Riding Out the New Normal

Music helps, and so does a good dinner with friends, but it’s hard to be optimistic about the human adventure these days. One’s faith in politics turns out to be a chimera. Religion offers nothing but the phantasm of hope. Reason is displaced by zeal, Aristotle by Hobbes.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was one tough customer but his views on the nature of man and society are coming back. He argued that “if society broke down and you had to live in what he called ‘a state of nature’, without laws or anyone with the power to back them up, you, like everyone else, would steal and murder when necessary.” Life without strong leadership would become in his words “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Well, our strong leaders have become brutish in their quest for power, totally failing their followers—Trump (the prime example), Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro—all truth deniers and narcissists, all failed leaders. One who clamors to join the group is Netanyahu, now pushing for open war with the Palestinians.

In the U.S. and elsewhere the political urge has taken on a Wagnerian quest for mythical power and the fantasies that enable it. Yet there is no Valhalla in sight. I keep hearing echoes of Germany in the early 1930s. For rank chauvinism, Trump’s apostles in the GOP lead the parade.

Stooges like McCarthy and howlers like M.T. Greene (whom AOC guardedly called “deeply unwell”) have created a new theater of the absurd. The only reason now to watch the nightly news is to see what kind of new delusion they have come up with. At the same time old neoliberal gods are being dethroned as, for instance, revelations appear about Bill Gates and Jeffrey Epstein. Melinda, at least, knew she had had it.

Finally, the human adventure itself could ultimately come off the rails through climate change inaction and denial. Everyone knows this and yet the paralysis continues. In the struggle to acknowledge the primacy of the ecosphere, our great leaders have inevitably come down on the side of the techno-industrial society, if you can call it that, though for years it’s been known that continued material growth will lead to disaster.

Hobbes could not have foreseen this exactly, but he knew that the

right of each to all things invites serious conflict, especially if there is competition for resources, as there will surely be over at least scarce goods such as the most desirable lands, spouses, etc. People will quite naturally fear that others may (citing the right of nature) invade them, and may rationally plan to strike first as an anticipatory defense. Moreover, that minority of prideful or “vain-glorious” persons who take pleasure in exercising power over others will naturally elicit preemptive defensive responses from others. Conflict will be further fueled by disagreement in religious views, in moral judgments, and over matters as mundane as what goods one actually needs, and what respect one properly merits.

Eleven years ago William E. Rees (University of British Columbia) wrote these still pregnant words: “The modern world remains mired in a swamp of cognitive dissonance and collective denial seemingly dedicated to maintaining the status quo. We appear, in philosopher Martin Heidegger’s words, to be ‘in flight from thinking.’”

The philosophers, for all their ranting, won’t get us to return to reality. I don’t know what will.

More from Houston: Bullshit Runs Deep in Texas

Abbott and Trump: look at their hands.

Heidi Schneider, our Houston correspondent, unwraps some indecent political behavior in Texas. Quick to blame others, these folks have no competence and no shame. On a related note, I highly recommend to you Ezra Klein’s recent podcast, “The Texas Crisis Could Become Everyone’s Crisis.” Three smart people talk not only about the Texas debacle but how climate change will change all of us.

We tried-and-true Texans are taught to “Remember the Alamo” and the flag slogan “Come and Take It” from our earliest fight for independence. But since the 1990s the Texas GOP has fractured our exemplary and fabled image with sanctimonious messaging and agendas. Fast forward to the present day and it’s clear that Texas’s image as a sovereign utopia needs a dramatic facelift.

Just last week the Texas Attorney General, Republican Ken Paxton—who has been under a federal indictment since 2015—took a page from Senator Ted Cruz’s playbook and snuck off to Utah with his Texas state senator wife Angela, paying no regard to the non-legislative Texans left behind during a statewide weather catastrophe. Just two days after the historic freeze arrived, he left town, claiming his absence was due to important official meetings.

More important than millions of frozen constituents? Do you remember that in late 2020 Paxton’s department joined the Stop the Steal con by drafting a lawsuit against four other states? Dispatched to the Supreme Court, the case was quickly dismissed, as the justices instructed Texas conservatives to play in their own sandbox. Upstanding folkloric judicial leader, or total self-serving schmuck? You decide.

