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 20, 2020

Crossing the line

I'm probably pasting a big-ass bullseye right on my chest even asking this, but I have to: Trump supporters, what would it take for you to admit you were wrong about him?

During the election campaign, he mocked a reporter's disability, doing a grotesque parody of his flailing movements for a laughing, jeering crowd.  But you still voted for him.

It came out during the campaign that during a radio interview, Trump had bragged about sexual assault -- stating that when you're rich and famous you can do anything to women without their consent, including "grab(bing) them by the pussy."  But you still voted for him.

While married, he had an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, then paid her not to make it public.  But you still call him moral.

Despite his constant screeching about "witch hunts," the investigations into wrongdoing by members of his administration -- led by Republican Robert Mueller -- resulted in thirty indictments and a score more credible allegations.  But you still support him.

His disdain for other ethnic groups is blatant, from his responding to the hurricane damage in Puerto Rico by throwing rolls of paper towels into the crowd to calling Third-World countries "shitholes."   He fully supports policies keeping children from those "shithole countries" in cages on our borders, cages in which some of them have died.  But you still support him.

"Disdain" is probably too mild a word.  He shows every sign of being a racist, judging from his refusal to stand down from his call for the death penalty for the Central Park Five after they were all completely exonerated.  He has a history of racist and racially-insensitive statements going back into the 1970s, including a statement that "laziness is a trait in blacks."  But you still support him.

He lies continuously, to the point that there is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to cataloguing them.  The Washington Post numbered them at over sixteen thousand.  And you still believe him.

He has repeatedly sided with Russia over our own policymakers and foreign policy experts, including stating publicly that Russia was right to be in Afghanistan and that there was no way Russia meddled in the 2016 election because Putin told him so.  But you still support him.

He has repeatedly weakened standards for pollution, most recently when his hand-picked EPA advisers ended a review of safe ozone levels with a statement that there "was no justification for continuing."  These advisors, by the way, are virtually all representatives of fossil fuel interests or the tobacco lobby.  Earlier this year, he rolled back water pollution standards, freeing up industry to dump pollutants into rivers and lakes without fear of prosecution.  Trump's own words about his environmental policies?  He "cares very deeply about the environment" and because of him "we'll have the cleanest air and water in the world."  And you still believe him.

His litany of blatantly fumbling, inarticulate, or outright ignorant comments are far too many to list, because there are new ones just about every time he opens his mouth.  But you still believe he is a "very stable genius."

And now, just two days ago, he pardoned Michael "Junk Bond" Milken and Rod Blagojevich from prison -- Milken from a ten-year sentence for insider trading, Blagojevich in the middle of a fourteen-year sentence for corruption and fraud -- for no reason except that he apparently thought of them as comrades-in-arms.  He said that Blagojevich's sentence in particular was a travesty, and that the ex-governor was railroaded by the "same people" who were responsible for his impeachment -- "Comey, Fitzpatrick, the same group."  This despite the fact that Comey had nothing to do with Blagojevich's trial, and the second man he was apparently referring to -- Patrick Fitzgerald -- was involved with Blagojevich's conviction but had nothing to do with the impeachment.

But you still trust him.

Wiser heads than mine have asked the question "what would it take?", and it keeps coming back to something Trump himself said during the campaign -- that he could shoot a man in full view on 5th Avenue and not lose a single supporter.  This seems to have little to do with conservatism per se: prominent conservative voices like Joe Walsh and Bill Kristol have come out stridently against the graft, corruption, and duplicity that have swamped the Republican Party, but despite their articulate criticisms of Trump and his cronies in Congress -- people like Lindsay Graham, Mitch McConnell, Matt Gaetz, and Jim Jordan -- Trump's support hasn't declined appreciably.

Look, I'm no party ideologue myself.  I tend to sit something left of center, but I have many conservative friends with whom I've had interesting, eye-opening, and productive discussions.  My father was a staunch conservative, to my knowledge voting Republican in every election, and I had great respect for his integrity and his views.  And when Democrats have been caught in criminal and/or immoral activity -- Elliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, and Blagojevich himself come to mind -- I, and most of the other Democrats I know, have not hesitated to call them out on it, and been glad for them to receive whatever consequences are appropriate.

