15 November 2016

Hate trumps love; Ideology trumps science

Posted by Callan Bentley

It’s been a week since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the race for the President of the United States.

I’ve been processing the news, and I’m not happy about it. I’ve been on “radio silence” for a week, mourning, ruminating, fretting. From my perspective, this is one of the most disturbing developments in the history of my country since the Civil War, since the McCarthy hearings, and since the 9/11 attacks. I’m not being hyperbolic: Trump worries me fundamentally on multiple levels. I was astonished that he won, given his awful behavior (bullying coarseness, sexism, xenophobia), his near-constant lying on almost every topic imaginable, his lack of tractable policy prescriptions while campaigning, his dismissal of climate science, and his embrace of racism. There is no President in the history of our country (though Andrew Jackson comes closest) who more fully embodies despicable behavior, recklessness, and malevolence relative to the standards of their day.

I feel like I have to get a few things off my chest here – and recall that I speak only for myself, not on behalf of any institution, including the one that hosts my blog or the one that employs me.

Why did Clinton lose?

  1. Clinton was a lame candidate. The fact that her obvious experience, tact, and even keel could not overcome Trump’s litany of failings is astonishing. Any one of Trump’s lies or gaffes should have been the death knell of his campaign, but every time, he bounced back. Meanwhile, Clinton slogged through the muck of near-constant speculation about her stupid emails. She never shook that off to lead. She certainly got my vote, but really it was mainly because the alternatives were so much worse. Her apparent sense of caution was a liability as well as an asset. I found her uninspiring, which is awful, considering that the first female candidate for the highest office in the country should be — should have been — an absolutely inspirational figure. I wish she had inspired me as more than just “the only sane alternative to Trump.”
  2. It’s a shame that many people judged Clinton in light of her husband’s failings (in particular his philandering). Bill Clinton’s baggage weighed down his wife’s prospects.
  3. I think it was a mistake for President Obama to not work harder at filling the empty seat on the Supreme Court. Obviously, filling it isn’t up to him alone – The Senate’s deliberate obstructionism of Merrick Garland’s nomination is an abominable dereliction of their duty. But given that situation, I feel as though Obama should have pulled out all the stops to force their hand. Perhaps he should have used a recess appointment or sued Mitch McConnell. He should not have let the topic rest, but spoken about it continuously and constantly, motivating the American people to force their representatives to do their jobs. Instead, Obama effectively acquiesced, rolled over and accepted the GOP’s power play. The fact that seat remained tantalizingly open was a clear draw for any conservative voter. They may have been put off by Donald Trump’s numerous failings as a Bona Fide Conservative, but the prospect of a conservative-leaning high court was a palliative to mask their distaste of the man who might deliver that court to them. In other words, failing to resolve the Supreme Court vacancy was a strategic miscalculation on the part of the Democratic ticket’s advocates in the Obama administration.
  4. The flaws of Obamacare are more glaring with each passing year. Rising insurance premiums hurt, and this is something I heard from conservative friends and family. I appreciate that perspective, as it is quantifiable – it now costs more to get health care. You can counter that with the rosier picture from the national perspective that more people have health insurance than there used to be, but from the individual’s perspective, the wallet is demonstrably thinner than it was. This was a second major factor that played into voters’ decisions. The blame for the Affordable Care Act’s many failings is not exclusively Democratic, as the bill was an imperfect, overly-complicated Frankenstein’s monster that was seen as the only thing that would pass Congress when it was cobbled together early in Obama’s tenure. But regardless of the fact that the bill isn’t ideal from either party’s perspective, its downsides were prominent in the minds of some voters I spoke with.

Why does Trump’s ascendancy concern me?