Just days ago, the Lone Star state’s conservative Lt. Governor Dan Patrick went on record insisting on a thorough investigation into the state’s energy failure. He claimed this would not be a finger-pointing expedition, then immediately placed blame for the magnitude of frozen failure on ERCOT, the Energy Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the power grid. Should we tell him a similar investigation was done in 2011 after an extreme cold snap? Moreover, the recommended updates were never pursued by the legislature. Crawl back under your rock, Dan. Your expertise is in gender-neutral bathroom policing, not power grids.

In the past several years, changing weather systems have brought horrific flooding and damaging winds to my home state. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey became the second-costliest tropical storm on record, costing 127 billion dollars in damage. I remember newscasts where Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner pleaded with Governor Abbott to release his Ebenezer Scrooge grip on the state’s rainy-day fund to help flood victims. That fund, currently around 10 billion dollars, was originally created after the oil and gas bust way back in the 1980s. Instead, Abbott used his executive power, as he has done for last week’s storm, and declared a state disaster, so Texas could qualify for federal assistance. So much for national overreach and state sovereignty.

The legislature just began another biennial session in January. After a dysfunctional year of pandemic quarantines, disturbances from 2020 election deniers, and a frozen national disaster, voters should expect them to address our most pressing statewide issues. There is nothing exceptional about literally polarizing segments of our state and victimizing the most vulnerable. Meaningful infrastructure and inclusive policies are what will move our state forward, not gaslighting from our majority surrogates in Austin.

As my no-nonsense husband George puts it, “If you are a partisan asshole, own it, and stop talking out of both sides of your mouth.” For me, I sum it up simply as: bullshit runs deep in Texas.

Oh Yes, the Climate

After Alarmism: The war on climate denial has been won. And that’s not the only good news

Biden Signs Sweeping Orders to Tackle Climate Change and Rollback Trump’s Anti-Environment Legacy

Some have noticed that I have not recently been attentive to climate issues. Well, “Goodman Speaks on Climate” was probably designed to fail in one respect, since everyone who speaks publicly on that subject takes on something contentious and to a degree unfathomable. Climate writers become soothsayers, reading the entrails of sacrificial animals.

I can’t and won’t critique the findings of climate scientists. So I’m left to report on what they think and propose. How I evaluate their judgments is strictly a matter of my judgment and experience, and that’s a thin reed to rely on. And with climate change it’s not enough to merely report; one has to take sides and persuade.

Those who do write such reports also turn out to be evaluators or critics of scientific arguments. That’s an uncomfortable position, at least for me, and so I’ve recently been avoiding climate, punking out on the most significant issue of our time. Well, sometimes you have to be uncomfortable, so I’ll try getting back to climate and overcoming my scruples.

David Wallace-Wells is a journalist who has written extensively about climate change. He recently dumped almost 7,000 words into New York Magazine on how the war on climate denial has been (mostly) won. Part of the reason he feels that way is the advent of Joe Biden’s presidency.

But if the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House feels like something of a fresh start, well, to a degree it is. The world’s most conspicuous climate villain has been deposed, and though Biden was hardly the first choice of environmentalists, his victory signals an effective end to the age of denial and the probable beginning of a new era of climate realism, with fights for progress shaped as much by choices as by first principles.

His argument proceeds with examples and judgments on: what needs to be done (emissions targets), what is being done (decarbonization), political and economic commitments, global action and, finally, adaptation and responses to the new reality. Wallace-Wells is judgmental, yes, and very much worth your reading. He’s smart, sometimes overly geeky, and wide-ranging. Articles like his will get you thinking or perhaps angry (see reader comments on the piece).

Biden’s climate proposals are, to use the old cliché, a breath of fresh air. A good summary by Inside Climate News of what they contain is here, as “the new president moved immediately to review more than 100 Trump administration actions and restore the protection of federal lands and the regulation of greenhouse gases.”

You’ve heard that one of his first actions was to revoke the Keystone XL pipeline permit. The president also

moved to rejoin the Paris agreement and signaled a review of vehicle emissions standards. His order also directed federal agencies to review more than 100 rules that the Trump administration made on the environment, with an eye to potentially overturning many of them.

The ICN article outlines the comprehensive scope of the Biden proposals and the ways they will affect several government agencies as well as private industry. It’s a good primer on what’s ahead—though some of its proposals could take years to achieve.

