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.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Raising the dragon

I've been trying to stay off the topic of politics lately.

Besides being depressing, the subject has lately been fraught with overtones of futility.  The followers of Donald Trump are more and more becoming a cult, where Dear Leader can do no wrong and his supporters cannot tolerate any criticism.  I have seen, I kid you not, images of Trump as a muscle-bound shirtless prizefighter, and as a Jesus-like figure with robes on a white stallion.  The near impossibility of getting the Trump Party members to see this man as the amoral, lying, narcissistic grifter the rest of us see was discovered last week, to his chagrin, by Joe Walsh, former Illinois representative and staunch conservative Republican.  Walsh, who is running for the GOP nomination -- not that you could tell if you talked to most Republicans -- was speaking to a crowd of GOP supporters in Iowa prior to the primary, and got a reception he described later on Twitter:
I spoke in front of 3,000 Iowa Republicans last night.  It was like a MAGA rally.  I told them we needed a President who doesn’t lie all the time.  The crowd booed me.  I told them we needed a President who wasn’t indecent & cruel.  The crowd booed me.  I told them we needed a President who doesn’t care only about himself.  The crowd booed me.  I told them the Republican Party needed to do some real soul searching.  The crowd booed me.  I told them that, because of Trump, young people, women, and people of color want nothing to do with the Republican Party.  The crowd booed me.  I told them I’m a pro life, pro gun, secure the border conservative, but we need a President who is decent and represents everyone.  The crowd booed me.  I got booed, yelled at, jeered, and given the middle finger for the 3-4 minutes  I spoke to these 3,000 people.  Afterwards, I realized again that 99.9% of these folks don’t support me.  They don’t care that Trump lies, they don’t care that he’s cruel, they don’t care that he cheats to get re-elected, they don’t care that he attacks the free press, they don’t care that he increases the debt, they don’t care that his tariffs have killed Iowa farmers, they don’t care that Trump abuses the Constitution and acts like a dictator.  Afterwards, I realized again that my Republican Party isn’t a Party, it’s a cult.  I realized again that nobody can beat Trump in a Republican Primary.  And most importantly and most sadly, I realized again that I don’t belong in this party.  I have no home in this party.  And I realized again that something new needs to begin.  Whether it’s a political party, or a movement, I don’t know.  But there needs to be a home for conservatives who are decent, principled, and respectful.  Conservatives who embrace all God’s children, acknowledge that climate change is real, get serious about our debt, abide by our Constitution, and tell the truth.  I hope to be a part of this new party.  This new movement. But job #1 in 2020 is to stop Trump.  And all of us from across the political spectrum need to come together to stop Trump.  Let’s make sure Trump is defeated in 2020, then we get back to respectfully debating issues.  Instead of talking about Trump everyday, let's put aside our differences on certain issues now and understand that Trump is the single greatest threat to this Republic.
While I find it unfortunate that Walsh was treated discourteously, and even more unfortunate that no one was taking his message to heart, I have a hard time feeling sorry for the GOP as a whole.  They, and their mouthpiece Fox News, have created a perfect storm of conditions that is so reminiscent of the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany of the 1930s that anyone who doesn't see the parallels must be either ignorant of history or else willfully blind.  The whole thing brought to mind the wonderful quote from novelist Stephen King (which I then tweeted at Walsh, not that he responded to or probably even read it): "Those who have spent years sowing dragon's teeth seem surprised to find that they have grown an actual dragon."

And very few people have done more in the dragon's-tooth-sowing effort than Rush Limbaugh -- who on Tuesday evening was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons DonkeyHotey, Rush Limbaugh - Caricature (5337997122), CC BY-SA 2.0]

I haven't been surprised by much in these chaotic last few months -- Trump's defiance of the rule of law, Mitch McConnell's smirking, wink-wink-nudge-nudge defense of him, the Senate's decision to acquit him of charges that make Watergate look like a seventh grader shoplifting a piece of candy from the local grocery store.  But the awarding of the Medal of Freedom to the likes of Limbaugh took me off guard.

