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.


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.


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.


Evangelicals & Trump

Much has been written about the puzzling support of Donald Trump by Evangelicals (meaning conservative to fundamentalist Protestants and not the more correct theological term of groups descended from Martin Luther, of which my denomination, for instance, is a part).

On one hand, I'm not puzzled by the craven Evangelical leaders supporting him.  Many of them gave evidence of their moral vacuity years ago.  Importantly, not all Evangelicals have backed him.  Russell Moore, for instance, has been an outspoken critic, and maybe now risking his job because of it.  

I'm more puzzled by the support of the average Evangelical who I know to generally believe in morality. The Evangelicals I grew up with largely abandoned Clinton because of his draft dodging, pot smoking, and affairs, even though they had been Yellow Dog Democrats until the 1990's.  It is these folk who puzzle me.  I wonder what has changed in the Evangelical world since I departed it?

This Molly Worthen article in the Atlantic I did not find helpful, because I believe it misrepresents Evangelical history. In particular she sites opposition to the New Deal as being an organizing principle for Evangelical politics. Now, the Evangelical world I grew up in was, as already stated, Yellow Dog Democrat.  FDR was a deeply admired person.  The Southern Baptists I knew were mostly supporters of the New Deal.

She's not wrong about the conservative Evangelicals who early embraced right wing politics, but this shows that there was a complexity to the Evangelical world often overlooked in mainstream journalist.  Let me explain a little.

In the small town Oklahoma Southern Baptist world I grew up in, there was not a widespread embrace of conservative Evangelicalism.  Pentecostals of various stripes were often looked down upon as "holly rollers."  People like Jerry Falwell, the Bakers, Pat Robertson, etc. had very little to no influence.  They were viewed with great skepticism by the people I grew up with and were considered greedy and craven and abusers of religion.

That more mainstream, even moderate Evangelicalism was overtaken by an alliance of fundamentalists and right wing politicians is itself a story that needs to be told in more detail.

The Pipeline: Public Reason, Affection, and Stewardship

Today I watched a fascinating exercise in public reason--the Nebraska Public Service Commission receiving more than seven hours of public testimony about the proposed Nebraska route for the Keystone XL Pipeline.

First, some background. It is activists in Nebraska who largely killed the pipeline twice before. First, when it might have been approved by the Obama administration, Nebraska was the hold up, as there was no approved route here.  At the time even some of the GOP political leadership of the state opposed the original proposed route.  A special session of the legislature was held, new laws were created, and cases were adjudicated in court.  When Obama did finally rule against it, it was again after years of activist leadership by Nebraskans.  These same folk have now returned to oppose it again with President Trump having reignited the fight.

At the current moment there is no approved route in Nebraska and so the Public Service Commission must approve a route.  The purpose of today's public hearing was to receive public testimony on Trans-Canada's application.

In Nebraska the opposition isn't quite what people outside the state expect--it is a bipartisan coalition that includes environmental activists but also conservative ranchers who oppose their land being taken through eminent domain by a foreign company.  This latter point has always for me been the clear public reason the pipeline should be killed.  

Nebraska is an agricultural state and has never before really had to wrestle with the fossil fuel industry, so this experience has been eye-opening for the people.  Nebraska sits atop the Ogallala aquifer, which provides fresh water for five states.  But here it comes within a few feet of the surface, and in the Sandhills in particular it can bubble to the surface.  The Sandhills are a unique and fragile ecosystem which sustains the state's agriculture, is on the route of many endangered migrating bird species, and is deeply beloved in the state for its beauty.

Keystone already has an earlier pipeline which runs through the state further east, away from the aquifer and the Sandhills.  It has always been a puzzle that Trans-Canada didn't simply build the new pipeline where they already have an easement.

So today's hearing reminded us of many of those issues and more.  Proponents, which were far outnumbered by opponents, spoke primarily about job creation, though many studies have indicated that the short-term construction jobs will have a minor economic impact upon the state.  Nevertheless, the union construction workers who testified, spoke compelling of the importance of those jobs for their livelihoods and their families.  They spoke of the skill with which they build, the pride they take in their work, and the concerns they have as Nebraskans for the land and its well-being.

Opponent testimony varied across a wide-range of points-of-view and represented the vast geographical spread of the state.  Some spoke against the bullying and manipulative practices of Trans-Canada.  Many spoke of the bad deal offered landowners in Trans-Canada's easement.  Some said that if there was going to be a pipeline, then put it in the route where the first pipeline is.  Many spoke about the dirty tar sands and the potential ecological disaster from the pipeline leaking.  Some spoke about climate change and the need to invest in renewable energy instead.  Many worried what would happen decades or more from now when the pipeline is no longer needed and neither the law nor the easements require Trans-Canada to attempt to reclaim the land. People spoke of Nebraska agriculture, the beauty of the landscape, Native American cultural sites along the route, negative economic impacts, and more. 

In fact, so many reasons were given for being opposed that it was difficult to imagine that the opposition won't outweigh the support.  

And the people speaking presented all walks of life, but with a heavy preponderance of rural folk, particularly farmers and ranchers.  (This left me puzzling over the post-election analysis of the rural-urban divide, analysis I've always thought too trite and not reflective of life here in the heartland).

I was fascinated watching this democratic process and this effort at public reason.  Here were competing points-of-view.  Some arguments were more persuasive than others, some more compelling than others.  I learned a lot, including from the proponents.

Also, the speakers who became passionately angry and even sometimes mean in what they said (and frankly this was usually opponents) did not serve themselves well.  And too many speakers reiterated points already made, some times many times before.  But many speakers gave very well reasoned, well researched, and well presented persuasive arguments as to why the pipeline doesn't serve the public interest of Nebraskans.  

I was speaker number 119.  I didn't get a chance to speak till after 4 p.m. and wasn't sure I would as I didn't want to cover ground someone else had already talked about.  But no one had spoken of the issue from the perspective of the Christian faith, so I did.  I was surprised by the absence of clergy, particularly from my denomination, which has long opposed the pipeline.  I stated that our stewardship of nature is among the first commands God gave us and that if we are to fulfill our moral and religious obligations then we should reject the pipeline.

Most compelling for me were the ranchers and farmers whose land would be seized in eminent domain who opposed the pipeline.  Many are living on land that has been in their families since it was homesteaded in the 19th century.  Many hope the land will remain in their family for a century or more to come.  When they spoke of their land it was with deep affection (which reminded me of Wendell Berry) and an abiding sense of responsibility that goes by the old word stewardship.  They spoke of the fragility of the Sandhills soil and how their fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers learned that once it was improperly disturbed it could not be restored to its former self.

Most powerful were the landowners who broke down weeping.  Usually men.  One could barely speak of how his family is afraid of losing their land.  They have had to mortgage it and they worry that the pipeline will destroy what makes it special.  Early in the day a rancher who had to be in his eighties was the first to cry, weeping as he spoke of his love and responsibility for his family land and his deep fear that his land will be seized and ruined.

So, an overwhelming and diverse group of Nebraskans testifying that this pipeline isn't in the public interest.  Many good and compelling rational arguments.  And the heartbreaking pleas of the farmers and ranchers who love the water and land God has given into their stewardship.  What the Public Service Commission should do is quite clear.

The Bridge on the Drina

The Bridge on the DrinaThe Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andrić
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

More than three centuries of the complex history and cultural mix of Bosnia presented as the story of one bridge and the town that surrounds it. Filled with rich characters, astute observations about life, compelling stories, and beautiful sentences, this novel will remain within my memory and imagination for some time.

View all my reviews