Writing the Insurrectionist Story

What TV Can Tell Us About How the Trump Show Ends

 Trump Is on the Verge of Losing Everything

 Among the Insurrectionists

Stories teach us and transform us. They have the power to make us connect and understand the disordered fragments of our experience.

To get through the next few weeks and months, the U.S. is in desperate need of an authentically real story—a Maileresque chronicle that would account for the events of January 6, explain the power that Trump still holds over the masses, and set us right for what may come.

You can’t exorcise the past, but you can explain it. Masha Gessen writes that for politics to function, we need stories to give us a “common sense of past and future, a broad agreement on organizational principles, trust that your neighbors near and distant share a general understanding of reality and current events.”

Which is just what we don’t have. A coherent story might be the only way to convince the outliers and secessionists that the truth is not what they think it is. Joanna Weiss proposes that the Trump era is like something out of Mad Men or The Sopranos. Perhaps it’s the story of a television antihero, sucked into a life of atrocity and paying (or avoiding paying) the price for it:

once Trump leaves office for good, the prizes that have fed his appetite and driven his presidency—adulation, importance, obsessive attention—will be gone. History will cement him as a one-term president who entered the political world in a dramatic escalator ride, and exited clinging to the tablecloth as the chinaware went crashing to the floor.

Or maybe the story goes like this, as Jonathan Chait tells it: Trump “is impeached again, but his trial is delayed until after his departure date. It feels as if we have spent four years watching the wheels come off, yet the vehicle somehow still keeps rolling forward.” But now the beast may be fatally wounded, “undergoing a cascading sequence of political, financial, and legal setbacks that cumulatively spell utter ruin. Trump is not only losing his job but quite possibly everything else.”

It’s a common trope—the villain gets his just desserts—but very likely the just desserts in this case never arrive. The fish is never landed, the thug escapes capture. There are many uncertainties as to how this story will end.

None of these circumstances should keep writers from using the powers of narrative to tell us what really happened. The unity that Biden looks for will depend on it. Writing that story may not convince the deniers, but it can unify the rest of us and breathe some life into our desperate history.

I think that trying to understand America is like reading Finnegans Wake.

Anarchy or the 25th?

The 25th Amendment: The quickest way Trump could be stripped of power, explained

Aides weigh resignations, removal options as Trump rages against perceived betrayals

Every Trump Loyalist Is Complicit in the President’s Incitement of Sedition

Thirteen days are left after the Capitol onslaught to determine how we get rid of the Frankenstein monster the Republicans have created. Impeachment is too complicated and will take too long. We tried that once. The 25th Amendment would permit Mike Pence to become acting president for the rest of Trump’s term. It requires a majority (8 of 15 people, the Cabinet secretaries) to sign off on his malfeasance and strip him of all presidential powers. And it requires Pence to initiate it.

There has now been a lot of talk about invoking this power. How feasible it might be to get Cabinet secretaries, all Trump appointees, to sign off on this drastic measure is an open question. My thinking is that if they don’t sign off, we’ll have 13 more days of anarchy with continual threats and prevarications thereafter.

A lead story in the Post reports:

A deep, simmering unease coursed through the administration over the president’s refusal to accept his election loss and his role in inciting a mob to storm the Capitol, disrupting the peaceful transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden. One administration official described Trump’s behavior Wednesday as that of “a total monster,” while another said the situation was “insane” and “beyond the pale.”

Fearful that Trump could take actions resulting in further violence and death if he remains in office even for a few days, senior administration officials were discussing Wednesday night whether the Cabinet might invoke the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to force him out, said a person involved in the conversations.

Preliminary talks seem to be underway, and let us hope they bear fruit. Chuck Schumer, many Democrats and a few Republicans seem to be behind these efforts. If they fail, it will be up to senior Republicans to be responsible for restraining Trump and restoring what we used to call democracy. Putting any faith in these people, however, has never brought less than an impasse or more than a rejection.

The Vile Eight—those loyalist toadies in the Senate who have endorsed Trump’s lies even after the attack on the Capitol—and the 147 Defectors from Democracy in the House all deserve to be voted out of office. But we are not holding our collective breaths, are we?

