I weep for my country

by Jeff Schweitzer Scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in neurophysiology 11.11.2016

The last eulogy I gave was at my father’s funeral. The time has come to give another, this one my last, paying homage to an America I thought I knew but did not.

Those who have lost a loved one know the persistent low-grade nausea that comes with grief. I suffer that today. I feel physically ill. Whether by suggestion or as a consequence of some underlying biology, we all seem to suffer from the same sequence of emotions following trauma: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We now find ourselves embarked on this emotional journey because Trump’s ascension represents to many of us the tragic and sudden death of a country as we understood that country to be. His election is the demise of decency and the rise in its place a political movement that appeals to our worst instincts. We are not that shining city on a hill, nor a beacon of hope for the world’s oppressed; we have debased ourselves to the lowest common elements of other nations by electing a self-obsessed man whose pettiness and crass and uncouth embrace of malleable morals and fluid principles reveal our own true national character.

“Indeed I tremble for my country…”

Thomas Jefferson could easily have written those words today. Our Founding Scribe would recoil in horror with the thought that a man like Trump so lacking in grace could occupy the presidency of the Union he helped create. We have devolved from the extraordinary minds of Madison, Adams, and Franklin to the intellectual corruption of Trump, Giuliani and Christi. One can hardly imagine a greater gap in human potential or a more tragic consequence.

I am disgusted and horrified and dismayed by the image of Trump in the White House.

We can never go back. Even if Trump is a one-term president with little impact on policy, and his extremism eventually tempered by future presidents, we can never erase the indelible stain of nearly 60 million votes for a candidate openly promoting bigotry, racism, misogyny and xenophobia. America has been exposed, the innocent illusion of modernity and progression lost to the mass embrace of humanity’s darkest character. That sea of red on election maps now defines the United States, a crimson tide of rising intolerance that many of us thought had been relegated to a time past. We scratched the veneer of civility only to discover a seething cauldron of misplaced anger fueled by demagoguery and stoked by ignorance and fear.

Trump’s path to victory started with Sarah Palin, who tapped into the same vein of ignorance and hate that proved so rich for Trump. She was, for the first time in our history, a national candidate thoroughly unqualified for office who was nevertheless taken seriously. Once this filter of any need to be qualified is removed, all barriers fall. Anything goes. Ignorance is celebrated as a virtue, a sign of authenticity. And now we get Trump, a direct descendant from that abomination introduced to us by McCain.

Without being alarmist, we must honestly contemplate the possibility that the events of November 8 could be the beginning of a new rise of fascism. If you believe that outcome to be unlikely, consider that extremists now control the White House, Senate, House of Representatives and Supreme Court. Trump and his supporters will not readily relinquish power. These people have no allegiance to the Constitution, righteously citing amendments when conveniently aligned with a policy objective, but readily dismissing it when founding principles become troublesome. To offer just one recent example Republican senators openly and proudly defy their constitutional duty to consider the President’s nominee for the Supreme Court. What is most astonishing about that is that so few find it astonishing. This was never raised as a serious campaign issue by major media, and never offered as a question at any debate. One does not make a huge leap from there in believing those now in power will manipulate the government, without regard to legality, constitutionality, precedent or decency to ensure reelection of their kind and implementation of their agenda. This is the worst type of déjà vu: Americans have voted for a corrupt, narcissistic strongman rising to power on a wave of xenophobic hate-mongering. We are Germany in the 1930s, and Fox News is our Goebbels. We are in for a long haul of ugly.

Wood Spears and Brass Armor

An Inca army of over 100,000 soldiers was defeated by a handful of conquistadors in 1532 when Francisco Pizarro and his men captured Atahualpa, the Inca king, thereby gaining control of the empire. While several important factors led to this lopsided victory, perhaps most important was that native spears could not penetrate Spanish brass armor. The numbers did not matter, only the outcome due to asymmetry in weaponry. So too do we see this asymmetry in the election this year. Weapons of logic, reason and facts were no match for the fortified armor of ignorance, hate and blind faith.

I know that in spite of a loyal following, for which I am eternally grateful, I am a minor player of no consequence in national politics. Understanding this limitation, I have nevertheless penned more than 500 blogs with passionate pleas for policies based on rationalism and truth. These few that were thrown with enough heft to actually reach a target have bounced off my friends on the right with no more consequence than an Inca spear against a brass chess plate of the conquering Spanish. My arsenal has proven impotent against a much more powerful force. The antithesis of everything I fought for over the past 30 years is embodied in what happened in this election. I lost as decisively and completely as the Incas. The defeat is absolute.

All the great generals throughout history share one thing in common regardless of time or place: all knew when a battle was lost, when strategic retreat was necessary, when defeat was inevitable. Wishful thinking and delusional hope never triumph in a field of conflict. During some of the most epic battles of the Civil War, both Grant and Lee proved their genius in retreat, garnering resources to fight another day. Those of us who champion a secular world view based in evidence, facts, and reason must be realistic, like those generals, and recognize the magnitude of our defeat. There is no good news here, no wishful thinking; nothing I can say to make you feel better. We lose in this war between reason and faith because we are restrained by reality where our opponents are not. Those creepy Trump supporters on CNN will feel vindicated in their warped, fact-free world view, confident that their disturbing brand of politics of delusion has triumphed. I surrender. I surrender to the 56 million people who reject all that I say here, and who live in a place very different than the one I want to live in.

