President Trump barely disguises his own ignorance on the critical issues of the day. In his jaw-dropping interview with the Associated Press, he was asked about climate change, specifically scientists’ conclusion that we are “nearing a point where this can’t be reversed.” He replied:
Some say that and some say differently. I mean, you have scientists on both sides of it. My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump. And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.
His uncle was a scientist, whom Trump really didn’t speak to but Trump knows science! He — like talk radio, Fox News, right-wing blogs and other know-nothings now dominating the party — makes no effort to wrestle with facts. He continues to restate the false talking point that the scientific community is divided on the topic. In the right-wing bubble, where ignorance in service of tribalism is no sin, Trump faces no ridicule or serious opposition. The Republican Party, if it decided that flat-earthism or spontaneous generation were politically advantageous, would surely adopt those theories as well.
Sadly, policy built on willful ignorance or intentional falsehoods is not limited to climate change. Trump and his followers eschew not merely “conservatism” but also fact-based governance, which was a precondition for democratic governance itself. It is not “conservative” to believe that Post Global Opinions columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by “rogue killers,” massive tax cuts were going to pay for themselves, immigrants steal jobs and cause a crime wave, Russia (or Russia alone) might not have meddled in the 2016 election and other such poppycock. These are out and out falsehoods, and the determination to maintain them and label truth-tellers as enemies is indicative not of conservatism but of a totalitarian mind-set in which leaders make up their own reality and avoid the consequences for their real-world calamities.
Trump’s performance also revealed the degree to which the right has become intellectually corrupt but also bereft of anything resembling traditional values or simple decency. Trump’s imitation of manly virtues is not born of respect for traditional values, a mainstay of conservatism for many decades. To the contrary, when he insults women’s appearance (“Horseface” was his latest gibe, directed at one of his alleged former paramours to whom he had paid hush money, Stormy Daniels) — and then denies insulting women (“You can take it any way you want”) — he is exhibiting churlishness, crudeness and cruelty.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) aptly remarked, “That’s not the way men act.” But that’s how Trump acts, and his legions of followers, who still cling to the moniker “social conservative,” couldn’t care less. In fact, they love it when he mocks and insults women. Traditional values used to encompass family unity and concern for children’s upbringing, but Trump (even aside from his serial adultery) is arguably the least pro-family president we’ve had in the past century. He touts his cruel family-separation policy, insisting that he did well by the youngsters who were ripped from the arms of their parents. He delights in deporting those brought here illegally as children, even at the expense of separating them from American-born family members. Trump has eradicated respect for “family values,” and yet his evangelical cronies praise him to the hilt.
In the same vein, the president who constantly invokes his love of the military has — from his draft deferments over bone spurs to his refusal to visit the troops in combat arenas — consistently revealed a lack of physical courage. This exchange with the AP was truly cringe-worthy:
AP: On the subject of American soldiers and military overseas, why have you not yet visited a military base in a combat zone like in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Trump: Well, I will do that at some point, but I don’t think it’s overly necessary. I’ve been very busy with everything that’s taking place here. We have the greatest economy in the history of our country. I mean, this is the greatest economy we’ve ever had, best unemployment numbers. Many groups are, you know, we’ve never even been close to these numbers. I’m doing a lot of things. I’m doing a lot of things. …
In sum, Trump represents a party that now embraces (or is resigned to) intellectual rot and moral nihilism. The GOP is a party that has adopted Trump’s sense of male victimhood and has made peace with Trump’s cruelty to women and indifference to children’s welfare. And while Trump would prefer to bask in the reflected glory of the military, his personal weakness and cowardice are evident. In fully embracing Trump as its champion, the GOP has lost intellectual respectability, moral legitimacy and respect for even the most fundamental value, courage.
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