With Trump the country’s ignorance has reached a kind of apocalyptic summit with the notion that reason must take a back seat to absurdity and dementia.
We learned today that the administration’s trade advisor, Peter Navarro, bypassed FDA’s restrictions and ordered some 23 million hydroxychloroquine tablets to be released in June to the public. This despite the warnings long associated with the drug. It’s only the latest incident in the lackeys’ support of Trump’s lunacy.
In the face of overwhelming evidence, Trump Jr. recently claimed that COVID death numbers are down to “almost nothing.” Epidemiology has never been his strong point.
The intriguing question, as always, is why so many have bought into the lies and deceptions the administration puts forward. One explanation is that the brainwashed are snookered by a long tradition of American anti-intellectualism. Politically, it’s the residue of a once-viable populism. Now, it’s responsible for much of our social dysfunction:
In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panel brought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value.
How many of these absurdities must we continue to bear? Bruce Bartlett writes in TNR:
There are many other ways in which the anti-intellectualism of Republicans and conservatives is life-threatening. They tend to be highly skeptical toward the existence of global warming, which will have catastrophic effects on weather systems, sea levels, and flooding. They also frequently associate themselves with those who won’t allow themselves or their children to be vaccinated, and refuse to accept any evidence linking gun ownership to mass shootings. They even delude themselves that public opinion polls showing a forthcoming defeat for Trump and Republicans in Congress are simply wrong based on nothing except faith-based disbelief.
The culmination of faith-based disbelief has been to accept the president’s stark denial of the potency of the COVID virus. And you can’t simply write off the mindlessness of his supporters as a backlash against the economic structures that have been in place for so long. Says E.J. Dionne:
It is of a piece with a more general frustration with elites following decades of globalization, deindustrialization, and rising inequality. The policies that produced these outcomes, advanced by technocrats, think tanks, and politicians in both parties, damaged communities around the country—particularly in the Midwest states critical to the outcome of the 2016 election, but also in parts of solidly blue America—while often failing to deliver their promised benefits.
What has happened in the rust belt states is not limited to them. It’s at the heart of the economic malaise that occupies so much of the country. Dan Kaufman has written a most worthwhile piece outlining these “broken promises” that have transformed the human and industrial landscape of Michigan and America.
Workers without a college degree “represent more than sixty per cent of the American workforce.” These people have been betrayed for years. Finally, feeling displaces reason. And this election may cause some of them to take up arms.
The history of how we got to this mess of conspiracies and paranoid madness informs Richard Hofstadter’s still relevant 1963 book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, which won him a Pulitzer, and The Paranoid Style, 1964. In a short summary the historian Sean Wilentz finds
a fundamental strain of anti-intellectualism that runs throughout our history and crosses the political spectrum. Some of it comes out of evangelical Protestantism, which we can certainly see today, but in a sense there is an anti-intellectual quality latent in democracy itself, such as a distrust of elites and people who think they know better than others as well as more than others. Hofstadter believed that intellectual values, including an appreciation of skepticism and nuance, and a rejection of absolutism and dogma, were crucial to a democratic society.
We very much need to recover these values. More than ever, they are crucial.