Elitism? Or Respect For Knowledge?

One of the many lessons of the current pandemic is that electing leaders who sneer at expertise and make war on science was a big mistake.

In The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis defended the federal bureaucracy, and pointed out how significantly the tasks they perform – from maintaining nuclear waste to  forecasting the weather–depends upon knowledge and training. In a recent interview, Lewis pointed to the Trump camp’s “glaring ignorance” of government’s responsibilities and the expertise required to discharge those responsibilities.

I’ve previously blogged about Trump’s effort to eject scientists from the federal bureaucracy–a fixation exceeded only by his determination to purge anyone responsible for oversight–but the excessive anti-intellectualism of this administration isn’t simply due to Trump. It’s the result of a longstanding Republican “culture war” strategy in which educated folks are demonized as “elitists.”

“Real” Americans don’t put on fancy airs, or point out when policies aren’t based on facts.

As the “Big Sort” has accelerated America’s cultural differences, the GOP has found it easier to sneer at the effete intellectuals who flocked to congenial urban neighborhoods.(I recently read that House Democrats represent 78 percent of all Whole Foods locations, but only 27 percent of Cracker Barrels.) Trump doesn’t understand much, but he does recognize that most of those remaining in the dwindling GOP- -whiter, older and more Christian than the country as a whole–don’t care about policy, or about voting what others might consider their own self-interest. They see themselves as an identity group under threat, and they’ll follow anyone who speaks to their sense of grievance. It’s easy to convince them that coastal “elitists” look down on them.

The GOP’s constant assault on knowledge, professionalism and education has had a predictable effect on trust in all the institutions necessary to democratic self-governance.

A recent report from the Brookings Institution focused on the degree to which the erosion of trust has made us more vulnerable to this pandemic, and noted that Trump is “merely the apotheosis of a political approach that has animated much of the conservative movement for a half century or more: undermining trust in the media, science, and government.”

For America to minimize the damage from the current pandemic, the media must inform, science must innovate, and our government must administer like never before. Yet decades of politically-motivated attacks discrediting all three institutions, taken to a new level by President Trump, leave the American public in a vulnerable position.

Trump has consistently vilified the national media. When campaigning, he called the media “absolute scum” and “totally dishonest people.” As president, he has called news organizations “fake news” and “the enemy of the people” over and over. The examples are endless. Predictably, he has blamed the coronavirus crisis on the media, saying “We were very prepared. The only thing we weren’t prepared for was the media.”

Science has been another Trump target. He has gutted scientific expertise and administrative capacity in the executive branch, most notably failing to fill hundreds of vacancies in the Centers for Disease Control itself and disbanding the National Security Council’s taskforce on pandemics. During the coronavirus crisis, he has routinely disagreed with scientific experts, including, in the AP’s words, his “musing about injecting disinfectants into people [to treat COVID-19].” This follows his earlier public advocacy for hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment, also against leading scientists’ advice. Coupled with his flip-flopping on when to lift stay-at-home orders, the president has created confusion and endangered people.

Finally, President Trump has consistently demeaned essential government agencies, labeling them part of a “deep state.”

An article originally from Salon looked at the history of empiricism and its importance:

What Galileo established as separating science from other types of “revealed” truths was this: facts and the ability to make testable predictions mattered. There weren’t anymore your facts and my facts, neither were there facts and “alternative facts“. There weren’t revealed facts or aspirational facts. Facts came in only one flavor — observable. Observations, experiments, and reasoning based on reliable data became the only acceptable methods for discovering facts about the world.

In “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt summed it up:

The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.

Since at least the 1960s, the GOP has waged a sneering assault on “elitists” who respect empirical inquiry, and pursue facts, knowledge and expertise. The result is that today’s Americans occupy alternate realities. Denigrating knowledge, however, is equivalent to a demand that we disarm the front-line soldiers fighting our wars.

That is no way to fight a pandemic–or run a country.


  1. Sheila,

    “In “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt summed it up:

    The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

    The only way you can change that is by confronting it, which is near impossible, without an EQUALIZING, COUNTERVAILING, FORCE.

