Saturday 10 August 2019

America is at a Reckoning

For some time now, I've been suspicious that something happened in 2016. Yes, Russia meddled, and that affected the outcome. Yes, people voted for the third-party candidates like Jill Stein, and that affected the outcome. But we all expected Hillary to win by a landslide. This wasn't supposed to be a contest; it wasn't even supposed to be close. Donald Trump was a joke and didn't have a snowball's chance.

What the dickens happened? This is so surreal; I have difficulty wrapping my head around it.

I put together the following pie chart based on numbers from U.S. Election Atlas. You can see that the real winner of the 2016 Election was "Did Not Vote". Now, that sounds funny, doesn't it? The biggest block of voters did not cast a ballot. Donald J. Trump is president based on merely 26% of all eligible voters. That's pretty far from a majority. That's not a ringing endorsement by a long shot.

The media, pundits, election experts and statisticians have all been focused on issues like Russia's involvement, how the electoral college system is antiquated and ignores the popular vote, how a vote for an independent client was a vote for Trump, gerrymandering, voter suppression, etc. All of those issues are important and deserve consideration. But look at the above pie chart. I repeat Hillary was supposed to win by a landslide.

In the film Fahrenheit 11/9, Michael Moore points out that the Democrats have won the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. Based on that statistic, he concludes the majority of America is liberal, not conservative. Is it true: Is the silent majority just that, silent?

Last year, I put together the following image. With all the debate surrounding guns in the United States after a number of high-profile mass shootings, I got curious about the numbers. There were reports about the majority of Americans favoring some form of gun control, and yet there were little or no controls. The NRA wields an unprecedented amount of lobbying power in Washington and yet, they have only five million members, a mere 1.54% of the total population. What happened to the will of the people?

According to a June 20, 2019 poll conducted by Monmouth University, less than four in ten say Trump should be re-elected. If "Did Not Vote" cast their ballot, we should have a landslide. And yet, the fear of Trump winning in 2020 is great. Some prognosticators are predicting Trump will serve a second term. How could that be possible? Then again, just about everybody was wrong about Trump's first term.

This has been a long time coming
There are issues America has never dealt with: sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. Despite the best efforts of the founding fathers, the country has, at times, shown a brutal, parochial worldview.

Slavery. The United States of America, the largest economy in the world, the greatest military power, the "shining city on a hill", had institutionalized slavery. The subjugation of other races is in the blood of the nation.

Charlottesville. Like many people, I watched video clips of the protests. "Very fine people on both sides." I watched the parade of mostly men carrying torches and chanting, "Jews will not replace us." I saw the subsequent Internet meme: "You can't be a Nazi and an American. We had a war over this. The entire world was involved."

#MeToo. I read about Harvey Weinstein who I suppose can be inadvertently credited with having started the movement. Did he never look in the mirror and ask himself what he was doing? I'm a man. I can understand being horny and pushing the envelope, of being persistent to the point of being annoying. But Harvey, come on! You stepped over the line, drew a new line, and then stepped over that. Holy cow! And the subsequent list of big-name men who fallen from grace? I will now shake my head in surprise and disbelief, realizing my disbelief proves how well ingrained and hidden this has been in our culture. Boys will be boys. Grab 'em by the... well, you get my point.

Income inequality continually goes up. The national debt continually goes up. Heck, the deficit always goes up! Ronald Reagan, possibly America's first celebrity president, has the distinction of starting what has been a trend for Republicans and the country in general: an economy which is steadfastly growing out of control. In the Wikipedia article Reaganomics, it's pointed out that at the beginning of the Reagan presidency, the United States was the largest creditor nation in the world. At the end of Reagan's presidency, just eight years later, America had become the largest debtor nation in the world. That position has not changed but only gotten worse.