The results have been predictable.

By declining to brand Trump a liar, Republicans ensured that their voters would give credence to his claims. This morning [Jan. 6], Ted Cruz anchored his demand to delay the election’s certification by citing a poll that 39 percent of the country believed the election had been rigged. First they spread his lies, then argued that the lies must be respected because they had spread.

Will Mike Pence now have the balls to upend this situation, which verges on anarchy? Can he find it in himself to exercise the authority the Constitution grants him? After four years of desperate fawning his reward is to become Trump’s mortal enemy. The test is at hand.

Disbelief and Ignorance, Blindness and Monomania

The inside story of how Trump’s denial, mismanagement and magical thinking led to the pandemic’s dark winter

After this I am really going to stop with the Trump posts. But the Washington Post did us all a great service by running the above piece documenting Trump’s most stunning breakdown. It’s long, so I summarize and comment here on the salient points. Also, I’m going to take a few days off from this blog, back after the New Year. We’ll hope for a much happier one this time, of course.

Trump’s incredible mishandling of the Covid pandemic in all likelihood cost him the election. The recent Post article documents not only his failure but his administration’s. However history comes to record the pandemic, it will be seen as a gigantic breakdown in presidential responsibility.

The catastrophe began with Trump’s initial refusal to take seriously the threat of a once-in-a-century pandemic. But, as officials detailed, it has been compounded over time by a host of damaging presidential traits — his skepticism of science, impatience with health restrictions, prioritization of personal politics over public safety, undisciplined communications, chaotic management style, indulgence of conspiracies, proclivity toward magical thinking, allowance of turf wars and flagrant disregard for the well-being of those around him.

Contradicting his task force
As he refused to accept the reality of the pandemic, it became clear to Trump’s advisers that, despite frequent attempts, they could not penetrate the president’s delusions. They would contradict him at their peril. The Fauci-Birx taskforce made no real impact and was frustrated from the beginning.

Trump’s repeated downplaying of the virus, coupled with his equivocations about masks, created an opening for reckless behavior that contributed to a significant increase in infections and deaths, experts said.

Communications failures
From the beginning, the team had no strategy and no consistent messaging. They were attempting to put out fires with untrained people and ill-advised tactics. Jared Kushner got some ventilators dispatched but his volunteers played whack-a-mole with other problems. They faked models for disease propagation, punted on the involved question of testing, and ultimately turned their backs on properly dealing with the states.

They did not communicate in any effective way with the public or with the private sector that tried to help. The Post tells us about a failed plan to enlist the country’s underwear makers, like Hanes, to make and distribute masks nationwide. This was at the beginning of what could be called the mask debacle, which Trump and his blind administration continued to foster.

Paul Offit, a member of the FDA vaccine advisor council called Trump “a salesman, but this is something he can’t sell. So he just gave up. He gave up on trying to sell people something that was unsellable. . . . What the Trump administration has managed to do is they accomplished — remarkably — a very high-tech solution, which is developing a vaccine, but they completely failed at the low-tech solution, which is masking and social distancing, and they put people at risk.”

When Trump stepped in to replace Pence at the task force briefings, it was a signal of defeat, as the president proposed bleach and other nonsensical remedies. He looked at Covid as some kind of bothersome issue you could defuse with a TV advertising approach. He was like the Ron Popeil of Covid. “What he’s saying there is, ‘I’m going to will the economy to success through mass psychology. We’re going to tell the country things are going great and it’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy,’ ” Offit said of Trump.

The Accomplices
Mark Meadows lied to the press, confused every issue he discussed, and still couldn’t please Trump. Birx and Fauci hung in there on the periphery but basically gave up, though Fauci continued to broadcast his sentiments. Scott Atlas, the phony doctor, preached a line that pleased Trump because it let him off the hook. That is, promote herd immunity, forget testing, keep up the anti-mask façade, advance the economy over basic CDC safety, etc. Then there were the rallies and the continuing White House super-spreader parties, all basically mocking the potency of the disease.

Yet it is impossible to mock the 324,000 deaths that have occurred to date. Theatrics are basic to Trump’s reality and, unfortunately for us all, there’s no business like show business—until the curtain comes down.

