America is really, really back

by Neil Rickert

I guess I was a little premature in my earlier post (“America is back“). I knew that Trump could still cause problems, but I was not expecting an attempted coup — or whatever we call what happened on Jan 06.

Biden has now been in office for two days. And already, things seem to be moving in a good direction. It’s not that Biden has great expertise that Trump lacked. Rather, the difference is the Biden has the good sense to seek advice from experts who understand the problems. Trump was never willing to take advice, and that was the real cause of his downfall.

The deep state

The Trumpians, and other right wing reactionaries, have long complained that there is a “deep state” that actually decides what happens. They are right about that. The deep state is just us, the American people. And the deep state — that is, we — defeated Trump’s attempts to change the nature of America.

Republicans

Trump has, in effect, unmasked the Republican party. They have long claimed to be the party of law and order, the party of patriotism. But our eyes have been opened. We can now see for ourselves, that they are the party of crooks and traitors.

At the start of the the Trump presidency, I has assumed that principled republicans would protect the nation against the worst of Trump’s instincts. But they failed us. Instead of acting on principle, instead of using the system of checks and balance built into the constitution, they repeatedly aided and abetted Trump in his crimes against the state.

We have, in effect, learned that there were very few principled republicans. The few that there were found that they had to oppose the Republican party, such as happened with the Lincoln Project people.

The churches

The churches have long claimed that they provide the basis for morality. But we did not see that. The bulk of Trump’s support came from conservative churches. It leaves me wondering whether those conservative churches are even Christian. I would have expected true Christians to have opposed Trump from the beginning. But, instead, they supported him. And they continued to support him, even when many of Trump’s actions were contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

The future

Things should improve for the next few years. But, long term, things do not look so rosy. There are still millions of Americans who supported Trump, and who believed ridiculous conspiracy theories. When a significant portion of the population is that far out of contact with reality, it does not bode well for our future.

2 Comments to “America is really, really back”

  1. Neil, I could not agree more vehemently with everything you’ve written here. Bravo, bravo, BRAVO Sir!!! 👏🏼

    Yes, our long-term future in America is not so certain, not guaranteed to be rosy as you’ve pointed out and for many troubling reasons, huh? I am reading for a second time an outstanding book by Tom Nichols—alum of Boston, Columbia, and Georgetown Universities and specialist on international affairs and currently a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and at the Harvard Extension School—entitled The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. Here are some of his key excerpts from the book applicable to our two-decades-long Trump-incited chasm. Please excuse the length Neil, but I really think Nichols has a lot of profound insight on America’s abandonment of TRUE expertise:

    “In modern America, policy debates sound increasingly like fights between groups of ill-informed people who all manage to be wrong at the same time… Whether about science or policy, however, they all share the same disturbing characteristic: a [self-absorbed] and thin-skinned insistence that every opinion be treated as truth.”

    “The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt summed it up neatly when he observed that when facts conflict with our values, ‘almost everyone finds a way to stick with their values and reject the evidence.”

    “[University] Campuses in the United States are increasingly surrendering their intellectual authority not only to children, but also to activists who are directly attacking the traditions of free inquiry that scholarly communities are supposed to defend… The current fads on campus, including ‘safe spaces’ and speech codes, do in fact corrode the ability of colleges to produce people capable of critical thought, [i.e.] the ability to examine new information and competing ideas dispassionately, logically, and without emotional or personal preconceptions.”

    “Technology has created a world in which we’re all Cliff Clavin now.”

    “When a group of experimental psychologists at Yale investigated how people use the Internet, they found that ‘people who search for information on the Web emerge from the process with an inflated sense of how much they know—even regarding topics that are unrelated to the ones they Googled.’ This is a kind of electronic version of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in which the least competent people surfing the web are the least likely to realize that they’re not learning anything.”

    “The Internet creates a false sense that the opinions of many people are tantamount to a ‘fact.’ … As James Surowiecki (the Wisdom of Crowds writer) pointed out, saying that ‘cognitive diversity’ is important—meaning that many views can be better than one—it does not mean that if ‘you assemble a group of diverse but thoroughly uninformed people, their collective wisdom will be smarter than an expert’s.’”

    “The major problem with instantaneous communication is that it’s instantaneous… Sometimes, human beings need to pause and reflect, to give themselves time to absorb information and to digest it. Instead, the Internet is an arena in which people can react without thinking, and thus in turn they become invested in defending their gut reactions rather than accepting new information or admitting a mistake.”

    “Learning new things requires patience and the ability to listen to other people. The Internet and social media, however, are making us less social and more confrontational. Online, as in life, people are clustering into small echo chambers, preferring only to talk to those with whom they already agree.”

    “Journalism is now sometimes as much a contributor to the death of expertise as it is a defense against it… This fusing of entertainment, news, punditry, and citizen participation is a chaotic mess that does not inform people so much as it creates the illusion of being informed…This morphing of news into entertainment stretches across every demographic.”

    “The modern media, with so many options tailored to particular views, is a huge exercise in confirmation bias. This means that Americans are not just poorly informed, they’re misinformed… And, of course, the most misinformed citizens ‘tend to be the most confident in their views and are also the strongest partisans.’”

    And finally, Nichols has great advice for consumers/addicts of biased news networks:

    “Be ecumenical…. You wouldn’t eat the same thing all day, so don’t consume the same sources of media all day…. Don’t be provincial: try media from other countries, as they often report stories or have a view of which Americans are completely unaware… And be a lot more discriminating.”

    “One of the most common errors experts make is to assume that because they are smarter than most people about certain things, they are smarter than everyone about everything… Entertainers are the worst offenders here… This creates bizarre situations in which experts in one field—entertainment—end up giving disquisitions on important questions in other fields.”

    “And this, sadly, is the state of modern America. Citizens no longer understand democracy to mean a condition of political equality, in which one person gets one vote, and every individual is no more and no less equal in the eyes of the law. Rather, Americans now think of democracy as a state of actual equality, in which every opinion is as good as any other on almost any subject under the sun. Feelings are more important than facts: if people think vaccines are harmful, or if they believe that half of the US budget is going to foreign aid, then it is ‘undemocratic’ and ‘elitist’ to contradict them.”

    Thanks Neil and apologies for the super long comment/quote. Nichols’ book is really an excellent read and worth the time! 🙂

    All my best regards to you Sir.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Indeed, a weight has been lifted. So nice turning on the news and hearing next to nothing about the orange menace. I may have to put the ex-potus in the same category as Voldemort and not mention his name for a while.

    Liked by 4 people

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