    Read the book or see the movie: FAIL SAFE.

  2. For a better understanding of the problem, I would highly recommend “The Manipulators: A hard-hitting inside story of men and money in action” by Leslie Gould (David McKay Company, New York, 1966).

  3. I do know what I’m talking about as my deceased partner Harvey Wheeler was the co-author of FAIL SAFE and my father is mentioned on page 16 of the MANIPULATORS.

  4. And lest we forget the influence and impact of fascist extremists like Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon. It was no accident that Bannon became Trump’s muse until he pissed off Trump’s object of fondling – his daughter.

    Any clear thinker knows that we all stand on the shoulders of our predecessors, their knowledge base and their creations. To deny that dynamic is to deny our humanity. That seems to be what the right-wingers are all about as they wallow in their self-absorption and institutionalized ignorance.

    Paraphrased from the great Stevie Wonder’s song, “Superstition”, people fear what they don’t understand. So, when knowledge and science are eliminated from one’s mental make-up, the fear factor grows. We don’t have to do much other than see what’s happening in Nebraska, Iowa, Georgia and South Dakota to see the end game for this ideologically-driven fear of knowing.

  5. Vernon,

    “And lest we forget the influence and impact of fascist extremists like Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon. It was no accident that Bannon became Trump’s muse until he pissed off Trump’s object of fondling – his daughter.”

    That sounds about right. Don’t be so kind.

  6. Vernon,

    It’ll all cascade down, if we can hit the VITAL NODE of the non-linear, political, system that Trump/Bannon hijacked.

  7. We wouldn’t be in a jam like this if Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center hadn’t sold us all out for the past 30 years. At least, Dees had to resign in disgrace early last year, but the damage still hasn’t been repaired as of this date.

  8. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) not only failed to track the new strain of the, so-called, Hitler Virus, but also interfered with the attempts by others to do so, through their partnership with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

  9. For Marv, you cannot oppress the people without a lot of enablers. I would say the GOP has lost all credibility for their incredible falling in line behind Trump and his criminal enterprise. Wait until we discover how the federal stash of PPE was sold to the states and who profited.

    Beyond the GOP, we have the party loyalists who support the cause with blind obedience, much like their faith in the myth of a God in heaven.

    I witnessed a Trump supporter on FB trying to shame a Democrat by telling them they will be judged harshly in the heavens when they die for supporting the killing of babies.

    Our media is deficient in this country, but not for the reasons Trump believes. He called the previous Justice Department, “a bunch of scum,” while Barr turns loose criminals who pled guilty.

    Blind obedience and faith require a very closed mind to protect the Ego’s attachment to those beliefs. Empirical evidence, fact-finding, critical thinking, etc. has to be ignored at all costs because if the Ego detects it is wrong, it’s a fate worse than death. If the Ego is wrong about this topic, ‘then it might be wrong about other topics.’

    That’s when the light of reason shines forth and crushes the Ego, and massive change is allowed. Until that happens, we are merely an automaton with a very rigid set of beliefs. Thousands of Twitter followers “raised a flag” this week for Michael Flynn calling him a “true patriot” and denouncing the “Deep State” for what they did to the military man.

    Never once do they harshly judge the military for its brutal killing in regions for oil and other resources. Their Egos can rationalize this away, and it’s impressive to watch them bend like pretzels defending their irrational beliefs.

    All you can do is marvel at the war being waged within the collective Egos.

  10. Todd,

    “Our media is deficient in this country, but not for the reasons Trump believes.”

    Thanks. We have to find a way around them, at least for now.

  11. Sheila,
    I have been wondering if anyone has done a study of the percentage of the people who have contracted or died from COVID-19 to see whether they watch Fox News where the pandemic is being downplayed and the President’s tweets and statements are being emphasized. You have to assume from the lack of caution observed by the protesters at rallies that they are intentionally mocking social distancing and mask wearing. I also assume that they are part of the Fox audience. Doesn’t it strike you as ironic that the President and Fox could be killing off their supporters, particularly the elderly ones, by urging them to ignore CDC guidelines? If 40% slips to 39% by the election, you have to wonder.

