Cognitive bias studies reveal humans are far-removed from Enlightenment ideals of rational beings objectively weighing scientific facts, deduction and high moral tenets against their beliefs. Not that absolute truths and irrefutable evidence don’t exist on which majorities of people can agree and form consensus, even in the U.S. But, this is an unprincipled, irrational time in American history. Cultural-evolution is regressing. Lost probity, distrust in institutions and decades of political rancor, stoked by Republicans and Democrats alike, have spawned extremist subcultures that, to our collective detriment, refuse to be taught or follow advice from qualified experts. Arguments rarely have equally logical sides, but fewer still are leaders with the knowledge and communication skills to teach constituents right from wrong. Most politicians never try neither dispelling myths nor advancing common cause at risk of an election. So, we depend on scientists and other scholars to forge the proper paths for governments to follow, hoping politicians don’t veer too far from reality to pander to their “base.” In a democratic society, one’s first duty is to represent everyone, not just constituents who’ve elected them, by doing what’s best for most, even when the “base” doesn’t see the logic. If leaders can’t eliminate prejudices, they should at least discourage them by exalting truth, disseminating facts and championing justice. When the status quo imperils us, they should advocate change. Lives come before profits; veracity eclipses lies. Converting delusion into sensibility isn’t easy, but as Edward R. Murrow said, “Difficulty is an excuse history never accepts.”
We hear that conservative voters tend to be older, less-educated individuals, who find the country’s increasing diversity objectionable. During the 2016 GOP primary, the Atlantic found the best predictor of Donald Trump’s supporters were absences of college degrees. If education is indeed a fundamental fissure between warring political camps, that alienation, cutting both ways, is getting worse. One side feels ignored and disrespected by elites, who find little intrinsic value in their life experiences. The other believes science-resistors and willfully ignorant endanger the country and planet by worsening crises like climate change and COVID. The flack over mask mandates and teaching CRT epitomizes these differences. Other than law school syllabi, no proof has come to light about CRT being taught in a single American public school. Yet, rightwing radio and cable networks have some people believing it has, causing violent confrontations at PTA and BOE meetings. Gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe may have upset some Virginians by saying “parents shouldn’t be telling schools what they should teach.” But he was right. Parents certainly have rights to voice their concerns at appropriate venues, but curricula should be designed by qualified educators, not someone confounded by the Pythagorean Theorem, evolution and why the Battle of Gettysburg was fought or who finds Madame Bovary and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” pornographic.
During this Age of Unreason and Disinformation, is a politician out-of-touch with voters by not conceding to ill-advised demands, choosing instead reality-based courses of action for the common good? That not a single Republican senator will vote in favor of the reconciliation bill shows disconnects with reality and blue collar labor. Only a party out-of-touch with the world would obstruct legislation to combat climate change, allow infrastructure to crumble and fail to address root causes of environmental degradation and mass migrations. Only a party out-of-touch with working class families would oppose green energy jobs, elder- and childcare, paid sick leave, expanded pre-K and college, and lowering prescription costs. Only a party with perverse notions of “patriotism” and “freedom” would oppose vaccinations and mask mandates, sanction historical omissions to indoctrinate youths, and empower oil companies to gouge us at gas pumps. Only GOP-radicals would rise or fall with the fortunes of gun manufacturers, domestic terror groups and insurrectionist-militias stockpiling firearms.
Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.