Why Knowledge Actually Matters….

I’m constantly amazed by the number of Americans who look askance at candidates for public office if they have government experience and/or training– the voters who express their preference for electing “outsiders” who will not be “disadvantaged” by actually knowing how government works.

I’m pretty sure those same voters wouldn’t choose a doctor who had never been to medical school, or a mechanic who didn’t know where their car’s engine was located.

Doctrinaire libertarians and “small government” conservatives may be nostalgic for the days of the Vermont Town Hall meetings, but this country is not going to get rid of the agencies that inspect our food and drugs, ensure that airplanes don’t crash into each other, keep businesses from colluding to fix prices, corporations from lying to prospective shareholders, and more. (Nor–despite the fantasies of this Administration and the real harm it can do–are we going to get rid of environmental rules and regulations, enforcement of civil rights laws, or public schools.)

Voting in a “management team” that doesn’t understand what government agencies do or how they do it, a team that is unfamiliar with constitutional checks and balances, and ignorant of settled U.S. foreign policy, diplomatic norms, and the definition of the national interest is like asking the company janitor to assume control of a multi-national corporation.

Even if he was a really good janitor, it isn’t going to go well. If he was an unstable and intellectually limited janitor with very spotty cleaning skills , he’s going to do a lot of damage to the company.

A couple of examples may illustrate the problem.

During the Presidential campaign, Donald Trump confidently asserted that he would bring back jobs in the coal industry. He argued that “burdensome” regulatory activity–like keeping miners safe and coal ash out of Americans’ drinking water–had caused the industry’s declining employment.

But as this article and several others explain, what’s killing coal is the market, not regulation.

The U.S. coal industry basically imploded as Chinese demand slipped. Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources, Patriot Coal and Walter Energy have all filed for bankruptcy over the past two years. (Peabody Coal is nearing a plan to pull itself out of bankruptcy.) The number of people who work in coal has tanked, too. In 1985, the industry employed 177,000 people. At the end of 2008, that number fell to 86,000. It was at 56,000 by last year.

“The market is telling coal that it’s a dying fuel source because we have abundant supplies of natural gas that are indigenous to the country,” Pete Fontaine, a veteran environmental lawyer who works for fossil fuel companies, told HuffPost. “You can scrap rules that make coal mining more expensive, you can scrap the Clean Power Plan, but ultimately coal is on the way out.”

Over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Ed Brayton points to another example:

Like virtually every other environmental measure, Trump is trying to roll back the CAFE standards for efficient engines in cars and trucks, on the premise that such regulations increase the price of cars. But in reality, doing so would actually cost consumers more money.

Trump’s misguided move to appease the ever-myopic U.S. auto industry would undo efficiency gains that will provide consumers $98 billion in total net benefits, primarily from reduced fuel use. Individual car buyers would lose “a net savings of $1,650” (even after accounting for the higher vehicle cost) as the EPA concluded in its final January “Determination on the Appropriateness” of the standards.

The savings from the new standards are so significant that the EPA calculates “consumers who finance their vehicle with a 5-year loan would see payback within the first year.”

Rolling back the standards would also boost U.S. oil consumption by 1.2 billion gallons and increase U.S. carbon pollution by 540 billion tons over the lifetime of the model-year 2022–2025 cars.

When managers–private or public–don’t know what they don’t know, and are unwilling to educate themselves or consult people who do understand the way things work, they advocate “solutions” that make matters worse.

When experts are scorned as “elitists” and scores of knowledgable agency employees are told to pack their bags, what comes next won’t be pretty.

Isaac Asimov, the brilliant scientist and science-fiction author, said it best:

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of 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.”

That cult of ignorance has given us an Administration that rejects science and subject-matter expertise in favor of conspiracy theories and authoritarian ideologies.

I wonder–if America survives this, what lessons–if any–will we learn?


  1. Electing inexperienced candidates leads to control by experienced unelected staff.

  2. Robert Kennedy’s comment is correct. After the Reagan administration, it took years to weed out the dead wood in the Justice department and the E.P.A.

  3. It seems that it will be very difficult to find many “knowledgeable” challengers to the Republican machine in Indiana then.

