Recently, I watched in awe as President Donald John Trump gave his first real press conference at the White House after losing the 2020 presidential elections to Democrat Joe Biden. I witnessed a pitiful harangue by a vanquished politician who just cannot acknowledge the outcome of the election, and gracefully concede defeat. Not that his concession matters one way or the other. I like to say in politics that the numbers cannot lie; and that's true in this instance. After November 3, the lame-duck president largely confined himself to playing golf and ranting on Twitter about how the election was rigged and fraudulent. Of course, he presented absolutely no evidence, let alone proof, of his wacky allegations that is nothing new. Trump has long had an adversarial relationship with truth and facts that he's oftentimes bended and twisted to suit his own world-view. Lying and "doctored, alternative facts" is as much a part of his short-lived legacy as is his penchant to braggadocio and bombast.
Apart from the fact that Donald Trump will go down in United States presidential history as a first-term impeached president with the distinction of having the most members of his close circle of friends, enablers and advisors go to jail, he's a loser personified. For example, he's failed at almost everything that he's done in life after being handed all of the instruments for success on a silver platter. As Joe Biden said in the first POTUS debate "like everything he's touched he's run it into the ground" - the presidency being no exception. Under Trump the United States government became a studied kakistocracy and a haven for grifters and incompetents. His Administration's penchant for screwing things up is the definition of "government by the worst people." And more damning is that all of this contributed to a pervasive and systemic culture and cult of ignorance and intolerance in America that will take time to redress.
Americans like to believe that they're the enlightened, smart people of the world. "Exceptionalism" they call it, and many political conmen (like Trump) use this world fast and loose in describing American history and accomplishments in the world. At home flimsy, pseudo-patriotism is always on display with inane chants of "USA! USA!" at gladiatorial football games, and just about anywhere beer-guzzling, pot-bellied yahoos get the chance to brandish their rifles and wrap themselves in the flag. Fact is, Americans have been dumb-downed and myopic in their thinking for many years now, and so it was easy for many of them to "sign on" to Trump's "Make America Great Again" mantra. They were embracing the periods of American insularity, xenophobia, white supremacy and national ignorance that simplified EVERYTHING based on skin color and white entitlement.
Today, many Americans still scoff at this kind of ignorance because America is the sole superpower in the world. But coupled with rigidly controlled media that push "manufactured consent" of the people I would not be too confident of "America's enlightenment." For example, six years ago when Russia invaded the Ukraine, only one in 6, and fewer than one in 4 college graduates, could tell you where exactly Ukraine was on a map. If this surprises you consider that in 2020 literally millions of Americans are decidedly against science so when President Trump openly calls the coronavirus pandemic a hoax that will "go away," many of his over 70 million followers believe him, and rail against medical science - even when their friends and families are hospitalized and dying. National stupidity, banal ignorance and a marked lack of common sense is indicative and a feature of the "cult of the personality" where the "paramount leader" is elevated to a godlike stature.
Consider President Donald Trump's unrelenting and consistent attacks on the media. That four-year drumbeat has led to millions of Americans now openly distrustful of one of the key checks to a healthy democracy. This erosion of faith and trust in the media to tell the truth has also led to the most outlandish and silly conspiracy theories filling the void in the collective beliefs by those who have rejected science and the role of the media in society. Just as there are all sorts and stripes of COVID-19 denialists in 2020, go back to the early 90s and you'll find a similar phenomenon when it came to AIDS. Starting with President Ronald Reagan who saw it as somehow the result of "sin in society," other denialists, just like today, argued against the entire medical and scientific establishment consensus that HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus) was the cause of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Back then these crackpots and pseudo-scientists, peddled all kinds of crazy theories in direct contrast to science that thrives on challenges and rejects the kinds of baseless narratives that we see in America today. From coddling white supremacists, demands for fealty and loyalty, to embracing one quixotic conspiracy theory after another, and culminating in branding an open, free and fair election as "stolen, fraudulent and rigged," the Trump political playbook is not new in American politics. What is new is the march towards dictatorship and strongmanism that Donald Trump and his Republican Party of enablers and "yes men" have embraced. Wannabe dictators or "dictators lite" like Trump cannot resort to force or fraud to gain despotic political power because of the many checks and balances and democratic institutional strength that the United States possesses.
So, he cloaks his nefarious intentions first by duping and bamboozling a significant segment of America's gullible population riddled with anxieties over the country's demographic transformation and the conscious and unconscious protection of their "whiteness," and real or perceived privileges in society as a result. Trump tapped into this white resentment, anger and anxiety and fed this group a steady toxic diet of racism, lies, fabrications and falsehoods. His bombastic tough talk and swagger helped to convince these people that he was their political savior and messiah. His technique of mass propaganda was targeted (and still is) to sustain his public support.
The Trump Era has ushered in dangerous times. Never have so many Americans had so much access to so much knowledge and yet have been so resistant to truth and learning anything. Today, in America and other so-called developed nations, otherwise intelligent people denigrate intellectual achievements and routinely reject the advice of experts getting their information from Facebook, Twitter and other social media spaces. Alarmingly, not only do increasingly large numbers of lay people lack basic knowledge, they also reject fundamental rules of evidence and facts, and refuse to learn how to make sound, educated and logical arguments. In doing so, they risk throwing away centuries of accumulated knowledge and undermining the practices and habits that allow people to develop new knowledge.
Here in the Western World, and the United States in particular, this growing phenomenon and practice is much more than a natural skepticism toward experts in every field. We are witnessing here the death of the ideal of expertise itself, replaced by a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between genuine professionals and laypeople, uppity, know-it-all students and condescending teachers, knowers and wonderers--in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none, nil at all.
The now pervasive cult of ignorance and stupidity is manifested on a daily basis by attacks on established knowledge and the subsequent barrage of poor information in the general public. Sometimes, like watching President Trump's deliberate contortions, truth-killing antics, and confusion-dredged, knee-jerk pronouncements is SO amusing. The kind of content that late-night comedians have made a cottage industry of asking people questions that reveal their utter ignorance about their own strongly held ideas, their attachment to silly "herd fads," and their unwillingness to admit their own cluelessness about important current events. Like the countless and meaningless "resolutions" people make each New Year and never keep. These are funny and harmless things.
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