  12. No cohesion!

    Sheila, you know I am not the most articulate individual on this blog. Marv, a really interesting fella, a lot of knowledge from his and his family’s history, give him wisdom concerning a lot of important issues of the day here. In this day and age, wisdom is in short supply, people refuse to learn from their previous generations. And Sheila, you are definitely one who has taken your queue from your decades of experience, it gives you the wisdom to speak truth to power when others are just blathering nonsense!

    So I think I’ll just wing it a little bit today, most people are not interested in my point of view but, I’d be derelict in my humanity if I did not speak my idea of truth to power!

    Former secretary-general of the United Nations Javier Pérez de Cuéllar said: “The world situation offers overwhelming evidence that poverty [is undermining] the cohesion of societies.”

    In the prophecies of Daniel, iron stands for the strength of government, Clay stands for the common man who would gain influence in those iron like governments. So, look at today! Iron like governments are crumbling because the “common man” one who is lacking wisdom, or the stupid one, has inserted himself in affairs beyond his ability, (Daniel 2: 41-43)

    At the death of King Solomon, Israel became a divided nation, stupid came to power, values changed, the majority had a distrust for government, there was a great deal of “sighing and moaning” they lost to their king who had a great deal of wisdom and knowledge, and they recognized this as a problem. But since the stupid ones controlled the government, by time the attempt was made to purge it, it was too late!

    Institutions that would have provided cohesion throughout history were corrupted by ignorance and stupidity. Religion was one, the houses of philosophy were another, morals and ethics were yet another! Ethics and morality infused in the civil society would prevent a lot of what’s happening now because it would help to enlighten everyone to the historical con artistry happening not only today but in our historical past.

    Not only do a majority of leaders now lack a moral compass, but this is being passed on to the youth, the same youth to whom everyone holds out hope of changing things! This unrequited faith in youth as a savior has no basis in history! So as the older generation dies off, and everyone puts faith in the younger generation, this leads to a void of wisdom! It’s the same void of wisdom that led to the dark ages, except now, there will be no Renaissance, mankind will have killed himself off by then.

    A report put out by Britannica’s yearbook division, was titled, “Our Disintegrating World; The Menace of Global Anarchy.” It goes on to mention, “After 1945 the ideas that ‘progress’ was somehow inevitable and that the future of the modern world would be one basically of cohesion and coherence were assumed.” But those assumptions, have proved to be totally misguided, What has happened instead is that the world is quietly but relentlessly being rent by a slow-motion disintegration. Many countries whose structural and spiritual cohesion was taken for granted have been breaking apart . . Into tribes, clans, religious sects, city gangs, death squads, terrorist movements, guerrilla movements, and narrow and rabid self-interest groups.”


    “The factors that make for international instability are gaining the historical upper hand over the forces that work for more organized cooperation. The unavoidable conclusion of any detached analysis of global trends is that social turmoil, political unrest, economic crisis, and international friction are likely to become more widespread during the remainder of this century. The menace confronting humanity, in brief, is . . . global anarchy.”

    So, there you have it! It’s the old analogy of the frog sitting in a pot and not jumping out when the water starts to boil! Because The heat is turned up slow enough, the frog just gets sleepy and then cooked!

  13. “Why do some British people not like Donald Trump?” Nate White, an articulate and witty writer from England wrote the following response:

    A few things spring to mind. Trump lacks certain qualities which the British traditionally esteem. For instance, he has no class, no charm, no coolness, no credibility, no compassion, no wit, no warmth, no wisdom, no subtlety, no sensitivity, no self-awareness, no humility, no honour and no grace – all qualities, funnily enough, with which his predecessor Mr. Obama was generously blessed. So for us, the stark contrast does rather throw Trump’s limitations into embarrassingly sharp relief.

