What has been the root cause of this Trump aberration? And an aberration it is: "a deviation or alteration from the normal or expected course."
The President’s conduct and behavior before and after the election have certainly been that, a deviation to say the least. But is Trump’s performance itself the cause of our present turmoil and angst? Or was his election the result of something already basically amiss within our society and body politic? There have been no surprises to me. Trump has merely performed as advertised.
The subtle change that has taken place in the American psyche over roughly the past two decades is the proliferation of a culture of anti-intellectualism and increasing skepticism and hostility toward science, learning and expertise in general.
"A celebration of ignorance as a virtue" is how author and researcher Tom Nichols describes it. Throughout our history Americans have maintained a healthy skepticism toward unbridled all-knowingness and have refrained from wholesale deference to credentials or titles. But what is going on now among conservatives, the religious right, the blue-collar class and much of the Republican Party in general is a radical departure from the norm.
What it amounts to is a denial of reality and condemnation prior to investigation. Some people today think they are smarter than doctors about vaccinations, smarter than judges about the Constitution, smarter than Biblical scholars about the Scriptures and smarter than climatologists about the weather.
Many of the Republican Presidential Primary candidates took anti-science positions on certain issues, particularly those of particular concern to the fundamentalist-evangelical community. Some even attacked the validity of science itself. This was surprising since the economy was such a big factor in the debates and much of our economic growth over the past century has been the result of scientific innovations. Advances in biology, based on evolutionary theory (a dirty word to the religious right) have created the new biotech industry. And new research in genetics (another suspicious subject to the religious right) is revolutionizing our knowledge of disease and treatment options.
Thomas Jefferson, foremost among our founding fathers as a scientific thinker, believed that if we can discover truth through scientific reasoning, then no one has a franchise on the truth. Those in authority, he asserted, have no right to impose their beliefs on others. Knowledge is acquired by study and systematic testing, not through arbitrary ideological dictums. Yet more than two centuries after Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence conservative political candidates have taken an anti-science stance against evolution and natural selection, climate change, vaccination, stem cell research and a host of other "fuzzy-headed liberal" findings. This anti-intellectual movement is gaining momentum at the very time our nation needs the innovations of scientific research the most.
Republican preoccupation with denialism is particularly puzzling because it often attacks the reliability of science itself: e.g. cell phones cause brain cancer (elementary science shows this is impossible) and vaccines cause autism (exhaustive research shows no causal linkage whatsoever). An article in "Scientific America" suggests this Republican negativity is motivated by an ingrained conservative antiregulatory bias. Further evidence of this trend is the fact that during the GOP primary campaign candidates who stepped up their anti-science rhetoric gained in the polls.
I have always been a political independent, having voted for an equal number of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in my lifetime (7 each). But do I believe the GOP has gone completely coo coo this time? As my all-time least-favorite vice presidential candidate would say, "You betcha!"
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.