Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Trump Is A Symptom of America's Embrace of Ignorance

Once upon a time, America - and even the Republican Party - embraced knowledge and science and academics and the highly educated were respected.  But then something happened.  The Republican Party was largely hijacked by right wing Christians, those I call Christofascists, who hold science, knowledge and anything that questions their myth and legend based belief in open contempt.  That corruption of the GOP has been compounded by Donald Trump who has embraced and would normalize white supremacists.  A piece in Psychology Today looks at this frightening trend which threatens not only America's position as a leader in the world, but also the constitutional framework laid down by the Founding Fathers.  Here are some highlights: 
The United States is tumbling fast toward a dangerous place. In just the last twenty years or so it has become increasingly acceptable for national political candidates to be openly and obviously dumb about things that matter. More than okay, dumb is now a selling point, an admirable quality that separates uninformed politicians from despised scientists, historians, and other educated experts. Empty-headed politicians and their handlers were once tasked with figuring out how to fool voters into believing that the candidate was smart and competent. Today it no longer seems necessary to hide or pretend. Vote for me because I’m as dumb as you are!
The United States may be on the verge of electing Donald Trump, a presidential candidate who has relied on conspiracy theories, fear, anger, and volume to win over the mob. But Trump’s success to date is a mere symptom of something far worse. He is but the latest candidate in a surge of loud and proud stupidity that threatens to reshape American culture long-term if it hasn’t already. Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Ben Carson, and other such candidates achieved national political prominence in recent years to show that anti-intellectual reality distortion can gain traction now better than ever before. Trump’s lack of knowledge about government, history, science, current events, national security, foreign and domestic policy, and the military may be alarming but it does not make him unique.
[T]his problem is larger than Republican vs. Democrat and contrasting political ideas. Intelligence and knowledge should be valued by all in a way that political labels can’t overcome. Voters ought to make the minimal effort necessary to recognize the wisdom in wisdom.
To be clear, for those who find it difficult to see over the walls of tribal politics, I stress that the problem addressed here stands apart from political philosophies. This has nothing to do with small vs. big government, gay marriage, tax rates, gun control, abortion, or any of the other usual points of contention. This is about millions of Americans failing to value intelligence, critical thinking, and a rational worldview when choosing candidates to support.
Trump’s critics have accused him of being racist, sexist, corrupt, a corrupt capitalist, war monger, fascist, and ego maniac. But such charges are not nearly as worrisome as Trump’s demonstrated lack of awareness and understanding of important topics. For example, a debate moderator asked him a question about America’s nuclear triad (the system of planes, land-based missiles, and subs that can deliver nuclear weapons) and it was clear that Trump didn’t know what nuclear triad meant.  . . . . Many people have expressed their concern about Trump having his finger on the nuclear button because they feel he is too sensitive and temperamental. The greater concern, however, ought to be that Trump doesn’t seem to know much about what “the button” does when pushed.
America can survive a racist or sexist president. There have been more than a few of those in the past. America can suffer through incompetent and corrupt presidents. We have had those, too. But I’m not sure it can endure many leaders who embrace, flaunt, and champion stupidity. The new dunce worship threatens everything good about America.
We all labor within a steep-walled canyon of ignorance. What has changed is that fewer Americans seem to agree that scaling those walls toward knowledge is a good and worthwhile thing to do. Many now seem content to lie down and wallow in the ignorance. And this is the greater problem. Consider what a Trump presidency might mean given his vigorous embrace of stupidity. Ben Carson—a man Trump has mentioned as a possible cabinet member—thinks the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and humans once coexisted with the stegosaurus and triceratops. Yes, a man who would be incompetent as an elementary school teacher might be the nation’s Education Secretary. 
[W]e can’t just laugh along and enjoy the circus because national leaders make decisions that can get people killed. President George W. Bush, a Yale and Harvard graduate, was not the complete imbecile his critics charged. But even his most loyal supporters never described him as a policy wonk or deep-thinking intellectual with a keen eye for world affairs. And, sure enough, this mattered. It was revealed after the invasion of Iraq, for example, that Bush knew nothing about the centuries-old tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Bush had never heard of, much less studied and considered, this obvious and foreseeable powder keg that turned out to be the very thing that sent the Iraq War spiraling down into a still-unsettled catastrophe that has cost many thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.
We must abandon the peculiar desire to recognize a peer or even an inferior in a national leader. Let’s admire and elevate people who are brighter, more educated, and more capable than us. Leaders should be out in front leading because they are the best. We don’t need presidents who shuffle alongside of us or, worse, behind us. America is a huge country with a population of more than three hundred million people. It’s not as if the supply of bright people has been exhausted. . . . . This is an easy fix. . . . . All we need is a new awareness movement to sell the public on an old idea. Spread the word: Presidents should be smart and well informed.

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