Current Affairs Feed

Will: Trump's Dangerous Lack of Knowledge

In a seering, and humourous, column, Republican George Will blasts Trump's ignorance.  Here are the choice lines:

It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence.

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As this column has said before, the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.

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His fathomless lack of interest in America’s path to the present and his limitless gullibility leave him susceptible to being blown about by gusts of factoids that cling like lint to a disorderly mind.

I think "gusts of factoids that cling like lint to a disorderly mind" should go down in history as one of the great lines of the Republic.

 


The Evangelical Roots of our Post-Truth Society

Catching upon blogging, I want to share this interesting article from the NY Times on the evangelical roots of the post-truth society.  If anything, I think this article needs to be longer, with more in-depth exploration of the topic.

The author discusses how conservative and fundamentalist evangelical Christians embrace a worldview of biblical inerrancy which compels them to reject aspects of science, philosophy, and history which they find incompatible.  They are taught to view those things and their purveyors as false or fake.

This was something of my experience, growing up, though I grew up in an era when the fundamentalists did not have complete control of my denomination, but this sort of talk was gaining ground.  In some ways it emerged out of conservative Christian rejection of some aspects of popular culture and the culture wars of my parent's generation.  I do remember being raised on the evils of rock music, for example.  So as those sectarian ideas developed over time, they led to a rejection of even more of mainstream culture and thought.

The Texas textbook fights are good examples. The debate wasn't just about rejecting science books that discussed evolution, health textbooks couldn't discuss condoms in the sex ed section and, later, history textbooks downplayed ideas like the separation of church and state.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

We all cling to our own unquestioned assumptions. But in the quest to advance knowledge and broker peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic world, the worldview based on biblical inerrancy gets tangled up in the contradiction between its claims on universalist science and insistence on an exclusive faith.

By contrast, the worldview that has propelled mainstream Western intellectual life and made modern civilization possible is a kind of pragmatism. It is an empirical outlook that continually — if imperfectly — revises its conclusions based on evidence available to everyone, regardless of their beliefs about the supernatural. This worldview clashes with the conservative evangelical war on facts . . .

So, it's easy to see how this brainwashing might lead to people without the critical thinking skills and personal autonomy to judge Donald Trump accurately.  Yet, I remain puzzled with how supposed promoters of traditional values could embrace this moral reprobate.


A Defense of Truth

The second essay in the LA Times series on Trump is a defense of truth and the methods of verification in the face of a President who threatens both.

Trump’s easy embrace of untruth can sometimes be entertaining, in the vein of a Moammar Kadafi speech to the United Nations or the self-serving blathering of a 6-year-old.

But he is not merely amusing. He is dangerous. His choice of falsehoods and his method of spewing them — often in tweets, as if he spent his days and nights glued to his bedside radio and was periodically set off by some drivel uttered by a talk show host who repeated something he’d read on some fringe blog — are a clue to Trump’s thought processes and perhaps his lack of agency. He gives every indication that he is as much the gullible tool of liars as he is the liar in chief.

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His approach succeeds because of his preternaturally deft grasp of his audience. Though he is neither terribly articulate nor a seasoned politician, he has a remarkable instinct for discerning which conspiracy theories in which quasi-news source, or which of his own inner musings, will turn into ratings gold. He targets the darkness, anger and insecurity that hide in each of us and harnesses them for his own purposes. If one of his lies doesn’t work — well, then he lies about that.

These are all examples of moral and intellectual vices.


Our Dishonest President

The LA Times is running a powerful series this week exploring the vices of Trump.  Here is the first post, "Our Dishonest President."  An excerpt:

What is most worrisome about Trump is Trump himself. He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation. His obsession with his own fame, wealth and success, his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation — these traits were, of course, at the very heart of his scorched-earth outsider campaign; indeed, some of them helped get him elected. But in a real presidency in which he wields unimaginable power, they are nothing short of disastrous.

My deepest concern has not been Trump's policies, like the L. A. Times I'm most worried by his assault upon moral and intellectual virtue.  


Church's loss of influence

One of my responses  after the election of Trump was that his election signified the loss of influence of the Christian church, particularly if someone so immoral and whose views were antithetical to the faith could get elected, then we had lost our influence even more than we realized.

