"We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought."
An increasing number of us at home and abroad, are incredulously asking how the American people lifted Donald Trump into the position of President of the United States. There are, no doubt, many explanations to account for this phenomenon.
Trump's MAGA slogan resonated with masses of "forgotten Americans" who indeed felt America wasn't great anymore. Everything was changing. It seemed that the things that gave them whatever precarious advantage they had in life, being white (and for most) being male counted for less and less. Instead the United States was filling up with bad people who would blow up your church, steal your jobs and get your kids hooked on drugs. Racism has been an ongoing theme in our country for countless years. There were all too many people who favored the dehumanization of target groups: black, women, Hispanics, migrants, Muslims, and others. Certainly, these were factors.
During the campaign many of us perceived the potential catastrophic dangers involved in Donald Trump's ascension to a position of great power. The disdainful nicknames given to his rivals were a big hint. There was "Pocahontas" for Elizabeth Warren, "Basically Brain-Dead Bernie" for Bernie Sanders, "Skank" and "Crooked" for Hillary Clinton, and "Crazy" Nancy Pelosi. Clearly, a central element of Trump's way of relating to others is via bullying. Bullies maintain their social status by threatening, attacking and/or demeaning anyone who they see as a threat to their position on top of the heap. They seek social dominance through intimidation.
Aside from possible voting machines hacking, one is sorely tempted to ask the question, "What were we thinking"? Or were we? With all due respect, present-day America seems more and more like a scene from "Dumb and Dumber."
Yet, even in the midst of a raging pandemic, an economy in meltdown, and cities in chaos over police killings, we find the following in an April 2020 Reuter's article:
"Trump's approval rating, by contrast, has remained steady throughout his presidency and has ranged between 40% and 44% since the onset of the U.S. coronavirus crisis in early March, buoyed by the support of 85% of Republicans, according to the latest April 6-7 Reuters/Ipsos poll. That job rating makes November's [upcoming] election highly competitive, experts say, though the political landscape could shift as the pandemic continues to claim lives and jobs. "
As of 6/3/20 according to the CDC, the death toll in the U.S. is 109,140. We have witnessed the extraordinarily inhumane policy of separating traumatized children from parents at the Mexican border and putting them in holding camps and cages; we have seen the shockingly inadequate response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and the withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by the U.S. with Russia in 1987, the Paris climate accords and the Iran nuclear agreement; Trump's 2021 budget calls for $28.9 billion for the Pentagon to modernize nuclear delivery systems and $19.8 billion to the National Nuclear Security Administration a nearly 20% increase over his previous budget request for "modernizing the nuclear weapons stockpile;" and most recently, when tweeting about people protesting the police-involved murder of a Black man, Trump called the protesters "thugs" and "low-lifes", and threatened to deploy the military on American soil and have them shot, stating, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."
According to Robert Altemeyer, who has spent his professional career studying authoritarian leaders and followers, 20-25% of the adults in North America are highly vulnerable to a demagogue who would incite hatred of various minorities to gain power. These people are constantly waiting for a tough "law and order," "man on horseback" who will supposedly solve all our problems through the ruthless application of force. In other words, when such a person gains prominence, you can expect the authoritarian followers to mate devotedly with the authoritarian political leader.
Will we be enduring another four years with this man at the helm? Why is our next election predicted to be even close, not to mention, "highly competitive?" As noted, Trump's approval rating, by contrast, has remained steady throughout his presidency and has ranged between 40% and 44%. Why aren't more of us utterly appalled? What is going on with the thought process in our country?
A recent article describes an everyday American who attests that he has faith in President Donald Trump to handle the Covid-19 crisis. It reports that the person interviewed has heard the widespread criticism that Trump initially didn't take the pandemic seriously, that his administration failed to procure vital medical supplies and left overwhelmed states to fend for themselves, but has a different take.
"He's not God. He can't foresee the future or see that the virus can do this or that," said the man, who voted for Trump in 2016 and plans to again in November. "He's doing the best he can with the information that he gets."
No doubt we are vulnerable to the following temptation: the more complex the world becomes, the more appealing it is to give up on thoughtful reasoning and put trust in an authority who speaks with confidence. The temptation is to strip the ambiguity from life so that there are no tough judgment calls anymore. It would seem that for a substantial number of people, the thinking is already over. They're not guessing at what's true: they know. There's no interpretation left to do. They and their leaders have already done all the thinking necessary.
Another key factor in the support Trump enjoys has been called the "dumbing down of education." The consequences of the choices we have made are equally clear: young people grow into adults and make the same basic mistakes as their predecessors (adding, of course, their own unique twists). Yet, the central questions here have to do with essentials: What is required for a deeply peaceful and joyful life? How important are the cultivation of qualities such as kindness, truthfulness, compassion, awareness, critical thinking and a functioning conscience? The state of our world is the living proof the education has not helped vast numbers of individuals to answer these questions.
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