So this is more than ideology.  This is a cult of personality.  And... if that doesn't frighten you, or seems an unfair designation... ask yourself why.  If you still support this man, after all of the above (and all the other egregious acts I don't have space to list), why?  What would he have to do, in your opinion, to go over the line?  Do you truly disbelieve everything I've listed, despite the video and audio evidence, and his own words in interviews and on Twitter?  Is it really all "fake news?"  Is a man who cheated on his wife with a porn star, who has currently standing 23 rape and sexual misconduct allegations, and who cannot recall a single Bible verse, really "the most godly, biblical president ever elected?"

If this isn't a cult, what the hell is it?  Go ahead, convince me.

And is this -- a culture of divisiveness, dishonesty, and corruption -- really what you had in mind when you voted for him?


This week's book recommendation is a fascinating journey into a topic we've visited often here at Skeptophilia -- the question of how science advances.

In The Second Kind of Impossible, Princeton University physicist Paul Steinhardt describes his thirty-year-long quest to prove the existence of a radically new form of matter, something he terms quasicrystals, materials that are ordered but non-periodic.  Faced for years with scoffing from other scientists, who pronounced the whole concept impossible, Steinhardt persisted, ultimately demonstrating that an aluminum-manganese alloy he and fellow physicists Luca Bindi created had all the characteristics of a quasicrystal -- a discovery that earned them the 2018 Aspen Institute Prize for Collaboration and Scientific Research.

Steinhardt's book, however, doesn't bog down in technical details.  It reads like a detective story -- a scientist's search for evidence to support his explanation for a piece of how the world works.  It's a fascinating tale of persistence, creativity, and ingenuity -- one that ultimately led to a reshaping of our understanding of matter itself.

[Note: if you purchase this book from the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]

1 comment:

  1. I asked this question of someone recently and their response was that he would have to do something that damaged the country. I pointed out that he's misappropriated funds and the response was, "He had the guts to do what was necessary." I mentioned the staggering amount of of money he's added to the national debt and they said, "After the mess Obama left for him he had no other choice." I mentioned Russia and I was called a sore loser (which is funny because I'm Canadian and didn't have a horse in the race). I mentioned how Amazon and friends paid nothing in taxes and have thousands of employees on food stamps and they replied, "They should be thankful they have jobs at all. Give corporations as many tax breaks as they want." To which the only comparison I could make was that of an abused spouse. Quit your complaining, if it weren't for me you'd be on the street!

    The one that convinced me there was no amount of discussion that would ever result in a change of mind was when I mentioned how he defrauded a CHILDREN'S CANCER CHARITY. The response shocked me - twice. First, they agreed that this made Trump a piece of shit human. Once the shock wore off I thought, Okay, progress. Then came this, "But he doesn't matter because he didn't do it WHILE he was president." I exited the conversation immediately, turned off notifications, and never looked back.

    You see, I'm not convinced there's ANYONE on his "side" that will switch. Anyone who might have already has, so I'm done with the whole lot of 'em. They will always have some justification or excuse, ignoring basic facts or easily provable truths behind a cozy blanket of cognitive dissonance. There is a sliver of hope, though. Trump supporters have an upper limit, and they've reached it, and it's lower than the rest of the sane people of voting age out there.

    Three big things to overcome for it to count in November:

    1) Gerrymandering. We know the Republicans have been drawing the lines in their favor for a long time,

    2) Voter suppression. We know the Republicans make it difficult for non-Republicans to vote, and

    3) Electoral interference (domestic AND foreign).

    IF (and that's a BIG if) the Blue vote comes out in great enough numbers and unites not just behind their vote for president but also for their Senators and Congresspeople, then there's a modicum of hope for your country.

    I figure for every 1 (R) vote there'll need to be close to 2 (D) votes though and while I'm not sure the Left has that kind of cooperative capabilities, I damn well hope they try.