Climate Amnesia: How We Misperceive Chaos and Change

The scariest thing about global warming (and Covid-19)

 Proving the ‘shifting baselines’ theory: how humans consistently misperceive nature

David Roberts opens his impressive Vox piece this way: We lost 2,800 souls to Covid just last Thursday, more than died on 9/11. Instead of jumping to respond to “an unbearable collective national tragedy,” we adjust mentally to it and give it a kind of tacit acceptance. There’s no real national mobilization; half the population goes maskless; millions travel for Thanksgiving. Almost 3,000 deaths? Business as usual.

We’ve adjusted to the virus like we adjust to the inscrutable nature of climate change. Our acquiescence puts the lie to the commonly accepted notion that some horrible sequence of climatic events will shake us out of our torpor. It may be a new normal that the world could not adequately recognize the terrifying apocalyptic fires in Australia last year.

We are victims of what researchers call shifting baselines. Meaning that “our ‘baseline’ shifts with every generation, and sometimes even in an individual. In essence, what we see as pristine nature would be seen by our ancestors as hopelessly degraded, and what we see as degraded our children will view as ‘natural.’”

Roberts explains the behavior this way:

Consider a species of fish that is fished to extinction in a region over, say, 100 years. A given generation of fishers becomes conscious of the fish at a particular level of abundance. When those fishers retire, the level is lower. To the generation that enters after them, that diminished level is the new normal, the new baseline. They rarely know the baseline used by the previous generation; it holds little emotional salience relative to their personal experience.

And so it goes, each new generation shifting the baseline downward.

When the fish finally goes extinct, “No generation experiences the totality of the loss. It is doled out in portions, over time, no portion quite large enough to spur preventative action. By the time the fish go extinct, the fishers barely notice, because they no longer valued the fish anyway.”

Look at the opening sequence of this video for another way of putting it. I remember fishing in Florida in the late 1950s, and the fish were indeed very much larger and more prevalent than they became.

This is about climate amnesia, which operates on both an individual and generational level. We lose our cognizance of the past without being aware of the loss. Roberts asks how in the world can

Americans simply accommodate themselves to thousands of coronavirus deaths a day? As writer Charlie Warzel noted in a recent column, it’s not that different from the numbness they now feel in the face of gun violence. “Unsure how—or perhaps unable—to process tragedy at scale,” he writes, “we get used to it.”

This climate and cultural amnesia is such a common human failing that it’s hard to imagine a way to surmount it. Roberts thinks that finally “there is no substitute for leadership and responsive governance. . . . The most reliable way to stop baselines from shifting is to encode the public’s values and aspirations into law and practice, through politics.”

Well now, since Trump has totally disabled our political system, many have lost hope as well as any coherent sense of the past. I watched Biden on CNN Thursday night, and he did demonstrate a sense of competence and a willingness to look toward the past for solutions. We will need that from him and more.

Ducking the Climate Question

The Climate Won’t Let Us Forget

 Why People Aren’t Motivated to Address Climate Change

 ‘There Is a Real Opportunity Here That I Think Biden Is Capturing’

Climate change is the most overpowering issue of our times—and the least discussed. I searched several leading publications and found it displaced (as you might suspect) by these subjects: Covid, the election outcomes, the new Biden administration, Trump’s ongoing lunacy, sports, celebrities, and politics.

I wrote something that touched on this avoidance about a week ago. The focus was on the distractions that keep us from dealing with climate. Let’s look at it a little differently today. My premise is that the Covid pandemic has skewed how most of us not only live American life but evaluate it.

For instance, consider a recent Politico newsletter headline: “Wall Street rocks as food lines grow.” And further,

Those of us lucky enough to work in jobs we can do remotely have done mostly fine during the pandemic, though perhaps not psychologically. Underneath, Americans are suffering in terrible ways with food lines growing and unemployment claims still at record levels (which they will likely hit again today).

In the face of all our competing interests, who thinks about those dreadful food lines, much less about climate change? We psychologically rank our interests in importance, proximity and potency. And climate is still something remote for many of us. It’s an abstraction to most people and most people don’t deal well with abstract subjects.

Biden appoints a new climate czar in John Kerry, and the news coverage focuses on his background in diplomacy and long-time efforts for climate action. Instead, a friend and I talk about his wife Teresa Heinz, the ketchup heiress. No, we didn’t discuss his policies or Biden’s on climate. People gravitate to what they are exposed to in the media—and their susceptible interests.

