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Enlightenment and American Democracy


Enlightenment and American Democracy          Gerry OShea

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously advised people that while they are entitled to their own opinions, they are not entitled to their own facts. That statement should be posted on every public building in America because we are living in a time where all kinds of crackpot ideas with no connection to reality have been normalized and are part of our daily news and opinion programs.

We think back to Galileo, a hero of the Renaissance period that stretched into the 17th century. He was a serious scientist who, with help from his telescope, placed the sun is the center of the universe. This heliocentric thinking conflicted with Catholic Church teaching which, in those days, believed that the Bible claimed that everything revolved around the earth.

Poor Galileo had to recant and he spent the last nine years of his life under house arrest. Early in this century, five hundred years later, Pope John Paul 11 apologized to him.

The most controversial new knowledge issue of the 19th century - and well into the 20th - centers on Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  This postulated that human beings evolved from lower animal forms over millions of years. Most Christian leaders asserted that this could not have happened because the Genesis story says clearly that creation was a six-day event.

The biblical narrative had to gradually give ground to further scientific discoveries which confirmed the Darwinian research. Still, despite the overwhelming evidence pointing to billions of years of evolution, most Evangelical Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons still hold fast to variations of the literal six-day biblical story.

In our time, the big controversial scientific issue surrounds global warming. Nearly all scientists agree that the unusually rapid increase in the Earth’s average temperature over the past century has brought on this crisis. The causation here relates primarily to the greenhouse gases released by burning fossil fuels as well as by the widespread denuding of carbon-absorbing forests.

Donald Trump said he didn’t agree with the strong scientific consensus on this crucial matter, so he withdrew the United States from the modest Paris Climate Accord and defanged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), annulling more than eighty regulations that protected the country’s air and water.

His disgracefully nonchalant attitude in this regard played an important role in his loss in the presidential election because young people, disgusted with his neanderthal leadership in this vital area, voted in unprecedented numbers for the enlightened environmental policies of the Democrat candidate, Joseph Biden.

Exit polls revealed that the mismanagement of the COVID pandemic by Trump and his cohorts in Washington was the number one cause of Mr. Trump’s decisive defeat in November. Here again his culpability lay in his refusal to support his scientific advisors which hurt him badly with the electorate.

 He undermined Dr. Anthony Fauci who had high credibility with the people and instead promoted daft notions about alternative medicines and even suggested at a public press conference that injecting a disinfectant might have curative effects.

This disregard for facts and rejection of provable scientific assertions defines Trumpism. His world is driven by an overweening sense of victimhood. He joins the powerful alt-right forces in blaming any policy failure on the alleged socialists dominating the Democrat Party and the fake news generated by liberals in media outlets like CNN and the New York Times.

There has always been a certain skewing of reality by political parties who, predictably, press their narrative without worrying much about veracity. However, events since the November election far surpass controversies about previous contests.

 The Latin expression mirabile dictu connotes a description of some event or happening that is so astonishing that it completely blows the mind. It aptly describes the daily reports that are still topping many news programs, focusing on the refusal of a big swath of Republican voters who reject the results of the election and declare that Donald Trump won and should still be in the White House.

Even before the election, Mr. Trump set the scene for dealing with a loss to Joe Biden, who was favored to win in most polls. He declared that he couldn’t lose; in fact, he assured everyone that he would win easily. If the vote counts came in with a different result, then they would be fraudulent. There was no possible scenario where he could end up in second place because Donald Trump is not a loser.

The actual results showed a relatively easy victory for Joe Biden who won the popular vote by seven million and the electoral college by the same comfortable margin that elected Trump in 2016. Lawyers led by Rudy Giuliani went before no less than sixty judges in various states and before the Supreme Court to plead that some irregularities in the electoral process had led to a false result. They failed to provide evidence, facts that would bolster their claim, and all cases were dismissed without even a hearing.

 On January 6th Trump summoned his supporters to Washington to prevent the formal validation of the results by his vice-president, Mike Pence, who was ready to perform his constitutional assignment. The crowd responded by setting up a noose to deal with the VP who barely escaped with his family to a small room away from the rioters

The savage revolt that Trump fomented on the Capitol Building, the citadel of American democracy, has drawn all kinds of explanations from Republicans. Some say that the whole imbroglio was caused by the FBI. Others say that the rioters behaved like visitors coming by to see their legislators at work. Still others opined that it didn’t qualify as a riot because the invaders did not use guns.

 QAnon followers, led by Congresswomen Greene and Boebert, allege that they know of an active pedophile ring that enjoys the use of a safe underground passage to the President and First Lady in the White House. Hilary Clinton is also in on this as are major liberal financiers in Hollywood. About 29% of Republican voters, around fifteen million citizens, expect Mr. Trump to regain his place in the White House by the end of August.

Crazy, surreal stories are the staple diet for followers of Fox News and other right-wing media. In Yeats’s poem, “The Second Coming,” he writes powerful lines which are apropos here “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

 Italygate, a conspiracy theory with millions of believers, alleges that the election was rigged in Biden’s favor using satellites and military technology designed to switch millions of Trump voters to the Biden column – all organized by the US Embassy in Rome.

Republican leaders in Arizona, who are engaging in a partisan recount, are propounding the mother of all outlandish theories. Some of these so-called auditors are photographing ballots because they believe that Asians flew around 40,000 of them, marked for Biden, to Arizona and somehow stuffed them in boxes. They plan to prove this fraud by analyzing the paper for traces of bamboos which would point to an Asian source!

The core tenet of enlightened thinking as understood for centuries stipulates that facts, established by scientific research, must be the dominant ingredient in any mature culture. A functioning democracy must rely on a baseline of shared reality among the citizenry. When facts become fungible and political leaders seem unmoored from guiding principles, then we are in deep trouble. Democracy is on the line.

Gerry OShea blogs at


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