(NOTE TO READERS: The Jan. 4 Godzooks post titled “Evangelicals Eye Top Student-Government Posts on U.S. Campuses” has been revised to correct two quotes mistakenly attributed to Jeremy Story, president of the Christian evangelical group Campus Renewal, due to unclear attribution in source material. A clarifying statement from Story has also been added, along with other necessary revisions.) The text below is today’s scheduled Godzooks post.
My local newspaper in its “Thought for Today” feature recently offered a quote from the late, great American biochemist and author Isaac Asimov that is enormously relevant to our current political crisis.
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge,” Asimov, who died in 1992, once wrote.
What he means is that a lot of people falsely believe that actual factual knowledge and private opinion about facts are the same, and that democracy requires accepting that. But they’re not and we shouldn’t.
Real knowledge requires testable and repeatedly verifiable facts. Opinion only requires someone to think they have knowledge about something, when in fact their “knowledge” is commonly based on all manner of non-knowledge — biased interpretation of facts, belief in invented and unsubstantiated ideas, an emotional need to believe something, etc.
And this kind of “woolly” thinking — “lacking in clearness or sharpness … marked by mental confusion,” according to Merriam-Webster dictionary — is where we’re at now in American politics. Its most evident by far among conservatives and Republicans, but emotion-jangled Democrats are not rare, either.
The concept we’re being woolly about at the moment is President Trump’s relentlessly shape-shifting “Border Wall.” Part of the difficulty in being clear about this thing is the president’s strategy of confusing it by his tactic of constantly moving the goal posts of its definition. What began as a non-negotiable “Big beautiful wall that Mexico is going to pay for” has morphed into a vague “barrier” variously defined by the president, including as “whatever you want to call it.” Instead of concrete, the president is now speculating it may be built of steel, or not; might be see-through, or not; might not actually a wall but a fence, or not; or some other kind of currently unknown “barrier.” Still, it’s not clear at all how Mexico, which has steadfastly refused to pay for such a white elephant, will pay for it. NAFTA “profits” won’t do it, as he claims. That’s a lie; trade doesn’t work that way.
What he’s not saying now, after shutting down a third of the government when the Democrats refused to approve $5.7 billion for the unneeded wall he demands, is that more than two-thirds of Americans completely reject the idea that his “wall” is needed to protect our southern border. Most credible nonpartisan experts believe the “wall” would not significantly improve border security, would be an inefficient use of funds that could better be used for more effective measures, and is simply unnecessary in many areas where the rugged terrain itself serves as an effective barrier against illegal migration.
Add to that the reality that what’s happening along unfenced parts of our southern border and elsewhere is manifesly not a “massive security crisis,” as the president and his minions keep saying. Thousands of illegal “economic migrants,” most of them also allegedly “criminals and rapists,” and illicit drugs are not “pouring” into our country from Mexico, as Trump and his legions insist.
Where is the invasion?
In fact, speaking of facts, the people who actually track border traffic and conditions note that, by far, most of the immigrants attempting to gain entry into the United States are not “economic migrants” bent on ripping off America as parasites but families, with children, seeking asylum from the horrors of poverty and political violence where they come from.
And, in fact, the inflow of undocumented migrants into the U.S. via Mexico has been ebbing for years and is at a low point. In addition, studies routinely reaffirm that immigrants of all kinds commit fewer and less-violent crimes than citizens, which, of course, is not to say they don’t sometimes abuse and murder people, behaviors surely not unique to immigrants.
Particularly in regard to blocking the inflow of illegal drugs into the U.S., the effect of the president’s “wall” would be nil to none, since U.S. border patrol leaders explain that the vast majority of drugs come in not via gaps in physical barriers along the border but through staffed ports of entry.
Still, the president continues to cry wolf, and he’s effectively encouraged many of his acolytes, including GOP members of Congress and even state houses (which I will explain below), to parrot this vastly overblown fear. And when it became clear to everyone that no hordes of illegal maniacs were pouring unimpeded across our border, the president and his folks changed their tune (starting with Trump’s Oval Office TV address this week), declaring that it’s actually a “humanitarian crisis.”That may be marginally more true, because due to the administration’s ineptitude in providing adequate staff and resources to process foreign asylum seekers, applicants are currently piling up at the border. As we’ve seen, immigrant parents have been separated from their children by the administration, and two children recently died while in our custody at the border.
But a “wall,” real or imagined, has nothing to do with that problem, and Congress already overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill to address general immigration issues at the border, plus even some more money for Mr. Trump’s wall, but less than he wants despite it not being needed in the first place.
But the president refused to sign this bill because it denied him what he is now asking for, which is more than he sought in his original budget request. Why? Because he made an arbitrary, unfounded campaign promise to build a “wall,” and it resonated strongly with his base supporters and helped get him elected.
Yet, both he and his adoring throng are wrong. Just because he promised a “wall” (whatever that actually means) and just because the idea wildly appeals to those who voted for him, a factual analysis of the border situation still strongly indicates it’s unneeded. It’s like religious fervor: Worshipping the idea of a deity in no way indicates such a divine being exists much less is essential to our moral security.
State lawmakers parrot Trump fiction
To show how the president’s “invasion” epidemic is metastasizing nationwide and infecting lawmakers in state legislatures, read this alarmingly inventive quote by South Dakota state Sen. Stace Nelson, a conservative Republican.
In what the Sioux Falls Argus Leader described as an “impassioned” speech this week in the state Legislature, Nelson claimed the southern border is so “porous” that it allows “terrorists” to breach it and “threaten a black wind of death to race across this nation from coast to coast.” (ponder the phrase “black wind of death” for a moment and consider why he chose the word “black.”)
In any event, the “black wind of death” would include the two kids who died in our custody, apparently.
Encouragingly, before the South Dakota Senate voted 28-5 for a resolution urging the president and Congress to fund construction of a southern border wall, there was at least some blowback, however ineffectual. Before the final vote, which had been directly encouraged by new GOP Gov. Kristi Noem, an ardent supporter of the president, assistant minority leader Sen. Craig Kennedy protested:
“What this body is being asked to do is wrong. This is pure politics and we’ve seen what this kind of political posturing has resulted in in Washington, D.C.”
It has resulted in an unnecessary partial government shutdown still ongoing, for one thing, and its reason for being is not because we need a wall but because the president doesn’t want to appear to his base to be what he is— a weak, untruthful and incompetent “leader.”
In that infamous recent Oval Office gathering with the two top Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate and House, the president said he would be “proud” to shut down the government over his border wall and that he would “take it,” meaning full responsibility.
As if. That would be the nexus of not fact and opinion, but fact and deception. The ignorance part is believing any of it.
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