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The Hypocrites Win

Two recent events brought home to me the degree to which our political partisanship in this country allows hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty to flourish. The first of these events was President Trump's fight with Chief Justice Roberts about whether our court system reflects political bias. The president referred to a judge who ruled against him as an “Obama judge” and the Chief Justice claimed that judges were impartial and didn’t side with the side of the person who appointed them. The hypocrisy occurred when the liberal media and Democratic politicians applauded the Chief Justice and jumped all over the president for undermining the integrity of the judiciary in the public’s mind. It’s hypocritical because we just went through a Supreme Court nomination process that brought out feelings and statements on both sides about the bias that would enter the Supreme Court if the president’s pick were confirmed. Furthermore, news articles routinely mention which president appointed a federal judge when they report on a decision, implying that it is a factor that matters. Numerous articles have highlighted the number of Trump judiciary appointments, often with alarm, and fights over delaying or speeding up the confirmation process are routine in the Senate, based on the assumption that the judicial appointments will reflect the politics of the president who appoints them. Yes, President Trump called into question the independence of the judiciary, but so have many others. As usual, the president used derogatory worlds to describe the Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals, just as he has the media, the Democratic Party, and various politicians and celebrities, and of course, the Mueller investigation. He impugned their integrity, as he usually does with his opponents. And yes, this leads many Americans to distrust most of our government and institutions. But questioning the integrity of the court has been a favorite pastime of people on both sides of the political arena and of many in the media. It’s intellectually dishonest to imply that it’s not been.

The second event is more important, in my mind. Thirteen government agencies released a new report on the effects of climate change and the need to do something to remedy it. The president, of course, said he didn’t believe it and cast doubt on the accuracy of the report, implying that it was holdovers from the Obama administration that authored it. That’s par for the course with President Trump, for whom we’ve stopped expecting statements that are either intellectual or honest. What is more alarming is the reluctance of conservative pundits and politicians to accept the conclusions of the report—and many others like it, which have been published by organizations from the scientific establishment, the U.N., other governments, and our own government. I heard an otherwise well-informed and intelligent conservative journalist on Meet the Press preface her distrust of the report with the statement, “I’m not a scientist,” meaning that she couldn’t come to a conclusion herself about whether climate change is man-made based on the report of a group of government scientists. My guess is that she doesn't doubt many other things that scientists claim, such as that nuclear fission can create atomic bombs, or that Neptune is a gaseous planet, or that CT scans and MRIs have improved cancer detection, yet I’m sure that she isn’t a scientist in those fields either, nor does she understand all of the science behind them. Her reluctance to accept the conclusions of the report, and the reluctance of many conservative, intelligent Americans to accept the scientific community’s conclusions about the effects of human activity on climate change reflect a political stance in favor of perceived economic growth over environmental protection. To claim that they don’t believe the conclusions because they're not scientists, or because a tiny minority of the scientific community quibbles with those conclusions, is hypocritical because they don’t apply these criteria to other conclusions from the scientific community that don’t challenge their political biases. What is tragic is that these people—often opinion leaders—are grasping at excuses in order to justify reservations about an issue that has the potential to disturb life on our planet on a massive scale. 

Why do I focus upon the hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty involved instead of the issues themselves (i.e. integrity of the court or climate change)? The answer is because our discussions about issues these days have devolved to the point that we accept it as routine that someone will violate standards of truth and balanced assessment in favor of his or her point of view and will use one standard for judging statements made on his or her side of an argument and another standard for statements on the other side of the argument. We fill our airwaves with programs pitting panelist from one side of a question against those on an opposite side and we act as if listening to both sides give exaggerated opinions somehow constitutes getting at the truth. Any attempt to hold both sides up to equal scrutiny is labeled ”false equivalency” and castigated for not firmly taking a side. The result is a country that believes different versions of the truth, that refuses to examine the arguments from another perspective, and applauds partisan dog whistles. Many of our citizens gladly accept and even join in this abandonment of the search for truth, and the majority of our leaders and media are afraid to call out such hypocrisy and dishonesty when it occurs. The result is a country whose direction will be determined by political stances, by the emotional power of arguments and by the loudness of voices, not by considered assessment of the facts.

Reader Comments (1)

You make a great point here, Casey: "To claim that they don’t believe the conclusions because they're not scientists, or because a tiny minority of the scientific community quibbles with those conclusions, is hypocritical because they don’t apply these criteria to other conclusions from the scientific community that don’t challenge their political biases." You don't see a whole lot of people asking for a consensus of scientists on giving them a shot of cortisone in the knee when they haven't been able to walk for five days. They take it on faith and more than that. They TRUST science. Everyone who has ever walked into a high school classroom knows about the scientific method: hypothesis, tests, conclusion, validity, reliability. But when science speaks negatively about something we want--alcohol, tobacco, opioids, our huge SUVs and gasoline-powered engines, suddenly the science must be wrong.
When the over-riding good of a nation is lower taxes, higher profits, more money to buy more things and provide a hundred times beyond any safety net for family, we undermine the people we really are. Somehow the "prosperity" doctrine of Evangelicals has permeated society in an insidious way. It has been the wolf in sheep's clothing and that wolf is rabid. It is reflected in the rationale of people who can excuse even egregious acts such as assassinations of journalists because 'we have a great economic interest there.'
I think people like my parents who sacrificed for the country during World War II, who lived on ration books (I have one from 1945) volunteered, rolled bandages, gave up things for the war effort--I think they would be utterly shocked and ashamed of our inability to work together and mobilize for probably the greatest threat humankind has ever faced. It's our PLANET for heaven sake! The belief that "God will take care of it and if not, we'll all be united with Him in heaven," is to spit at the amazing capacity for intellect that any Master Planner or Designer of the Universe has given humankind.

I'll admit to bias. To be biased toward the brightest among us, people who work to show evidence for their theories and who plan for their great-great grandchildren's future seems to me to be a moral bias and the one that honors who or what force brought humankind into existence. That's a bias I'll proudly admit to.
Once again, another great article, Casey! I'm waiting for the compilation in book form!

November 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

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