Joe Biden very much seems to be making climate a top priority. He has drafted an elaborate $2 trillion over ten years proposal that could be remarkable—if it ever gets through Congress. Climate seems often to be put in a totally political frame. Instead, we would do better to consider it, as many have said, an existential threat.

The Covid pandemic could frame the climate threat for a majority of people, I think. If nothing else, it has made us all disease conscious. Texas Professor Art Markman linked disease to climate in a Harvard Business Review piece two years ago. When I confront climate skeptics, he said,

I ask whether they would be willing to forgo something today to invest in a disease that has a one in five chance of affecting a grandchild. And if so, then I ask how taking climate change seriously is different. You don’t have to be a skeptic to try this logic on yourself. Consider what you’d be willing to forgo today knowing that in one generation there will be serious, catastrophic consequences because of inaction.

The perspective of incipient disease is immediate and powerful. Comparing climate to a catastrophic disease and its long-term effects on a loved one might be one way to cut through the fog of denial.

The Climate Won’t Let Us Forget

There Is Only One Existential Threat. Let’s Talk About It.

Tropical Storm Iota Deals Devastation to Central America Still Recovering from Eta

What Keith Richards Can Teach Us about Beating Our Donald Trump Addiction

The election naturally commanded our public thoughts; now it’s done. Trump perpetually has commanded our attention; finally the fixation may be waning. COVID more than ever forces itself on our presence; a quarter of a million people have now died from it in the U.S.

But the issues of climate change, more formidable than ever, keep bearing down on the world with dreadful frequency and energy. For many, climate issues have recently gotten displaced by politics, but nature is not about to let us discount her power.

Those who live in California won’t soon forget the massive fires that swept their state and are still a threat. Two massive hurricanes a week apart just pummeled Central America, saturating the same areas (an unheard-of event) in Honduras and Nicaragua, “seriously affecting” some 3 million people, and causing many deaths. Hurricane Eta alone in a few days “cost Honduras the equivalent of around twenty per cent of its gross domestic product.”

The campaign and the election have turned into a major distraction from climate change. The political media, the voters and the candidates all gave climate short shrift. Biden was the exception. He has offered a $2 trillion clean energy plan, and proposes to incorporate climate into most other policy areas. If any of this gets done, at least through regulation (if the Senate is a nonstarter), it will be a good beginning.

New York Times writer Farhad Manjoo puts it in context:

But passing a climate plan wouldn’t be a partisan win for Democrats—it would be a win for human beings. Climate change isn’t a policy issue—it’s a reality that every other political question hinges on: jobs, tax policy, national defense, and the size and scope of the welfare state. As climate change becomes increasingly damaging, we will have to think about all of these issues through the larger response to a changing planet.

It’s just too easy to compartmentalize our thoughts about climate. The enormity and extent of what it represents are simply daunting, maybe beyond the ken of most of us. Moreover, our political culture, the media pundits, and of course social media all tend to trivialize and downplay the issues of climate in favor of the latest political sensation.

Well, clearing the ground by getting rid of the Trump addiction might be a first step. John Harris of Politico had some thoughts on this and used the old drugmeister Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones as an example of how to get clean and kick the Trump obsession. Keith learned not only to ignore the junkies around him but to sit back and enjoy their performance.

Harris puts it this way: Trump learned early on

that once you provoke someone into an emotional response they are in a contest on your terms. So he learned how to surprise, to entertain, to confuse and distort, to offend. As he moved to the political arena, Trump exploited one more psychological reality: His supporters are attracted to him precisely because he so easily outrages his opponents.

This means that Trump’s power—just like Keith Richards’ drug transactions—requires two sides to work. His hold on supporters will wane at the same time his hold on political foes and the news media does. Just say no and watch their faces.

This is not like Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no.” It’s the satisfaction in watching a performance that you no longer need to participate in. Maybe that would be a first step to reclaiming the climate values that so drastically need our attention.

A Culture of Ignorance

Anti-Intellectualism Is Killing America

 The GOP’s Murderous Anti-Intellectualism

 Will Trump’s Broken Promises to Working-Class Voters Cost Him the Election?

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.