    Plus, we like a laugh. And while Trump may be laughable, he has never once said anything wry, witty or even faintly amusing – not once, ever. He doesn’t even seem to understand what a joke is – his idea of a joke is a crass comment, an illiterate insult, a casual act of cruelty.

    Some Americans might see this as refreshingly upfront. Well, we don’t. We see it as having no inner world, no soul.

    He makes Nixon look trustworthy and George W look smart. In fact, if Frankenstein decided to make a monster assembled entirely from human flaws – he would make a Trump.

    The character flaws of The Trumpet lead to the lack of respect and even total disdain for experts. The Trumpet cannot conceive ever, of conceding the stage to someone else. This why he had to dominate the “news conferences” he put on concerning Corona. You can observe him nervously twitching his body and he facial expressions, whenever the experts had the stage. The Trumpet’s only thought was – I have to take back the initiative of “news conference”.

  14. this all adds up to a corprate goverment..run by wall streets,needs…. when trump decided golf was more important, he flys off to get his buddies praise. he leaves his staff with thier needs to do, any action,passes wall streets mob first..and you wonder why i am at this issue. while in early march,dr trump is playing stockcar driver at daytona,our people are lining up to die. his posture is next to a kin of ayn rand,as his admin. the republicans as a whole, well,,id say it in terms of a oral fixation,upon wall streets masse. seems their broke, they depended upon its finacial rewards and promises to its donors, riches and power,by those who run the scheme.. if im wrong to beleive its a takeover,then ill sit down. but after 40 years,we still just talk about it.
    but as i read,from many world journals,our goverment missed the mark,in reporting to the people what we are getting to kill us,by a true,dereliction of duty . mcconnel needs to go..
    best wishes,washdapaws.

  15. “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell”

    ― Carl Sandburg
    Sandburg describes, the now evolved Trump GOP to a “T”.

    We have now video of the latest murder of one Ahmaud Arbery, who was jogging while black and was gunned down by a white father and son in Georgia. You cannot directly blame The Trumpet for this act of violence. However, the armed yahoos, yo-yo’s and vigilantes have been embolden by years of gun right’s rhetoric, from Stand Your Ground to Hunt them Down.

    The two men involved in the killing of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through his neighborhood just outside of Brunswick, Georgia, in February have been charged with murder and aggravated assault. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/may/07/ahmaud-arbery-former-police-officer-and-son-charged-in-shooting-of-black-man

  16. Todd’s take today is especially good. The real war is between our ears. Deep state, enemy of the people etc. are mere manipulative devices. In sum, we believe what we want or are fashioned to believe, and I’m in the Darwin/Chomsky/FDR sub-grouping.

    The amalgamation of the Republican Party with the old Know Nothing Party when combined with Big Money and cretins in office against a background of greed beyond description represents not only a danger to our democracy but to survival itself, and our victory this fall will not expunge that cancer from the scene (though it may hold such forces at bay). Whatever, we have to start from where we are, so we “elitists” are well advised to show up in force this November (and per HMS Pinafore) bring along our cousins and our uncles and our aunts.

  17. There is no end to the crimes and the shame of Republicans. Political hardball in the face of a deadly disease…. THAT is what having no moral compass looks like. THAT is the Republican party.

    Watch for Trump to pardon Flynn no matter what Sullivan does. Then he’ll pardon Roger Stone. The abuse of power by a crime boss is now on full display for all the world to see. Barr is nothing more than a Trump stooge and has thrown his copy of the Constitution out the window. We’re in very big trouble. November can’t come soon enough.

    Now that the Moscow Mitch Senate has declined to override Trump’s veto of war powers controls, look for a war with Iran … or Venezuela….or North Korea…. or China sometime before November. When the polls show Trump losing to Biden with the aggrieved white males by more than 5 points, he’ll send in the bombers.

    It won’t work this time, but he’ll get people killed anyway. EVERYTHING TRUMP TOUCHES DIES.

