America’s Descent into Unreason
We must wield facts and values in fighting the theft of our republic.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, believes that coastline erosion and silt deposits from rivers contribute to rises in sea level. Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner claims that global warming is caused by body heat and the earth moving closer to the sun. Let us say gently that the earth’s orbit is more stable than Mr. Wagner’s.
Alas, these examples illustrate a problem that affects far more than just politicians: too many of us would rather cling to ill-informed notions than pull out our smartphones and look things up.
Even creators of fantasy do their research. Black Panther director Ryan Coogler and his design team, for example, drew inspiration from real cultures across Africa in fleshing out the imaginary Wakanda. If you are less in touch with reality than a Marvel superhero movie, you may have a problem.
Speaking in Johannesburg on July 17 in commemoration of Nelson Mandela’s centennial, former president Barack Obama said, “[For democracy] to work, we have to actually believe in an objective reality.... Without facts, there is no basis for cooperation.... Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up.” Obama did not mention his successor; he didn’t have to.
The substitution of partisan spin for investigative journalism on cable news is a big part of the problem. As a journalism tutor once said, “If someone says it’s raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out of the f***ing window and find out which is true.”
Our aim should not—figuratively—be to tattoo “Stupid” on anyone’s forehead, nor to pull our punches in public debates, but to end the destructiveness that results from continually giving free, unfiltered media to demagogues who appeal to our lowest impulses. A nation of ignorant trolls will produce nothing resembling greatness in competition with other nations.
Our push-back should not be solely about current policy disputes, but the founding principles without which America exists in name only. They begin with the holding that all of us are created equal.
The threat we face was summarized on July 16 by Bree Newsome, who climbed a flagpole on the South Carolina statehouse grounds in 2015 to remove the Confederate flag: “White racists in US have shown time and again they’d rather burn the republic to the ground than have racial equality in America.... The commitment to white supremacy is stronger than commitment to western democracy.” Sadly, yes. Racism and know-nothingism poison the public square we all must share.
It makes no sense to demonize black athletes for kneeling in protest against racist law enforcement, while praising or excusing our president’s supine behavior in Helsinki. Peaceful protest is a time-honored tradition here. Siding with a foreign despot against America is not.
Effective policymaking depends not just on facts but on sound reasoning and goodwill, which are lacking in Trumpland. To understand the embrace of President Seven Deadly Sins by white evangelicals, we need to recognize the flights of unreason that sustain their besieged worldview. For them, Trump is God’s tool, just as the Bible is a weapon.
Consider members of First Baptist Church in Luverne, Alabama, interviewed by Stephanie McCrummen in The Washington Post on July 21. Sunday school teacher Sheila Butler says that Christians are faced with “annihilation.” She continued with, “Obama was acting at the behest of the Islamic nation.” And “Christ’s call to welcome the stranger means the ‘legal immigrant stranger.’” Also, slavery’s evils are overstated, because “Slaves...got housing. They got fed. They got medical care.”
Regarding the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened earlier this year in Montgomery and features 800 steel monoliths hanging in a powerful evocation of lynching, Ms. Butler says it promotes violence because it will stir “feelings of revenge” in young black men. Does she also think memorials to our war dead promote violence? What about crucifixes?
I hardly know how to react to the Post article, except to note that these paranoid people vote. For the stolen children, for our stolen country, so must we.” ▼