The Age of Anti-Intellectualism: Facts Are Officially Obsolete

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These are plague years in America. The pestilence is as far-flung as any that ravaged Europe centuries ago – and potentially just as deadly. It’s not an affliction of the body, but of the mind. And unlike other diseases, the afflicted do not run from it or try to heal it; on the contrary, they embrace it wholeheartedly.

It isn’t stupidity; many of its victims are bright enough. It isn’t ignorance. Ignorance is simply an absence of knowledge; but this disease, anti-intellectualism, entails a willful avoidance of knowledge and a substitute of anti-knowledge. It isn’t just that many people no longer can distinguish between reality and fantasy; they no longer even have any concern that the distinction exists.

Half of Americans believe that Christianity came before Judaism, 30 percent believe Saddam Hussein was behind the 9-11 attacks, 30 percent don’t know what year 9-11 occurred in, 5 percent don’t know the DATE 9-11 occurred on (seriously), 30 percent of Democrats believe George W. Bush was behind the 9-11 attacks, 30 percent of Republicans believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya, 20 percent of Americans doubt that the moon landing actually occurred, 25 percent don’t know what country the U.S. won its independence from (many say it was China), 37 percent believe that climate change is a hoax, 35 percent believe that homosexuality is a choice, 25 percent don’t believe in evolution, 25 percent believe the sun revolves around the earth, and 71 percent don’t know where the Pacific Ocean is. (These percentages may vary from survey to survey, but the high insanity quotient is a constant.)

We have reached the point in American history at which facts officially have become obsolete. The corner officially was turned with the election of Donald J. Trump, a man who literally lies more often than he tells the truth.

Mind you, the plague is not of a solely political nature. And it has been incubating for quite a while. But its inception point arguably can be traced to another presidential election, and the apotheosis of another delusional demagogue: Ronald Reagan.

The Gipper was a prolific fibber even in a field proverbial for prevarication (though he pales beside Trump). Yet his admirers extol him as a “strong leader” of impeccable honesty and “character”. Why? One reason is that Reaganauts, like Trumpsters, are individuals who are willing and even eager to be deceived. In Reagan’s case, however, we also must give credit where it is due: he was a highly skilled liar, an acumen no doubt honed by his years in Hollywood. But there’s another, more chilling factor: he seems actually to have believed his own lies. His habit of recounting movie episodes as if they were real-life anecdotes apparently stems from his own confusion of one for the other.

When he claimed, more than once, that he filmed the liberation of prisoners from Nazi concentration camps (he never made it out of California during the war), he gave the impression that he had vivid memories of the fictional incident, and even offered to show nonexistent film he’d shot. Hell, he probably even suffered from PTSD from firing the camera. 

He lied repeatedly about selling weapons to a hostile nation and then using the proceeds to fund drug-running terrorists in Central America. Then, after denying he’d sold the weapons, he insisted that all the weapons he didn’t sell would have fit on the back of a small truck. He didn’t seem to notice the discrepancy, and neither did his fawning fans.

In fact, inspired by his highly successful rape of reality, they began doing for the media what Reagan had done for government – Rush Limbaugh was one of the earliest to jump on the bandwagon and is still going strong, churning out an endless stream of toxic falsehoods attacking The Others. Eventually the movement gave us Fox “News”, which for the past two decades has been feeding suggestible viewers an alternate reality around the clock. These folks know that the public will not bother to do any fact checking if you tell them what they want to hear and appeal to their emotions. 

We now have a society in which any belief or opinion, no matter how kooky, is considered on equal footing (at least) with solid fact; and all you have to do is say “I disagree” to make an unpleasant fact vanish is a wisp of smoke.

This has been going on for some time. But now, anti-intellectualism is officially national policy. It’s going to have a figurehead in the Oval Office. It’s going to have a high priest with his finger on the button. We came very close to this situation before with the “election” of George W. Bush — a man who spoke in an incoherent flux of grotesquely mangled English, and didn’t know the respective duties of the three branches of federal government, or that Social Security is a federal program.

Now we’ve gone full-throttle, officially decreeing that knowledge is not only unnecessary but a handicap. The U.S. has elected a president who rarely if ever reads, has no government experience, has no knowledge of the Constitution or government policy, and whose only legal experience is in suing and being sued at least 4000 times. The U.S. is going to have a president who obtains a large portion of his “information” about the world from the loony conspiracy theories of Alex Jones, which he repeats more or less verbatim.

Jones, in case you’re not familiar with him, has suggested that the Sandy Hook massacre and the Boston Marathon bombing were staged; that 9-11 was an inside job; that airplanes use chemtrails to spread “weaponized flu”; that the government is using fluoride to control our minds; that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton smell like sulfur because they are possessed by demons; that Michelle Obama is a man; that juice boxes are engineered to make children gay; that Justin Bieber is planning to create a police state by brainwashing kids; and that the world is being controlled by lizards from another planet.

