Scary Things Are Afoot in America. These Stories Explain How Scary.

Scary Things Are Afoot in America. These Stories Explain How Scary. December 10, 2018

Sometimes, bad things converge to create the potential for something far worse.

authoritarian anti-intellectual
Fear response. (Seregraff, Abobe Stock)

That’s exactly where we are in the United States at the moment, as a number of worrisome negative trends are intersecting to create some disturbing current realities and to incubate some ominous future risks.

I’m talking about a re-emergence of anti-democratic authoritarianism in America (and worldwide) under President Donald Trump and his new (all but unrecognizable) Republican Party, plus the anti-intellectual ethos of the GOP and its Trump-loving minions, and the sad state of education for pre-college Americans who have little or no innate interest in “higher education.”

In a nutshell, what this all portends is this:

  • Authoritarianism: Trump’s authoritarian behavior clearly signals his intent to undermine the checks and balances of democracy as a way to increase his personal authority over the republic and ability to use power for his private ends. And, as is becoming increasingly clear, as the GOP-led Congress refuses to hold him accountable, he’s using this political windfall, hopefully only temporary, to enrich himself while circumventing the law. And, this anti-democratic cancer is now metastasizing to the states.
  • Anti-intellectualism: A large, possibly majority subset of Trump’s “base” of supporters, as well as of the wider GOP, manifestly dismisses empirical knowledge, meaning the time-tested findings of science (evolution, global warming, etc.), the primacy of facts over emotion in understanding reality and making sound decisions, and a visceral loathing of the so-called elite and the political and cultural “establishment” they populate. To a great extent, these attitudes make Trump supporters immune to facts and reason, leading them to think irrationally.
  • Educational deficit: The U.S. educational system is designed — and its funding prioritized — in favor of preparing academically inclined students for post-secondary higher education. This means that students who are academically disinclined, and more suited to and interested in technical-school training, are getting short-changed before they ever leave high school in ways that will for the rest of their lives sharply reduce their economic and career options. Note that such under-educated under-achievers comprise the bulk of Trump’s supporters, and they aren’t going away in the nation’s political calculus.

I point out these concerning realities because of four excellent, and relevant, articles I read today in The New York Times that put them into sharp perspective. These worthy articles are:

“The High Cost of Shattering Democratic Norms,” an editorial signed by the Times’ editorial board, lists a number of anti-democratic moves by states, such as gerrymandering to advantage one political party, and a lame duck legislature’s stripping of authority from a newly elected majority opposition party before it assumes power.

“Are these political shenanigans norm shattering? Absolutely. They’re obnoxious and cynical, too. And it is regrettable that one political party in particular is so insecure about the merits of its ideas — and the concept of representative democracy — that it feels the need to push a political system under strain even further toward extremism.”

The one party to which they refer is the Republican Party, which, seeing their majority rescinded in the U.S. Congress nationwide, and their president under threat of indictment for multiple felonies, aim to frustrate and deny the will of the electorate. It’s un-American at best.

Another editorial board offering today, “The War on Truth Spreads,” laments that modern technology has blessed modern autocrats with far more effective ways to broadcast disinformation to ever-larger masses of people.

“New information technologies — the internet, social media, smartphone cameras — were supposed to overcome censorship. They did, but they also armed autocrats with new ways to undermine the credibility of honest news. Fake news — the really fake kind — has proliferated, along with notions such as ‘alternative facts.’”

“The Misguided Priorities of Our Educational System,” Oren Cass, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contends that the U.S. focuses on a college education for the few at the expense of a useful education for the many. He points out that “most kids” are not college material, as the phrase puts it, and deserve all the educational focus that the academic kids get.

“One explanation for this bizarre state of affairs, in which society invests heavily in those headed for economic success while ignoring those falling behind, is the widespread belief that everyone can be a college graduate. If that were true, the shove toward the college pipeline might make sense. But most young Americans do not achieve even a community-college degree.”

A Times newsletter today, only available to subscribers, promotes a new book titled “How Democracies Die,” by authors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

“They argue that the biggest threat to democracy in much of the world today is not a military coup but elected leaders “who subvert the very process that brought them to power,” wrote Times columnist David Leonhardt in the newsletter regarding the book.

If you want to understand better that the light seemingly at the end of the tunnel in America today may be a train barreling toward us at full speed, you would do well to read these articles.

Image/Adobe Stock

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Cover image of “3,001 Arabian Days.”

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FYI, my newly published memoir — 3,001 Arabian Days — is now available in paperback and digital formats on Amazon, here. It’s the story of growing up in an American oil camp in the Saudi Arabian desert from 1953-1962.

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