  4. Ignorance, apathy, and hopelessness among the people is rampant. A lot of people are apolitical because they see very few people worth voting for, and when we find someone like Bernie Sanders, very much worth voting for, the establishment shuts the effort down, leading to more hopelessness among the ignorant and apathetic. We change that or we get more of the same.

  5. The frightening aspect of watching this Trump fascist “misadministration” as he “deconstructs” the federal government is, for me, as Yogi Berra so aptly put it, “It is de javu all over again!” I watched and struggled in vain with it during the Goldsmith (yes, there’s that name again) Mayoral administration here in Indianapolis. The few actually qualified, experienced people in the field where he hired them, didn’t last long…because they tried to do the job legally as was required. The Goldsmith administration was a microcosm of the Nixon administration; it appears to have been the local appearance of the “new GOP” which has been expanded to what we see – and fear – today.

    Trump is demanding resignations or outright firing one or two at a time or in groups, nearly emptying entire divisions or areas of the federal administration of qualified, experienced government leaders and staff. What we see in public; I have said before is but the tip of the iceberg, chaos reigns behind the scenes and we have not yet seen the disastrous results of his actions. But; take my word for it, they are coming and it will be an onslaught when it hits the American people.

    The highly publicized Trump/Putin/Russian connections are being investigated primarily by those who need to be investigated as part of the maze of money changing hands and being “laundered”.

    The Democrats I have watched in the media, and the media itself, seem to be concentrating all efforts to view the Trump loss regarding his unhealthy health care bill, as “one of his broken campaign promises”. PLEASE – stop the pissing contest on this one issue – it was a Trump campaign threat, not a promise and it is a huge win for the American people. IF – IF – we are lucky, those brave Republicans who are knowledgeable and experienced in their duties, who voted a loud “NO” to the bill, will remain strong and help find solutions to the problem areas in the ACA.

    The investigations into the Russian connections need to be done by an independent, nonpartisan committee; we must stop those who should be investigated for being part of, or having knowledge of the situation, from being allowed to investigate the situation. In this instance; we need to get rid of those who are qualified and experienced political elected officials from the cover-up.

    We are living in a historical life-changing era today and; like the Civil War, it is an ugly, life-and-death era which America, as America, may NOT survive intact.

    Be afraid; be very afraid!

  6. Ignorance has become the preferred state in America. I watched “60 Minutes” last night and was appalled when they conflated “fake news” and satire and then claimed well educated people were as susceptible to “fake news” as less well educated Americans because just as many of them visited these sites. If you read “The Onion” or Andy Borowtiz, you know you are getting satire. It’s not at all like listening to Alex Jones or reading Breitbart. “60 Minutes” is afraid of the right wing and won’t say anything that might offend that group of Know Nothings. That’s how ignorance becomes preeminent.

  7. Someone once said that “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” That witticism describes our situation today in which we are trying ignorance, a situtation where ideology and greed are the order of the day, where civics is removed from high school curricula, where reality in tax and budget matters defies the rules of arithmetic (see trickledown economics), where incessant propaganda paid for by hard right libertarian interests (Mercers, Kochs et al.) who make ordinary Republicans look like liberals, where corporate bottom lines are favored over minimum wages, where we (tax-wise) favor investment over work etc. etc. etc.

    Those of the rich and corporate class who are not ignorant are (disgustingly) using those who are ignorant to advance their selfish causes where the hopes and aspirations of ordinary Americans are rated 11 on a list of 10 as patrimonial capitalism (noted by Piketty) and wage inequality (noted by Stiglitz) keep the good times rolling for the rich and corporate class while the rest of us labor under the yoke of wage inequality in an underperforming economy.

    The election of Trump brings together an ideal situation for expansion of the libertarian nihilist model with the election of an apostle of greed and profit who is himself rich and ignorant. Anyone who voted for Trump on the assumption that he would or could wave the magic wand and bring back dangerous but good-paying jobs in the coal mines of Appalachia or elsewhere
    has been conned. Even Trump had to know that coal’s demise is tied to market forces and cannot compete with new and plentiful sources of natural gas. He lied, but Appalachia bought it, rewarding his perfidy with their votes.