Ignorance is bliss
Jimmy Kimmel has an amusing bit where he sends a camera crew out on Hollywood Boulevard to interview people. In one segment, "Can You Name a Country?" (July 12/2018, YouTube 3:44) the interviewer gives the person a pointer and asks them to point out a country, any country, on a world map. Now, I'm sure they've edited the clip to show only the funniest, but it was nevertheless startling to see a general level of knowledge which can only be labelled as abysmal. I looked at the map and knew I couldn't name all the "-stans" of the former Soviet Republic, but people couldn't identify a single country, not even the United States!

Starting in the 2016 campaign through these two years of the Trump presidency, I've heard politicians, Fox News contributors, and Trump supporters voice opinions with such conviction and surprising ignorance. One of my favourites is, "I don't believe in global warming, but I'm not a scientist." First off, belief is not the equivalent of knowing. Second, admitting you're not a scientist is what? Some sort of Get-out-of-jail-free card in case you're wrong?

The above two Internet memes are funny but let me point out that they're funny because they're true. There's a false equivalency: an opinion is not equal to a fact. And one can't ignore facts and science just because they refuse to change their opinion. Someone may believe that two plus two equals five but repeating it over and over again isn't going to change anything. But I would point out that if somebody persists in saying the answer is five, sooner or later, reality is going to catch up with them. (FYI: For an interesting discussion of 2+2=5, look at the link below about George Orwell's book 1984.)

Fake News, Alternative Facts, and 2+2=5
Back in 1637, Réné Descartes figured out that the only thing he could be sure of was that he was thinking: "I think, there I am.". Everything else could very well be The Matrix. Admittedly, these philosophical exercises can be akin to mental masturbation, but in these days of Trump, when absolutely everything has been put on the table, we can all review our own belief system. Debating is a skill we should all develop. It's insufficient to say, "This is what I think." Prove it.

However, I've come to appreciate over these past few years just how much of our worldview, our belief system, comes from those around us: family, friends, peer group, leaders. While I can sit with somebody at a table at Starbucks and use two packets of sugar and two packets of sweetener to prove that two plus two equals four, there are a great number of things I can't prove myself. I must rely on others, but my choice of expertise says something about me.
  • The tobacco industry has marketed themselves to suppress data about the use of their product linked to cancer.
  • The fossil fuel industry has suppressed for decades research linking the burning of fossil fuels to global warming.
  • The sugar industry suppressed data linking their product to heart disease and set up a marketing campaign to suggest the problem was fat, not sugar.
It's interesting to consider that in the quest for profit, the above industries are killing their consumers. Now I don't think these industries sat down for a board meeting, took a vote, and all decided to literally kill people. I think they collectively demonstrate the human psychological condition of diminishing the importance of things we don't fully understand. Yes, cigarettes cause cancer, but I don't have cancer. Yes, fossil fuels cause global warming but what exactly is warm and how does that affect anything? Yes, I use sugar but I'm healthy, so what's the problem?

Final Word
Today, the lights are still on. But tomorrow? Of course, philosophers and therapists say we should all live in the present so let's let tomorrow take care of itself. That's much easier that trying to figure out what effect what we're doing today will have on tomorrow.

Dear children: Good luck. You're on your own.


Wikipedia: 2 + 2 = 5
The phrase "two plus two equals five" ("2 + 2 = 5") is a slogan used in propaganda, literature or other media, most notably the 1949 dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell. In the novel, it is used as an example of an obviously false dogma that one may be required to believe, similar to other obviously false slogans promoted by the Party in the novel.

Psychology Today - Dec 27/2018
A Complete Psychological Analysis of Trump's Support by Bobby Azarian Ph.D.
Whether we want to or not, we must try to understand the Donald Trump phenomenon, as it has completely swept the nation and also fiercely divided it. What is most baffling about it all is Trump’s apparent political invincibility. As he himself said even before he won the presidential election, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Unfortunately for the American people, this wild-sounding claim appears to be truer than not. It should also motivate us to explore the science underlying such peculiar human behavior, so we can learn from it, and potentially inoculate against it.


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