  1. Temperamentally, Trump is not fit to be President of my left pinkie toe, much less one of the most powerful countries on Earth. His thin-skinned vindictiveness will not mesh well with the responsibilities of the office to which he’s been elected. That Americans elected such a volatile narcissist regardless of this obvious flaw is nothing short of shocking.
  2. Trump is an exceedingly poor example for our young people to emulate. His cheating, lying, denigrating behavior make him an undesirable role model. The job of President doesn’t have “being a perfect person” as a prerequisite, but I can think of many people more fit to serve as exemplars for our children, and I can think of only a few who would be worse. Trump’s awful behavior was vindicated by his election. Predictably, this has triggered a series of ugly incidents of racist vandalism and sexual assault. I worry that when the Top Dog is such a cad, our youth will calibrate their actions to match.
  3. The new media angle is a valid consideration for everyone to think about. Trump mastered Twitter, and relied on that for his means of outreach, caring little for the fact that almost every newspaper in the country endorsed his opponent. The unhappy evidence we must now contemplate is this: strongly-worded, well-reasoned opinion pieces and newspaper endorsements no longer carry any weight. Further, I witnessed Facebook devolve into an unpleasant morass of political posts, repetitive at the very least, delinquent in many cases, and outright false in others. Facebook has been criticized in the aftermath of the election for their willingness to host “fake news” stories – fodder for their clients’ numerous independent echo chambers. I’ve taken a week off of all social media, including this blog, Twitter, and Facebook, and I’m not sure I can bring myself to return to the latter. What should be a venue for pictures of peoples’ kids and travel photos has curdled into a putrescent mass of vitriol and misinformation. That nest is fouled – perhaps irreparably.
  4. I worry about Trump’s effect on the culture of our country. His candidacy has emboldened racists in a way I’ve never before witnessed. Doubtless older readers will recall similar nastiness in the 1960s, but that’s before my time. My jaw dropped many times during the campaign as he cultivated and embraced white supremacist support. I am aghast at the outbreak of racist incidents in the aftermath of the election, and absolutely stunned that Trump would select Steve Bannon as his closest advisor in the White House. I see Bannon as a modern equivalent of Joseph Goebbels, especially now that he’s ensconced directly at the right hand of the President-elect. He is a facilitator of hateful propaganda, and he has absolutely no place anywhere near any decent president.
  5. This administration is going to be the worst thing for science in a very long time. Vice President-elect Mike Pence denies evolution and has even made statements that suggest he doubts the relationship between smoking tobacco and deadly disease. Trump’s rumored selection for the Secretary of Education is Ben Carson, a climate change denier and young-Earth creationist who intimated last year that he would use the Department of Education to deny federal funding to any university or college that exhibits politics he disagrees with – which I guess could include any research in biology or Earth system science (depending on how he defines “politics”). This is an astounding, horrific prospect with potentially catastrophic consequences for human health and ecological function. And of course, there’s the selection of Myron Ebell, a long-time outspoken climate change denialist for the job of head of the Environmental Protection Agency. To say that the fox will be in charge of the henhouse is putting it mildly. Not only are the hens doomed, don’t bet on the henhouse to survive either. This may be the longest-lasting damage that results from Trump’s election. Obama and Bush before him and Clinton before him have all been delinquent in grappling with climate change in any substantive way, but putting Ebell at the helm of the EPA flies flagrantly in the face of all we know about the way the Earth system works. It breaks my heart.

In summary, there is an unprecedented list of reasons to view a prospective Trump administration with pessimism and horror. I don’t see any positive aspects to the situation. I’m not being a “sore loser” here – I accepted the loss of Al Gore to George Bush, of John Kerry to George Bush, and I would have accepted McCain or Romney, had they been elected over Obama. But Trump is cut from a different cloth. This apparently constitutes much of his appeal to many of his supporters. But I think he represents an unprecedented threat to our republic.

So what am I to do? What are thinking people to do, faced with this unholy prospect?

I have no clue. I’m utterly disheartened. After a week of cogitation, I find that I cannot rally my emotions and look for a silver lining. I can’t steel myself to work harder at truth-telling and standing up for science in the Era of Trump. I am flabbergasted at the suggestion that we should just Give Him a Chance To Be The Best President He Can Be, a suggestion that even President Obama seems to be taking.

The situation appears to me to be wholly and completely awful.