In the most recent Atlantic, an article by Peter Beinart gives support to that thesis, while also showing wider cultural trends.

Whereas it has long been claimed that a more secular society will be more tolerant and liberal and will avoid the culture wars, that does not seem to be true.  People who aren't active in church are more likely to hold extreme, polarizing political views.  Beinart writes, "As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between “us” and “them.” Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways."

He discusses how non-church going religious conservatives were the core of Trump's supporters, that non-church going liberals split with church-going liberals over Hillary and Bernie, and that Black Lives Matter doesn't work within the traditional church as previous civil rights movements have.  Beinart concludes:

Maybe it’s the values of hierarchy, authority, and tradition that churches instill. Maybe religion builds habits and networks that help people better weather national traumas, and thus retain their faith that the system works. For whatever reason, secularization isn’t easing political conflict. It’s making American politics even more convulsive and zero-sum.


Repair

I have felt the last few months that the most important task isn't opposition--as important as that is--but reweaving the moral and social fabric which has deteriorated.  Which means I, in some ways, viewed Trump as a symptom and not the disease, the cause.  This is the motivation behind much of my recent reading, writing, preaching, even the podcast.  How to restore morality, decency, faith, society, and democracy.

Today I watched this sermon which David Brooks delivered at the National Cathedral and it expresses so much of what I've been thinking and feeling.  This sermon gives more shape to my thoughts and encourages me at a point when I was doubting the direction I had chosen.  I encourage you to watch it.

 


Demonic Activity?

In one of the stranger articles I've ever read in the Washington Post, an evangelical pastor in Florida, who seems to have supported Trump before, reveals how he experienced "demonic activity" at Trump's rally this week.  

The article's conclusion is quite frightening:

“I know why people voted for him; I know why people voted against his opponent. But, at the end of the day, what I felt from his leadership in this experience was actually horrifying. There was palpable fear in the room. There was thick anger and vengeance. He was counting on it. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it would not have taken very much for him to have called this group of people into some kind of riotous reaction.”

And there was this strange, revealing, and also upsetting tidbit:

“The First Lady approached the platform and in her rich accent, began to recite the Lord’s prayer,” he added. “I can’t explain it, but I felt sick. This wasn’t a prayer beseeching the presence of Almighty God, it felt theatrical and manipulative. People across the room were reciting it as if it were a pep squad cheer. At the close of the prayer, the room erupted in cheering. It was so uncomfortable. I observed that Mr. Trump did not recite the prayer until the very last line, ‘be the glory forever and ever, amen!’ As he raised his hands in the air, evoking a cheer from the crowd, ‘USA! USA! USA!’ ”


A Failed Trump Administration

Catching up on my blogging after a weekend away. Here was  David Brooks's column last week in which he discussed the failure that already is the Trump administration and his worries that no one will bring it to a quick end.  He writes:

The likelihood is this: We’re going to have an administration that has morally and politically collapsed, without actually going away.

What does that look like?


“We felt like no one was listening.”

A very good article in the Omaha World-Herald explores why the small town of DeWitt, Nebraska, an area that has traditionally leaned more Democratic than the rest of the state, went for Trump 2-1.  Also revealed are the complex reactions to his first month in office, including worried thoughts from some who voted for him.

I also found this section revealing:

Yet like a lot of people in DeWitt, Kracke said he was totally turned off by politics. And news.

“I don’t watch TV, I don’t read newspapers. If it has anything to do with politics, on Facebook, I don’t even look at it. If you email me something on politics, I will not read it,” Kracke said.

Instead, he prefers the company of his barbershop quartet and his cattle.

“That’s what keeps me sane,” he said. “Life is too short to be arguing with people.”

That’s also how Gibbs feels. The CEO of Waldo Genetics, a storied hog operation founded by her great-grandfather, said she treasures relationships in her local community. And as a self-described “nonpolitical person,” she laments the harsh debates. If only people could hash out their political differences politely, she said, they might come to understand opposing points of view.

I generally aim to be a well-informed person and to read much about politics and current affairs, including differing perspectives.  I'm bothered by people who pride themselves in being uninformed but still taking strong positions.