Trump was parroting Jones when he declared that Barack Obama is a Kenyan; that thousands of Muslims cheered in the streets on 9-11; that Clinton used drugs prior to a debate; that Antonin Scalia was murdered; that vaccines cause autism; that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination; and that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election.

Does any of this bother Trump’s supporters? Why should it? After all, there must be something fishy about Hillary’s emails.

I just heard the umpteenth one of them say that Trump won the popular vote. Thanks to the miracle of Google, it would take only a few seconds to find out who really won. But why should they bother when their illusions are so comfortable?

And how many times have you heard them say that Clinton was responsible for the deaths of Americans in Benghazi? It would only take a few minutes online to learn that a highly partisan investigation spent months and millions trying to find evidence of some blunder by Clinton or Obama with regard to Benghazi; but in the end they were forced to admit that the administration acted properly and made no mistakes. Even Fox “News” reported as much, for Christ’s sweet sake. But millions of people would prefer to believe the lie.

Throughout the excruciatingly long campaign season, Trumpsters bombarded Facebook with bogus stories supporting Trump — or more precisely declaring that “Hillary’s a crook”. Many of these stories were concocted by teenagers in Macedonia who had no interest in Trump or the election or the U.S of A. They just wanted to make money. And they did — a ton of it. Some of them tried circulating fake stories promoting Clinton and Sanders, but they discovered that Trump was much more of a cash cow — which is to say, his supporters were much more gullible and misinformed.

A large number of Trump voters call themselves “pro-life” – a smug euphemism for “I believe abortion will go away if I sweep it under the rug”. It’s their hope and dream that Donald Trump will keep at least one of his campaign pledges and do what he can to make abortion illegal again. They choose to bury the harsh reality (as many did pre-Roe) that outlawing abortion just means that many women and girls will die horrible deaths from back alley procedures. And it’s entirely possible that some of them will be loved ones of “pro-life” voters.

And there’s another grim consequence of bubble-dwelling that is not only possible but absolutely certain. Trump has declared that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese (yet another nutty notion he cribbed from Jones) and this greatly appealed to voters whose favorite subject is not science. But we cannot ignore climate change forever; in the very near future, its effects are going to become so devastating that they will demand to be acknowledged. And that day probably will be hastened by the actions of Trump and company.

In the meantime, the denizens of alternate reality will keep on reveling in their plague, and turning their backs on the facts. Until the day comes when some pesky fact sneaks around and cures them by kicking them squarely in the nuts.

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Goliath Usually Wins

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The ancient folktale about a shepherd boy who defeats a ferocious, gigantic warrior has become one of the most widely known story types in the world. Not only was it incorporated into the Bible and imbued with religious significance, but it’s also filtered its way into the lore of other cultures, appearing in the guise of Jack and the Beanstalk, The Brave Little Tailor, and other tales.

The motif has become so deeply ingrained into the collective psyche that we’re constantly on the lookout for real-time parallels – and indeed we’ve even come to expect them.

Which might be why so many people were stunned and shocked by the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump totally blindsided them. But he really shouldn’t have.

His fans no doubt would like to cast him in the role of David. But he qualified as an underdog only on two counts: he was behind in the polls, and he had no qualifications or experience relevant to the position. But in every other way, he was about as Goliath as they get.

One of the richest men in the world, he has spent his entire life having people pamper him and cater to him. He is the embodiment of schoolyard bullying, of anti-intellectualism, of all that is vile, nasty, corrupt, hateful and cruel.

And he has powerful allies, including the American media – which trumped up and trumpeted phony “scandals” about his opponent while burying dozens of very real scandals about him. Even the director of the FBI violated the agency’s own directives to interfere in the election on his behalf. Under the circumstances, it would have been a miracle if Hillary Clinton had won. And miracles are in very short supply – that’s what makes them miracles.

Here’s an uncomfortable fact that they neglect to teach you in Sunday school: Goliath usually wins. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be particularly remarkable for a shepherd boy to bring him down. Before that fateful encounter, the obnoxious brute already had dispatched a number of worthy opponents. David typifies the hope that there is always hope if we act courageously in the face of evil, no matter how overwhelming the evil; and that sometimes one defeat of Goliath makes up for all the times he’s won.

Another important truth to remember is one so succinctly articulated by Tony Kushner in Angels In America: “The world only spins forward.” Civilization will keep advancing no matter how many obstacles Goliath throws in its path. Sometimes it will take two steps forward and one step back – or sometimes even (as we’ve just seen) vice versa. But overall, it keeps progressing.