    The same can be said for his promise to wage-starved middle America that he would bring good-paying jobs back from China and elsewhere when the truth is that only 17% of the jobs lost went overseas and 83% of jobs lost were by reason of automation. It was largely robots and other forms of automation that accounted for the job loss, and worse, even if he could somehow bring such 17% of the jobs lost to overseas venues to our shores, they too would be subject to automation, thus rendering the jobs gained to a pittance, and aside from all these numbers, the CEOs of American corporations who operate or contract with sweatshops in Viet Nam and elsewhere overseas would have already brought these 17% jobs back but for the fact that the slave wages paid overseas labor are cheaper than the costs of automation of such jobs back home. As the Donald will find, CEOs are responsible not to him but to their fiduciary duty to enhance shareholder value, whatever the official pretenses may be on their visits with him in the Oval Office with their happy talk designed for public notice, aka propaganda that would make Goebbels wince.

    I could go on and on, as is my wont, and as readers of this blog know, but I will end this with the following general conclusion: That, with the exception of the rich and corporate class, all of us have been subjected to an enormous scam by an ignorant man who even now continues to spew out his futile promises hatched in his narcissistic world and couched in the superlative, all of which I reject.

  8. Trump’s answer to every issue is “growth” but his actions collectively lead the race to the bottom. “Make America Great Again” is the cruelist lie of all.

    As I frequently ask in science denier debates, dumb or deceptive? Is the collective administration blundering around Washington way short of knowledge or do they know exactly what they’re doing?

    The latter to me is a much bigger threat than the former.

  9. I don’t know any common, ordinary old geezers who have made more disparaging remarks about the Fake President Trump than I have. In my opinion, he’s totally unqualified to hold any office that requires truth and/or intelligence. However, I’m not so are that Trump wasn’t merely an afterthought for many voters.

    Millions of U.S. citizens do not like African Americans. Trump is not an African American. Millions of U.S. citizens do not like the thought of putting women in positions of authority. Trump is not a woman. Bias runs rampant on at least two fronts and so does Trump’s brain.

    For nearly half a century, the nation has been told that coal is bad for one’s health. The coal miners know that. But in their opinion, nobody reputable has come up with a reputable substitute for making a living. This has to change … or we can count on the nation’s populace to become more dyspeptic than they already are.

  10. Our McMega-Media has made it much easier for anti-knowledge at worst and bias at the least to take hold. I think it is safe to say the Media: news papers, TV and radio always had some bias. The news might be reported, but the owners political, social and cultural views could be reflected in how the news is covered or whether a story is covered at all. I could understand the ownership’s influence on editorial content, but the news can be slanted to support it.

    Mix in the need for ratings and you have this crap airing on CNN, FOX and MSNBC. You get to select your bias.

    The tabloids learned long ago the more sensational the cover story the better. The actual facts may not support the sensational cover story, but that is superfluous in the world of marketing and sales.

  11. I expect Trump’s appeal will fade as those supporters who begin to understand his weaknesses and are able to interpret a few numbers will see the lie and start wondering what they were thinking when they voted for him. The Trump opposition needs these people.

  12. It’s not too early for some serious soul searching among politicians on how to exploit the damage to be done by Trump between now and 2020.

    Of course the state of the rest of the world is hard to anticipate but I think that his health care failure will fester and he will consequently unleash some more non solutions to soothe his bruised outsized ego.

    Democrats need to prepare an offense rather than a defense for those times.

  13. One of my friends posted a cartoon depicting a rowdy passenger demanding to be allowed to fly the airliner on the grounds that his ignorance would make him a better pilot than the professional flying the plane. We all had a good laugh except the trumpvoter who insisted that, yes, not being trained would indeed make someone a better pilot, and Trump Himself could fly an airliner with no training or even hints, because Trump is “smart.”
    You can’t get through that any more than you can get through a North Korean peasant who has been indoctrinated into believing Dear Leader could destroy America by crinkling up a map. It is religion and He is their Messiah. Walk on water? Sure, He could do that. If He wanted to. Faith is a magical thing . . .

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