  18. I think that Monotonous Languor hit the long ball today.

    I worked in a very large technical corporation for my real career as an engineer doing projects to continuously improve the effectiveness of very high tech manufacturing processes and equipment. It was fun. However as I studied what I was part of I noticed that the corporate elite regarded us as expensive and only remotely supporting make more money now regardless of the impact on others. Back then though things were better than now because the very successful company had been born to be honorable with all stakeholders so the future was corporately important so they had to listen when we talked.

    However when times turned bad we were among the first of the baggage to get thrown overboard. The future was dim and the present loomed large.

    The corporate disdain for facts, especially inconvenient truths, because they reveal a shaky future has grown considerably among the politically elite also. Trump, because he’s incapable of ration, has always respected his uneducated opinion over inconvenient truth.

    He is what he is and we apparently have to tolerate his ignorance a few months longer. His largely illusionary progress has been revealed as structurally unsound when stressed so we will have to take back mostly wreckage but the question that remains unanswered is can it be rebuilt?

    We won’t know until we try.

  19. Too bad that “Russian collusion” farce didn’t work out for you! Heads are gonna roll for what they did to Flynn.

  20. I saw on YouTube how a nurse who was in the oval office with Trump was honest about the lack of PPE equipment for nurses. (It was nurses day). Of course, Trump responded with a pack of lies. NPR says nurses are losing their jobs from the pandemic. I say the government should hire the nurses for testing and tracing. We would do a great job for them. After all, we continue to be the most trusted profession. Although, I wonder, if the bias against science leads some people to be biased against nurses.

    The bias against science is truly interfering with our ability to stand up and do what is necessary to stem the tide of COVID 19 infections.

    The bias against socialized medicine also diminishes our capacity to respond effectively against the virus. The arrogant unwillingness of our country’s leaders to learn from other countries’ health care systems is not helping us either.

    And, of course, because we have a privatized health care system, the bottom line of hospitals is suffering which in turn leads to cutting nursing jobs. 500 of us lost our jobs at St. Vincent’s in 2003 when they cut 90% of their treatment services for mental health and substance use. Will the pandemic motivate representatives of both parties to move toward universal health coverage? I doubt it. Why do I doubt it? Because despite all the gun violence, we have not created regulatory systems around gun ownership that can effectively reduce gun violence. The 2nd amendment fanatics who consistently misinterpret this amendment obstruct our ability to look scientifically at gun violence and how best to address this issue.

    I am lucky to be retired from nursing and addictions counseling at this time. I pray for all those on the front line of health care and for those who have lost their jobs.

    I really wish that all Americans could stand united and demand changes in our health care system that would ensure we all have access to high quality health care.

  21. Mueller concluded that there was no point in gathering evidence for “collusion” which means that Trump and Putin actually conspired to contaminate the election. He did however find proof that Putin did contaminate the election regardless of what motivated him too. That’s how the Russian operatives who did the dirty work got indicted. I personally have no trouble at all seeing how getting Trump into the Whitehouse instead of Hillary Clinton was essential to the Russian Oligarchy, I also believe that the discrepancy between the poplar vote and the Electoral Collage results suggest that the election was manipulated.

  22. I fear November will not save us because it will not happen. The second wave will provide bogus excuse for delaying the election. And then……..

    The intellectual elite of the right wing who promote anti-intellectual anti-science policies face the eventual wrath being directed at them when the progressives are no longer a target.

  23. Hey Marv,

    Just watching Trump last night and this morning, talking about Flynn, and all of these shenanigans they are pulling, I believe he’s getting ready or at least contemplating declaring martial law because the deep state is to overwhelming. He’s going to claim that elections are going to be rigged, and he knows that he probably will go to prison, so the only thing he can do is prevent the election and prevent himself from leaving office. And I would venture to say William Barr is coaching him up.

    I love the movie 7 days in May, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, wow! I’ve watched it about 10 times, and it is extremely plausible. The troops in the desert, a ghost base, kinda reminds you of Eric Prince and his private army! This is Vladimir Putin’s dream, and the only thing that could prevent something like this, would be if the military decided it was a bridge too far! So, we shall see, but, this is moving from a covert coup attempt to an overt takeover of government by authoritarian powers!