African-Americans struggled for centuries against the Goliath of racism (which still isn’t dead but at least has been crippled). They faced bondage, lynchings, beatings, torture, discrimination and oppression before civil rights advances and even the election of a black president.

Gays have faced a similar Goliath, and have received comparable treatment. But eventually they were represented with respect in the media and by the law, and some have become openly gay elected officials. Today, they even can get married. What makes that miracle even more miraculous is that the change was delivered by a Supreme Court dominated by right-wingers. (It’s worth noting that the oppression of both groups, like many other social injustices, was fervently endorsed by Christian zealots — who now are beside themselves with ecstasy over Trump’s win.)

The world only spins forward.

During that same week in November when America officially embraced fascism, the world lost visionary singer/songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen, whose  distant relatives were murdered back when Europe officially embraced fascism. That weekend, Saturday Night Live faced a dilemma: was it appropriate to open the week’s episode with the customary light-heartedness after such a heavy double dose of sadness?

The solution was simple, elegant and powerful. Kate McKinnon, who had been portraying Hillary Clinton in the program’s satirical skits, sat at the piano and accompanied herself singing Cohen’s somber anthem “Hallelujah” – which coincidentally opens with a reference to that fabled shepherd king of Israel who once toppled a giant. At the song’s conclusion, McKinnon turned to the camera tearfully and said, “I’m not giving up. And neither should you.”

No, you shouldn’t. The world only spins forward. Fascism has been defeated once, and will be defeated again.

Goliath usually wins. But he can’t go on winning forever.

What I Learned From the Media About Clinton and Trump (and the Media)

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So it’s a choice between “two evils”, two candidates who are pretty much equally flawed . That’s been the official media narrative about the 2016 election for many moons now, supposedly supported by a constant stream of soundbites. But actually listen to the soundbites, and this is what they really say:

Clinton is an “old 68 or 69”. Trump is a “young 70”.

Clinton (who has been married to the same man more than 40 years) has a rotten marriage and is surely impossible to live with. Trump (currently on his third marriage) has a “blended family”.

Clinton (whose statements have been found of questionable accuracy 27 percent of the time, and more accurate than those of any of her opponents) is a chronic pathological liar. Trump (whose statements are at least questionable 69 percent of the time, and are often verifiable, outrageous whoppers) is “very creative with the truth” while “telling it like it is”.

Clinton (on the basis of breathless speculation) is a “crook”, an unscrupulous “lawbreaker” who should be locked up. Trump (who has a long history of verifiable corruption) is a “rule breaker”.

The Clinton Foundation (despite no evidence of wrongdoing) still continually “raises questions”. The Trump Foundation (which has been fined by the IRS and may be investigated for fraud) hardly raises an eyebrow.

By running attack ads that quote her opponent’s own words, Clinton is being nasty, divisive and vicious. By rehashing long-discredited rumors and allegations about his opponent, Trump is being bold, direct and plain-speaking.

Clinton (whose unflappable poise and whose grace under extreme fire are legendary) is “grating”, “shrill”, a “witch”, a “bitch”, a “cunt” – at least when she isn’t busy being “robotic”, which probably isn’t when she’s laughing or smiling or smirking too much. Trump (who interrupted her as many as 51 times during the first debate and has threatened and condoned violence against dissenters) is a “strong leader” who “takes control”.

Clinton (who has cooperated with years of very thorough, blatantly partisan investigations) is “hiding something”. Trump (who refuses to release his tax returns) is a straight shooter and a “genius”.

Clinton (who  has decades of distinguished experience in government in various capacities) carries “baggage”. Trump ( who has zero government experience, zero training in law, and little or no knowledge of the Constitution, but does have a long history of shady business practices) is a fresh face, a maverick, a Mr. Smith.

Clinton (who worked her way up from humble beginnings and has always concerned herself with the less fortunate) is an “elitist”. Trump (who was born rich and has devoted his life to becoming richer) is a “blue collar billionaire”. No, seriously.

Clinton (who has defended the Constitution for decades) is anti-American, a traitor. Trump (who has campaigned on pledges to violate the Constitution and international treaties, and has repeatedly insulted veterans and POWs) is a super-patriot.

The most important things about Clinton are emails, Benghazi, emails, The Clinton Foundation, emails, her laugh, emails, her hairstyle, emails, her dress, emails, her marital troubles, and emails. The most important thing about Trump is his “message” – whatever it may be.

So what conclusion do all of these bread crumbs lead to? Don’t be silly. They prove that the American mainstream media have an overwhelming liberal bias and they’ve gunning for Trump while pimping for Clinton. After all, the liberal media themselves have told us so, many times. So has Trump. And most Americans believe it. So that settles it.

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