“Alternative” Realities

Bizarre as he is, Donald Trump does embody the GOP’s longstanding effort to substitute fantasy for evidence, and to act on the basis of the former.  

Forbes Magazine recently reported that Republican lawmakers have buried a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, because the findings debunked their preferred  (fanciful) economic worldview.

The research study found absolutely no correlation between the the level of top tax rates and economic growth. The belief that taxing the rich slows economic growth is a key tenet of conservative economic theory, so rather than considering evidence contrary to that theory, Senate Republicans suppressed the report.

This has become the standard reaction of Republican lawmakers when inconvenient reality–facts, evidence, what your lying eyes tell you–conflicts with their preferred beliefs and/or the interests of their donors.

The question is: how long can a war on reality be maintained?

It isn’t just economics. An interesting article in a recent issue of the New York Times compared the anti-science assault of the new Trump Administration with a similar effort mounted by Stephen Harper, a previous Prime Minister of Canada.

I was surprised by the article, since Canadians seem so sane and reasonable in comparison to the United States. (I look rather longingly at Justin Trudeau…). Evidently, however, waging war on facts, evidence and empirical investigation are not solely an American phenomenon.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Less than a month into the Trump presidency, and the forecast for science seems ominous.

Scientists at federal agencies have been hit with gag orders preventing them from communicating their findings, or in some cases, attending scientific conferences. Social media accounts and websites have been censored, and at least one agency was asked to identify personnel who worked on climate policies. Now there are proposals for slashing research budgets and gutting funding that could affect the training of the next generation of scientists. To top it all off, President Trump’s cabinet nominees and senior advisers include many who are climate deniers or doubters.

Canadians experienced a similar assault on science a decade ago under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The author of the article, a Canadian scientist, shared the experience of that country’s scientific community in the hopes that it might prove helpful here. The parallels were striking:

Starting in 2007, shortly after Mr. Harper became prime minister, new rules were issued that prevented federal scientists from speaking freely with the media about their research without clearing it with public relations specialists or having an administrative “minder” accompany the scientists on interviews or to scientific conferences. More often, the government would simply deny permission for a scientist to speak with reporters if that person’s findings ran counter to Mr. Harper’s political agenda. Inquiries from journalists became mired in an obstinate bureaucracy, and media coverage of government climate research dropped 80 percent after the rules were imposed.

This censorship also had a chilling effect on scientific inquiry. A survey of federal Canadian scientists revealed that 90 percent felt they could not speak freely to the media about their work. If they were to speak up about science that affected public health or the environment, 86 percent felt that they would suffer retaliation. Nearly half of the scientists knew of specific cases of political interference hampering efforts to protect the public.

The article detailed the destruction of research libraries, and other “cost saving” measures. Research on pollution and environmental contaminants was de-funded;  monitoring stations were closed. Environmental protection laws were repealed.

Fearing the continued erosion of even the most basic protections for food inspection, water quality and human health, Canadian scientists filled Ottawa’s streets in the Death of Evidence march. That theatrical mock funeral procession became something of a cultural touchstone. It was a turning point that galvanized public opinion against Prime Minister Harper’s anti-science agenda. By the next election, Justin Trudeau’s center-left government swept in on a platform that put scientists’ right to speak and the promise of evidence-based decisions alongside job creation and economic growth.

In a very real sense, America’s political divisions are not between rational Republicans and Democrats, or conservatives and liberals. Our divisions are between people willing to examine evidence, value and trust expertise, and grapple with the complexities of modern life, and people who are unwilling or unable to do so–people frantic to avoid both ambiguity and evidence inconsistent with their religious or political fundamentalism.

A number of pundits have opined that the demonstrations and marches being held around the country will have little effect on political decision-making. The Canadian “Death of Evidence” march–and more recently, the “pussy hats” of the Women’s March–suggest otherwise.

Reason is an adaptive characteristic. It will prevail. Unfortunately, a lot of harm can be done in the interim.


