One of the most unfortunate consequences of Donald Trump’s presidency is that the government has now done an about-face and turned its back on both truth and science.
Time magazine’s recent cover story—”Is Truth Dead?”—documents how alternative facts have replaced the truth in Trump’s administration. Equally alarming is the president’s willingness to embrace politically expedient accusations that emanate not from reality but from sources that deal in baseless conspiracy theories.
One of his favorite sources, whose theories he regurgitates at an alarming rate, is Alex Jones. Mr. Jones is the host of a popular radio show and through the internet is able to reach millions of homes. His lunacy knows no bounds. For example, he has proposed (without a scintilla of evidence):
1. The Clintons are murderers (23 bodies and counting).
2. Hillary Clinton is a witch who is responsible for the Dallas shootings.
3. Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered.
4. Orlando, Sandy Hook, Boston, Brussels, etc., were staged.
5. The government has a “weather weapon” that “can create and steer groups of tornadoes.”
6. Hillary Clinton is running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop.
All of these “claims” reached a large portion of the voting public and, for many, it fell into their political wheelhouse, which made it easy to accept at face value. Often such unbridled acceptance had devastating consequences. For example, a man from North Carolina was so enraged by one of Jones’ outrageous stories that he got in his car and traveled to the pizza shop that Jones had claimed was running a Hillary Clinton-controlled “child sex ring.” Although he shot into the shop, he luckily missed the owner. All the owner was doing was selling pizza. Jones has since apologized.
Unfortunately, the propagation of false information does not bode well for the future of our republic. For democracy to work, we must have an informed public. The majority of citizens now receive their news from computers and phones, not newspapers and television. The problem is that the internet has no filter and is easily manipulated. Since most of us grew up reading and listening to news stories from reputable organizations, we carry with us a presumption that what we read must have some measure of credibility. That supposition has no place when judging stories on the internet.
The internet is akin to the Wild West when it comes to information. For example, the Russians are said to have dedicated over 1,000 hackers during our last election cycle to overwhelm our computers, tablets and phones with bogus stories designed to promote Donald Trump and destroy Hillary Clinton. It worked. For example, several people relying on a false story told me that they thought Mrs. Clinton had Parkinson’s disease and could never serve out an entire term. Less believed but still out there was the bizarre story that claimed that she had an alien baby. One would hope that most viewers had the good sense to reject that one.
Concurrent with Trump’s aversion to the truth is his rejection of science. This is especially sad since, as we age, it becomes virtually impossible for us or our families and friends to avoid the ravages of a whole host of terrible maladies. Rich and poor, young and old, powerful and powerless—cancer, Alzheimer’s, leukemia and other horrendous diseases do not discriminate. They attack us all. Science has made strides over my lifetime and my assumption was that regardless of our political stripes, we as a society would continue to allocate the necessary resources to stamp out most of these diseases at least during our children’s lifetime. I was wrong.
President Trump, contradicting his own words to Congress to find “cures to illnesses that have always plagued us,” has proposed massive cuts in research. He has also put a muzzle on any scientific findings by the E.P.A. The very nature of a scientific inquiry, which seeks results irrespective of politics, is therefore undermined. All findings must pass a political litmus test, which makes the whole process suspect.
Also troubling are the massive cuts in health programs. Mary Woodley, president of a not-for-profit group promoting research, had this to say about Trump’s budget: “It doesn’t reflect the priorities of a nation committed to protecting and improving the health and well-being of its citizens.”
What Mr. Trump fails to understand in his shortsighted and potentially deadly agenda is that it is our innovative spirit that has always made America great. Peter Thiel, a Trump supporter but also a believer in American know-how, put the myopic nature of the Trump agenda in perspective: “Voters are tired of hearing conservative politicians say that government never works. They know the government wasn’t always this broken. The Manhattan Project, the Interstate Highway System, and the Apollo program—whatever you think of these ventures—you cannot doubt the competence of the government that got them done. But we have fallen very far from that standard, and we cannot let free-market ideology serve as an excuse for the decline.”
Is it too much to ask our elected representatives to stand up for the truth and for continued research, if not for us but for future generations?
I think not.