A Little Light for the Clouded Enlightenment
The United States is the world's first liberal democracy, a product of the The Enlightenment. As such, the founders built it on the principles of unity, liberty, tolerance and equal rights. And they designed it to make policy based on factual knowledge and bathed in the light of reason. But, today, in the time of Trump, factual knowledge is getting clouded over in several ways.
False or Misleading Claims and Lies
One way factual knowledge gets clouded over is by President Donald Trump using the bully pulpit to log more than 12,000 false or misleading claims since taking office. Those false claims run the gamut from those of war threats to baseless smears against political opponents to blatant little lies. Of the last type, for instance, he said, later on the same day, that it never rained during his inauguration speech and that, "It’s like God was looking down on us." But viewers could see the rain, which started as Trump began to speak. And they could see Trump's wife standing behind him under an umbrella. So, yes, it seems that even as you stand there getting wet, Trump will tell you it's not raining.
Another way factual knowledge gets clouded over is by Trump purging science from his administration. He is cutting scientific advisory committees that administrations have, from the dawn of the republic, relied on for policy-making. Also, his administration is suppressing scientific studies and politicizing scientific grants.
Yet another way factual knowledge gets clouded over is Trump's repeated rhetorical attacks and actions against news media. Often he has called the media "the enemy of the people" and "fake news." And he has suggested pulling the FCC licenses of news networks. Also, Trump has brushed off the murder of the Washington Post contributing journalist, Jamal Kashoggi. Instead, he took the word of the autocrat, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who most likely ordered the murder. In this atmosphere, violence against journalists has risen. And the United States has slipped to 48th, and from "fairly good" to "problematic", on the Word Press Freedom Index.
And an additional way factual knowledge gets clouded over is by the diminishing number of news reporters to illuminate it. Slim ad revenue and buyouts have led to the layoff of thousands of reporters across the country. And many newspapers have closed. One recent casualty is The Youngstown Vindicator, which announced it will shut down at the end of August. That would mean no major daily for a metropolis that swung 25 points from Democrat toward Republican between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections.
A Little Ray of Light
Now, let us pause and peer through those gathering clouds that hide factual knowledge to see one little ray of light. It shone through during the final round in this year's teen championship of the TV trivia game, Jeopardy. During the chat session, when the host Alex Trebek talks with each contestant, the eventual winner, Avi Gupta, spoke up for facts:
And a lot of people asked me when they found out I was coming to "Jeopardy!" Why does that matter? You can Google anything with your phone. Any of these questions can be Googled. But, I just wanted to say why I think trivia matters and why I think knowing these things is so valuable. And I just think that knowing things like this not only helps us understand each other, like you said last week, but also I think facts are the building blocks of all opinions and all beliefs. And for that reason, I think it's really important to know them.
Trebek, dumbstruck for a moment, then traded places with Gupta and stood behind the contestant's lectern.
"I’ll be the contestant," a smiling Trebek said. "You be the host."
* * *