  1. “a lot of harm can be done in the interim.” Could Steven Harper’s attacks and shut down of scientific inquiry account for the greedy anti-environmental oil extraction from sand enterprise in Canada that is at the root of the oil pipeline project in this country?

  2. I hope I find a position in Tucson that gives me an opportunity to work in fact based science. I’m too old to do as I’m told and not fight the establishment conservatives.

    Oh and thanks for the prayers and well wishes…Mother has turned the corner and improved significantly! Have a good weekend all! Cheers!

  3. “Alternative” Realities; like “alternative facts” are in the eye of the beholder.

    “Reason is an adaptive characteristic. It will prevail. Unfortunately, a lot of harm can be done in the interim.”

    This final paragraph of today’s blog is vital; those pundits (primarily the current Trump administration in all it’s self-grandiloquence and chest-thumping) who degrade the media for publishing the truth and want us to believe those marches and demonstrations are NOT helping to change laws, are avoiding the issue of Congressional members not showing up for meetings with their constituents, walking off the stage or being escorted out by security. If these marches and demonstrations are having no effect; why are members of Congress avoiding town hall meetings, confrontation and refusing to answer viable questions?

    After meeting with the Mexican Secretary, Tillerson stated emphatically that there will NOT be mass deportations (contrary to Trump’s repeated orders and evidence to the contrary). He did NOT state that Trump’s hiring of 5,000 additional border guards and Homeland Security agents will NOT happen. Kelly stated the immigrant roundups are NOT military actions. He did not state that the roundups by ICE, Federal Border Guards or Homeland Security Agents would end or slow – which would support Tillerson’s denial of mass deportations. “Alternative” Realities spoken in tandem from Mexico City, Mexico, yesterday.

    Front page headline article in the USA Today; “Private prisons bank on Trump” “Immigration policies could result in big rewards”. Much of what Trump/Bannon seek to accomplish to carry out “their” campaign promises/threats requires repealing many of our protective laws, regulations and ordinances and are, in some cases, bypassing basic “rule of law” requirements. The seeds of what we are seeing nationally were planted locally by Steve Goldsmith in 1992; one of his earliest pronouncements was “ignore laws, rules and ordinances, they can be changed”. The problem then was that he never bothered changing them. The problem today is that Trump is simply repealing them; upheld by Congress and the privately owned GOP.

    John Boehner announced that the ACA (otherwise known as Obamacare) will NOT be repealed or replaced. Has he “walked back” a Trump campaign promise, provided “alternative facts” or is he living in an “Alternative” Reality?

  4. Some of them are true believers, but most of them are just in it for the money. I was speaking with my college roommate yesterday and she asked if Bannon was 45’s Cheney. I answered that he was more dangerous, as he actually believes the garbage he spews, while Cheney was only in it to line his pockets.

  5. Bannon spoke yesterday at the CPAC yesterday to announce that their goal is the “deconstruction of the administrative state”. He also stated that they had deliberately chosen incompetent and inexperienced department and agency heads in order to facilitate the elimination of the same. Just look at the most incompetent of his appointees, DeVos, Perry, Pruitt, et al., then look at those who are experienced but are complicit, Sessions in Justice, Tillerson in State, Chao in Transportation, Mnuchin in Treasury. The departments and agencies with those more competent and experienced in place all favor corporate needs.
    Corporatocracy will be replacing our democratic republic as international corporations with no loyalty but to profits dictate our future.
    Add to that the disturbing proclamation by Cruz yesterday, that there will be another vacancy on the SCOTUS this summer and you have the culmination of the plan to control all branches of government.
    We are witnessing the demise of our government into a dictatorship. It will be violent at some point but likely too late.

  6. One can argue successfully that the only correlation between higher taxes and economic growth is that it is a positive for our economy. Joseph E. Stiglitz, (a Nobel Prize-winning economist and born and raised in Gary, Indiana, by the way), writes that there is no connection between higher taxes and economic growth, and I will go him one further. Higher taxes on those who can afford to pay them (the rich and corporate class) are a plus for economic growth. Higher taxes reduce the debt and interest we pay on it, provide revenues to government to fund important initiatives in research, health, education etc., and have no discernible effect on aggregate demand, the final arbiter of economic growth (as opposed to propaganda sold by trickle down adherents).