Limbaugh's hate-filled rhetoric has been inflaming the Right for decades, convincing them they're threatened (and that their opponents are amoral America-haters) in terms that are nauseating in their quantity and sheer ugliness.  A sampler:
  • To an African-American caller on a radio program: "Take that bone out of your nose and call me back."
  • Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society. 
  • There are more acres of forest land in America today than when Columbus discovered the continent in 1492.
  • Greetings, conversationalists across the fruited plain, this is Rush Limbaugh, the most dangerous man in America, with the largest hypothalamus in North America, serving humanity simply by opening my mouth, destined for my own wing in the Museum of Broadcasting, executing everything I do flawlessly with zero mistakes, doing this show with half my brain tied behind my back just to make it fair because I have talent on loan from God.
  • Styrofoam and plastic milk jugs are biodegradable.  You know what isn't biodegradable?  Paper.
  • The NAACP should have riot rehearsal.  They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.
  • The way liberals are interpreting the First Amendment today is that it prevents anyone who is religious from being in government.
  • There are more American Indians alive today than there were when Columbus arrived or at any other time in history.  Does this sound like a record of genocide?
  • All composite pictures of wanted criminals look like Jesse Jackson.
  • Let me tell you something.  They say [Oliver North] lied to Congress.  I can think of no better bunch of people to lie to than Congress.
  • [The torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison] was sort of like hazing, a fraternity prank.  Sort of like that kind of fun...  I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release?  You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?
  • Look it, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons.  There, I said it.
  • Liberals should have their speech controlled and not be allowed to buy guns.  I mean if we want to get serious about this, if we want to face this head on, we’re gonna have to openly admit, liberals should not be allowed to buy guns, nor should they be allowed to use computer keyboards or typewriters, word processors or e-mails, and they should have their speech controlled.  If we did those three or four things, I can’t tell you what a sane, calm, civil, fun-loving society we would have.  Take guns out of the possession, out of the hands of liberals, take their typewriters and their keyboards away from ‘em, don’t let ‘em anywhere near a gun, and control their speech.  You would wipe out 90% of the crime, 85 to 95% of the hate, and a hundred percent of the lies from society.
There you have it.  The man that Donald Trump awarded with one of the highest honors given in the United States.  The man Trump just put in the same category as Rosa Parks, Norman Rockwell, Buckminster Fuller, Robert Redford, Carl Sandberg, Eudora Welty, Elie Wiesel, Grace Hopper, and Jonas Salk.

It's almost certain that Trump chose Tuesday night, the same night as the State of the Union speech, to give the award because Limbaugh just announced that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer (after being a lifelong smoker -- and scoffer at the connection between tobacco use and cancer).  I wouldn't wish lung cancer on anyone, after watching the agony two of my uncles went through while dying of the disease, but the fact that he's a very sick man doesn't change the fact that he has spent his entire adult life spewing a venomous message with the sole purpose of fomenting hate.  Joe Walsh's reception at what turned out to be a MAGA rally shows how successful Limbaugh and his colleagues have been -- people like Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Glenn Beck, amongst many others.

And the fact that someone like Limbaugh was given a prestigious award for service to his nation shows just how far in the downward spiral we've gone.

I don't know what else to say.  I'm saddened, sickened, and disheartened by what my country has become and is becoming.  I fear that we haven't reached bottom yet, something I find profoundly frightening.

In fact, I think the dragon the GOP has grown is just beginning to rear his ugly head.


This week's Skeptophilia book of the week is both intriguing and sobering: Eric Cline's 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed.

The year in the title is the peak of a period of instability and warfare that effectively ended the Bronze Age.  In the end, eight of the major civilizations that had pretty much run Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East -- the Canaanites, Cypriots, Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Minoans, Myceneans, and Hittites -- all collapsed more or less simultaneously.

Cline attributes this to a perfect storm of bad conditions, including famine, drought, plague, conflict within the ruling clans and between nations and their neighbors, and a determination by the people in charge to keep doing things the way they'd always done them despite the changing circumstances.  The result: a period of chaos and strife that destroyed all eight civilizations.  The survivors, in the decades following, rebuilt new nation-states from the ruins of the previous ones, but the old order was gone forever.

It's impossible not to compare the events Cline describes with what is going on in the modern world -- making me think more than once while reading this book that it was half history, half cautionary tale.  There is no reason to believe that sort of collapse couldn't happen again.

After all, the ruling class of all eight ancient civilizations also thought they were invulnerable.

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

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