Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Nevertheless, we persist

I've found it increasingly hard to be optimistic about the future, lately.

Consider what's happened in only the last two days:
  • The stupendously unqualified Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education by a 50-50 vote in the Senate, broken by Vice President Mike Pence's vote in favor.  DeVos's nomination for the position is perhaps best explained by a direct quote from her:  "My family is the biggest contributor of soft money to the Republican Party.  I have decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence.  Now I simply concede the point.  They are right.  We do expect something in return.  We expect a return on our investment."
  • Donald Trump lied in a claim alleging that the media doesn't cover terrorism because of "reasons":  "All over Europe, it's happening," Trump said.  "It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported, and in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it.  They have their reasons, and you understand that."  The Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-check site Politifact debunked this completely -- western media overreports terrorism as compared to media in other parts of the world, and in fact, stories about terrorist attacks dominate all sorts of media across the board in Europe and North America.
  • Donald Trump lied again when he said that the homicide rate in the United States is the "highest it's been in 45 to 47  years," when in fact it peaked in the mid-1990s and has been declining ever since.
  • Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to Donald Trump, stated that any criticism of Trump would be labeled "fake news":  "There is a monumental desire on behalf of the majority of the media, not just the pollsters, the majority of the media to attack a duly elected President in the second week of his term," Gorka said. "That's how unhealthy the situation is and until the media understands how wrong that attitude is, and how it hurts their credibility, we are going to continue to say, 'fake news.'"  Add to that a tweet from Trump himself stating that "any negative polls are fake news."
  • Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced by Mitch McConnell from reading a letter from Coretta Scott King calling into question the fitness for office of Jeff Sessions, nominee for Attorney General.  McConnell used a rule that stops a senator from criticizing another senator on the Senate floor, and the vote to shut Warren up went (predictably) along party lines.  "She was warned," McConnell said. "She was given an explanation.  Nevertheless, she persisted."  Warren shot back, "They can shut me up, but they can't change the truth."
It's easy to get overwhelmed.  We are so bombarded by crazy claims, bluster, egregious lies, and outright suppression of dissent that it's understandable why some people are choosing to turn off the news entirely.

In my opinion, that is an unacceptable response.  I know it's exhausting and demoralizing, but that is precisely why we need not to give up.  The doublespeak and accusations of "fake news" any time someone criticizes the President or his staff needs to be countered, immediately and hard.

Here are a few things I think are critical:
  • Don't soft-pedal.  Label lies as lies, not "misspeaking" or "opinions" or (heaven help us all) "alternative facts."  I'm heartened to see headlines from major media now saying "President Trump Lies About ___________" -- it's about time they start labeling lies as such.  (And note that this means lies from both sides of the aisle.  Truth isn't one thing for one party and a different thing for the other.)
  • Don't be afraid to take chances.  Don't be stupid about it, but realize that this is gonna be risky -- fighting the establishment always is.  Also, don't forget the adage that "all politics is local."  Join in protest marches.  Write letters.  Organize.  Keep it legal, and (when possible) keep it positive, but be willing to expend some of your time and effort during this critical period when we still have a chance to affect things.
  • Let your views be heard.  When I started this blog seven years ago, it was in an attempt to find my voice -- a major and (initially) scary step from someone who is, to be honest, a socially awkward, shy introvert.  Find whatever forum works for you, whether it's blogging, social media, or standing in front of a filled auditorium firing up the troops.
So let's turn Senator McConnell's words into a rallying cry.  "Nevertheless, she persisted" -- this should become the motto of the resistance.  Let them continue with their lies and half-truths and attempts to silence the opposition -- nevertheless, we will persist.  Let them continue to demonize free speech and the press when they are criticized -- nevertheless, we will persist.  Let them continue to use their majorities in the House and Senate to circumvent our government's checks and balances, in the hopes that no one is watching or no one cares or no one is strong enough to speak up.

Nevertheless, we will persist.

I will end with a quote from one of my heroes, the incomparable Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in reforming environmental policy and supporting women's rights in her home country.  "The only way to accomplish anything is to keep your feelings of being empowered ahead of your feelings of discouragement and inertia.  There is no one solution for everything, but there are many solutions to many of the problems we face.  There is no excuse for inaction."

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