Terry H. Schwadron
April 20, 2018
We’re seeing a small tsunami of disturbing news items that all emanate from the same place — a refusal to accept that historically verifiable events actually occurred.
Instead, people are deciding to follow the word of a partisan prophet or even a President who make things up and believe simply because they say it, and say it again and again, louder and louder, that the new version of history will replace whatever had proved inconveniently true earlier on.
Last week, it was in a courtroom in Austin, Texas, Travis County, that three parents whose children were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 fileda defamation lawsuit against Alex Jones, the right-wing conspiracy theorist of “Info Wars,” who has long claimed loudly that the shooting was “completely fake.”
Jones has wanted to see the school massacre of 26 adults and children in Newtown, Conn. as a “giant hoax” perpetrated by anti-gun forces who doctored news reports and video for political purpose. For years, some Sandy Hook parents have complained that conspiracy theorists like Jones have insisted that those in Newtown were actors in some kind of plot to enact stronger gun laws. Jones acknowledges that his voice can amplify legitimate questioning of “facts,” by what he sees as increasingly unreliable news media, adding that his First Amendment rights allow him to do so.
Regardless of the outcome, what bothers me is that there is some actual empirical Truth here that does not seem to sway arguments.
In the same week, it came to lightthat two-thirds of American millennials surveyed in a recent poll cannot identify what Auschwitz is, according to a study released on Holocaust Remembrance Day that found that knowledge of the genocide that killed 6 million Jews during World War II is not robust among American adults. Some 22% of millennials in the poll said they haven’t heard of the Holocaust or are not sure whether they have heard of it — twice the percentage of U.S. adults as a whole who said the same.
Even if you are a rabid anti-Semite, six million Jews indeed were killed in the Holocaust, as well as Roma people, homosexuals and others.
Without understanding that there was a Holocaust or a Sandy Hook, there is a very, very good chance that it can happen again, whether specifically about Jews or unguarded elementary schools or against a newly scapegoated minority. Indeed, it has happened again — in Rwanda, in the Balkans, in Syria, and in Parkland, Fla.
It is with exactly this kind of background that I listen to President Trump describing not the promise of tax cuts, but the actual outcome.
In multiple stops with voters, military or business audiences, Trump continues to describe widespread leaps in employment, in repatriation of dollars invested in foreign shores, for raises, bonuses and tax cuts to individuals that are without precedent.
In fact, corporate stock buybacks are booming;over a few months, the real winners from the corporate tax cut became clear — not workers and consumers, but shareholders. Companies have boosted dividends and stock buybacks, Vox reported. Corporate orders for new equipment and debt reduction are the order of the day, according to money.cnn.com.
Indeed,only 13% of companies’ tax cut savings will go to pay raises, bonuses and employee benefits, according to a survey of Morgan Stanley analyst. Some 43% will go to investors in the form of stock buybacks and dividends, the analysts predict.
We see it in throughout the Trump administration. The EPA takes pride in improving the environment by eliminating environmental regulations. The Consumer Protection Fraud Bureau reports that it is protecting consumers overall by refusing to enforce consumer laws. The president talks of making the country crime free by raiding immigrants’ work places. Trump argues we need the Wall more than ever as immigration entry tries have withered.
What is it about us that we prefer to believe the partisan statement rather than look at what ever actually happened?
Congressional Republicans have decided to move aggressively to attack the Justice Department for seeking FISA warrants on Trump associates, to demand relevant documents while they still are part of the active probe of obstruction of justice, in general to attack those who are investigating Trump — all with an apparent intent to undercut the work of the Justice Department. Where is the “conservative” respect for process here or acknowledgment that there is an official investigation going on? The actions make it about whom to believe, not about what is happening.
Certainly we understand the use of political “spin” to present a good, strong, accomplished face to the voters in November. But this president needs public adulation, and he is discontent just to allow a good story about him to emerge on its own. And as individuals, we seem to want our “side” to “win” as often as possible, truth be damned.
This is not a new question. The commonly used expression, “Those who ignore history are bound (or doomed) to repeat” it is actually a mis-quotation of the original text written by George Santayana(1863–1952), who, in his Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Imagine what Santayana would say about people who go out of their way to deny events.
Current world leaders — even some of the most highly educated of our time — are making fatal errors in managing international crises. The solutions that would work require knowledge and respect for history.
I worry about Trump taking on North Korea without respect for regional history and culture or about his declaring Jerusalem the Israeli capital without consultation with Arabs and Jews. Trump’s voters seem to love the fact that he thinks with his gut rather than his head.
We need to pay attention to what is actually happening if we expect to solve any problems.