    Don’t be surprised either if there is some sort of fiasco like Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his fake coup! It gave him the in to dismantle democratic institutions. Putin also gave him the idea by having troops in plain uniforms attack Ukraine, giving him a certain amount of deniability! This is not good!

  24. It’s sometimes useful to consider the battle going on now for the human race as not between good and evil but between truth and power.

  25. Gail,

    Once again you expose yourself as validation for the progressive views of this blog that point out the facts about Republicans and the rule of law. In case you missed it while you making your COVID masks for your family, Mike Flynn CONFESSED TWICE UNDER OATH AT HIS COURT HEARING WITH HIS LAWYERS PRESENT THAT HE INDEED LIED TO THE FBI, LIED TO THE VICE PRESIDENT (Not that he could tell the difference) AND LIED ABOUT BEING AN AGENT FOR A FOREIGN COUNTRY. Let’s have you or me confess to such crimes and see what happens.

    Now, go back to painting your hoax signs. Those will be the last words of anti-closing and distancing morons: “It was all a hoax.” Gasp. Gasp. Flatline.

  26. john,

    “Just watching Trump last night and this morning, talking about Flynn, and all of these shenanigans they are pulling, I believe he’s getting ready or at least contemplating declaring martial law because the deep state is to overwhelming.”

    By continuing to downplay this possibility, as reflected on this blog, it is making it more and more a possibility, that the mutual fear that we both have had for some time will come to fruition.

  27. john,

    I’m afraid our worst fears are going to take place. The growing racism and anti-Semitism in the U.S. will prevent the necessary condemnation of Trump that would prevent a TAKEOVER.

    The LIberals will be mute as usual. MLK’s observation of them, 60 years ago, is still on target.

  28. Marv,

    Sad but true! Who would have thought this would be the case after Barack Obama left office? I really believe he had an inkling that this stuff was going to happen, and he was right! But not only him, there has been prophecies all through scripture on this very issue. One just has to know where to look! My point being, as it states in Ecclesiastes the third chapter, if it’s time, it’s time! I’m not delusional, and I’m not a Nostradamus or a prophet, but, a person would be a fool not to recognize storm clouds brewing and not be preparing for a storm.

    If you look at history, every world power, maybe not a recognized superpower, but a power that had the most influence in the world at the time, went through a time of complacency. And usually that complacency lead to their demise which left a void for really bad things to start happening!

    The Mesopotamians, the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, and let’s not forget the Egyptians which spanned several of these others. like I’ve said and like you’ve said on a consistent basis, if you are a fan of history, you recognize a cyclical element to it! And right now, it’s rearing its ugly head again! Cyclical not in a good way, but cyclical in a bad way.

    When scripture tells you that people will be calling for the mountains to fall over them, it’s referring to the governments, and the people calling on those governments to protect them. But those same pieces of iron trying to cohere with the clay, they can’t protect anyone because even though people want to be protected, they wanted on their terms, in their way, and therefore nothing is accomplished! Hence, Daniel’s prophecy of the immense image with feet of clay and iron!

  29. Marv, over my life and experience it has always been clear that racism and anti – Semitism have always been present in American culture over some population spectrum from strong and overt to covert and subtle even among the races and religious being unfairly regarded.

    I have no idea if the human race can ever rise completely above it.

    You and I disagree though about the relative significance of them as a cause of today’s dysfunction.

    To me they are not as significant a cause as wealth distribution is. We are being besieged now more by those with every material asset imaginable who see themselves as entitled to that position desperately trying to maintain their advantage that comes at the expense of those who actually create the wealth that money represents.

    Neither problem is new. Both have always motivated dysfunctional action. Some times in history they fall in one order of significance and other times they reverse position. They are both hard to measure as causal of actions so they are hard to break out of the category of opinions.

  30. Pete,

    “They are both hard to measure as causal of actions so they are hard to break out of the category of opinions.”

    Very well said.

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