proverb that a lie is halfway round “the worlds” before the truth gets its socks on has never been more salient.
Consider the recent assaults on one of the young Parkland shooting survivors. A teenager who had just witnessed classmates being gunned down at his own school quickly discovered that speaking up for common-sense gun regulation resulted in vicious trolling and the viral lie that he was a paid “crisis actor”. This was similar to what befell the grieving those who are relatives of the small children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Imagine waking one morning in a state of searing heartache over the violent death of your newborn to discover that some odious prankster like Alex Jones is telling his gullible audience that the whole tragic incident was staged, that your child was actually a paid musician doused in artificial gore and posed in a gruesome tableaux of demise.
That Jones and his ilk have not been exhaustively shamed and driven from the public sphere says a lot about our growing tolerance for vile nonsense.
Trump did not invent Fake News. The Big Lie has been the stock in trade of con men and tyrants since time immemorial. But he understands its value.” Alternative facts” as his lickspittle factotum, Kellyanne Conway infamously set it, have so far been his metier. He’s a bullshitter, a phony and now he’s our chairman.
This shouldn’t have happened. But we let it happen, though Trump did have plenty of help
Unsurprisingly, the Fox propaganda machine and any number of right-wing radio ranters enthusiastically clambered aboard the Trump Train. They were abetted by many in the mainstream media who, bearing in mind the fact that Trump tempted eyeballs to advertisers and too timid to call him out as the carnival barker he so obviously was, ran along for the ride. A number of Republicans in Congress rejected him at first. But when it became clear he had a shot at win and that his devotees comprised at the least half of their party, they scurried to adopt him as their useful imbecile.
It’s true that we are not all equally culpable. Roughly three million more people voted for Trump’s chief adversary. But the right-minded among us didn’t do enough to forestall the patently looming calamity. The proof of that is the Trump presidency itself.
So, if we in our various incarnations are the problem, then what is the answer? Is there any way out? We’d better hope so. What’s certain is that it’s on us. We made a wreck of our government and it’s up to us to fix it.
There are positive signs:
A once compliant media will start to take the gloves off. Genuine conservatives, outraged that their motion has been hijacked by philistines, are sounding the alarm. People are rising up and calling BS. For every Sean Hannity there is a Rachel Maddow, Jake Tapper or even Shepard Smith( at Fox News , no less !). For every Paul Ryan, there is a David Frum or Max Boot. Frothing crowd at CPAC are countered by the #MeToo motion and impressively eloquent teens fed up with politicians of any stripe who cowers before the handgun industry. On a good day, a John McCain or Jeff Flake will stand up to the wincing accommodationists in their own party. And, of course, Donald Trump himself, along with his corrupt lackeys, face a formidable adversary in the person or persons of Robert Mueller.
NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers’ recent witnes before the Senate Intelligence Committee should celebrate a turning point, though he simply corroborated what has been apparent for some time: that even as our commonwealth being attacked from a Russia determined to subvert our republic, the president has not aimed any relevant agencies to defend the country. This is a violation of the oath Trump swore on inauguration day and smackings of treason. We have entered uncharted seas.
What’s clear is that we need to use all non-violent resources at our disposal to rid ourselves and our country of the dangerous infection spreading from the White House into our body politic. These are not normal times and our usual reflexes will no longer suffice.
Trump is a problem of our own initiation. We must become the answer.
Ron Reagan is an writer and political commentator who live in Seattle and Arezzo, Tuscany.