    As I had occasion to write recently, economic growth and the upward movement of the Dow have little to nothing in common. The Dow is up not as a result of growth in the economy but as a result of Trump’s promise to reduce taxes and remove “burdensome” regulations from the “risks” undertaken by the rich and corporate class and their Wall Street moneychangers, just another example of corporate welfare. Stiglitz writes that it is possible to have growth in the stock market and economic growth stagnation simultaneously, and he is right, and why? Because it is not trickle down goodies and tax and regulatory relief that fuels economic growth; it is aggregate demand, and with wage inequality demand remains tepid. Stiglitz likens our economy to that of a pie, and economic growth expands the pie for further distribution. Giving handouts to the already obscenely rich does not expand the pie; it merely decreases the economy’s income share for the rest of the economy’s participants, like labor, for instance. It is demand that fuels our economy; merely reshuffling its income and wealth assets to favor the rich and corporate class so they have more to send to Zurich and the Caymans rather than reinvest in our economy does not expand the pie; on the contrary such handouts reduce the size of the pie for distribution to the rest of us in a classic example of how Republicans as a matter of policy (and campaign contributions) invest not in our people but in the portfolios of the rich and corporate class, a matter of policy to which I for one object.

  7. There’s one person who never seems to know what the Fake President Donald Trump will do next, and that’s the Fake President Donald Trump. One would think that members of the multi-million dollar cabinet would be allowed to make their own stupid declarations occasionally. One would think wrong. And now Trump has Canadian scientists trying to get a questionable word in edgewise … and failing. Trump is taking credit for poisoning every idea in at least two countries … without any obvious help.

  8. The only economic growth produced by lowering taxes on the wealthy is the growth in industries producing luxury goods, jewelry, lavish boats, private airplanes, status automobiles, expensive homes, expensive trips, a bleached mistress in every port–you get the picture. I thought this notion was thoroughly debunked with Reagan’s “trickle down economics”. Still recall Bill Murray portraying a homeless, down and outer, sitting in the gutter, getting urinated on by a rich guy, as the face of “trickle down economics”. It was an apt metaphor.

  9. History shows that the opposite is true. When top tax brackets are high, unemployment is low, debt is reduced, projects that serve the nation get completed and the middle class thrives. Taxes are the price of civilization. It’s no surprise that the Republicans simply don’t care about civilization so long as their profits are maximized for their donors.

    This is what third-world countries look like. Are we better than that? Yes, but we have to eliminate the Republican party first.

  10. Almost everyone knows way more than I do about something. Ignorance is pandemic in these times because humanity collectively knows so much and that knowledge is expanding exponentially. Even the deepest experts have a hard time keeping up.

    An unfortunate consequence of this is that collaboration is absolutely necessary to do things that are complex. One has to ask a lot of questions and do a lot of careful listening.

    Que the big mouth entertainers.

    “Listening is for pansies. Don’t be a sucker and believe experts, be opinionated and think black and white and shout the opposition down.”

    Ignorance has become empowered. There are consequences of that. We are living them and will pay a huge and growing price for our arrogance.

  11. I wonder about buried reports other than this one. An earlier report from the budget office showed that the economy has done better, a lot better, under Democratic presidents than under the Republican ones. Yet the Republicans keep insisting that they are the ones that are good for the economy. Here’s the report again (here it’s more relevant than it was the last time I posted it.

  12. Natacha:
    Not sure that the rich buying luxuries actually adds much to economic growth. The 1 & 2 Percenters already have so many play things. Frist, they are somewhat limited in numbers. And you know, after the 1st $10 million, you probably have pretty much bought just about everything you could possibly have ever dreamed of. Mostly what they do is accumulate their wealth.

  13. Trickle down sure increases the gap between the haves and the rest of us. But that is about all it does.

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