The Triumph of Double Standards

What I long suspected proved unequivocally true on November 8: blind faith is fully immune to any external influence. Truth, reason, facts are swatted away with ease. Double standards and hypocrisy, the handmaidens of blind faith, are embraced without hesitation. This has important consequences because there is embedded in this embrace an inherent asymmetry. Rational thought is open to modification when presented with convincing contrary evidence. In stark contrast, faith is unyielding because contrary evidence is discarded as liberal conspiracy, work of Satan, the doings of privileged elite. There can be no contrary evidence when the philosophy is based on the notion:

I believe therefore it is true. I will only consider evidence that supports my belief, further strengthening my faith in that belief. No matter how compelling, I will reject as false anything that conflicts with my belief.

With one side open to change, the other not, movement can only go in one direction, and it is never in the direction of rationalism.

This campaign offers a depressing number of shocking examples of this blind faith immunity. Things like right wing outrage over Michele Obama wearing a sleeveless dress, but no comment on Melania Trump posing nude and starring in pornographic movies. Remember when conservatives could not trust John Kerry’s wife Teresa Heinz because she spoke French as a second language? No concern now that Melania is foreign born, nor speaks our native tongue with a thick accent. But three particular cases of hypocrisy stand out as among the most egregious: Benghazi, Hillary’s emails and family values. Republicans never made a fuss over the 60 embassy employees killed during the Bush years, but relentlessly pursued one of the biggest witch hunts in our history covering the four that died in Benghazi. Outrage over Hillary’s handling of emails fueled right wing hate for years, yet conservatives had no problem with Bush and Cheney deleting 22 million emails held illegally on a private server after getting a subpoena in a congressional investigation into the illegal firing of multiple attorneys general. The emails also covered the critical period of time leading up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. No outrage that Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell also used personal servers for government emails, some of which were classified. Not a peep from the right. The worst of all though is support for Trump from evangelicals who righteously tout their commitment to family values. Their values candidate is a pussy-grabbing, thrice divorced cursing philanderer who has flip-flopped on their core issue of abortion multiple times. The Trump campaign soiled American politics with dozens of deeds any one of which would have doomed any other candidate. Quite literally there is nothing that Trump could do or say that would undermine support from the religious right. Blind faith is immune to all external input, which leads to this extraordinary level of hypocrisy so difficult to wrap one’s head around. Double standards become the very foundation of radicalism because facts are cherry-picked to support the faith, leaving for others who did not drink the Kook Aid inconvenient truths dangling in plain sight.

To the small degree that anyone on the right will respond to this, let me anticipate that such responses will in fact reinforce the contention that faith will triumph over reason in an asymmetric war. Opponents will rage at my characterization of Palin, dismiss Cheney’s emails as irrelevant, note darkly that Hillary is untrustworthy made true by repetition, defend Trump’s behavior has “out of context,” bring up false accusations about Benghazi or emails that have already been repudiated. Blind faith, immune to reason and truth, can make any claim and refute any evidence because there is no tether to reality. The inevitable response from the right proves they win because they have the power to invert reality and fantasy with religious zeal and we have no weapons to counter this assault other than our pathetic wooden spears.

Permanent Damage

Some will say in a classic state of grief denial that it matters not who will sit in the Oval Office, that we’ll recover in four years and get back on track. No, we won’t. With a Supreme Court packed with Trump nominees, we’ll overturn or dilute Roe v. Wade and protections for gay marriage, expand Citizens United, crumble the wall separating Church and State, weaken environmental protections, further degrade voting rights protections, and gut Obamacare. We’ll see religion seep into education with creationism being given equal weight with evolution alongside prayers in school, and the domination of intolerant Christianity imposed on all others in public venues. Wage gaps will grow, as will the divide between rich and poor. With a denier at the helm, forget any little hope we might have had that the world will address climate change. We will never recover from that lost opportunity to take action and our descendants will forever suffer the consequences. We can anticipate that our enemies will take maximum advantage of having an unstable, inexperienced, and volatile president in charge; it is as if Kim Jong-un is now the leader of the free world. The list of horrors is nearly endless. It matters.

November 8, 2016 will go down as one of the worst days of my life. I feel dirty. I feel sick. I am for the first time embarrassed and ashamed to be American. I love my country, but not unconditionally, and my fellow Americans have proven themselves unworthy with this vote. I regret my impotence. I am sorry I could not do more, even with my expectation that I could do very little. I rue the fact I could only bring crude projectiles to a battle fought in brass. I apologize for not being more effective in advancing arguments that could have prevented the tragedy of Nov 8 to whatever small extent that might have been possible. Even knowing that my role at best would never amount to more than a drop in an ocean, I am so sorry I could do nothing at all to stop this horror show.

I weep for my country.

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Dr. Jeff Schweitzer is a marine biologist, consultant and internationally recognized authority in ethics, conservation and development. He is the author of five books including Calorie Wars: Fat, Fact and Fiction (July 2011), and A New Moral Code (2010). Dr. Schweitzer has spoken at numerous international conferences in Asia, Russia, Europe and the United States.Dr. Schweitzer's work is based on his desire to introduce a stronger set of ethics into American efforts to improve the human condition worldwide. He has been instrumental in designing programs that demonstrate how third world development and protecting our resources are compatible goals. His vision is to inspire a framework that ensures that humans can grow and prosper indefinitely in a healthy environment. Formerly, Dr. Schweitzer served as an Assistant Director for International Affairs in the Office of Science and Technology Policy under former President Clinton. Prior to that, Dr. Schweitzer served as the Chief Environmental Officer at the State Department's Agency for International Development. In that role, he founded the multi-agency International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program, a U.S. Government that promoted conservation through rational economic use of natural resources.Dr. Schweitzer began his scientific career in the field of marine biology. He earned his Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. He expanded his research at the Center for Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine. While at U.C. Irvine he was awarded the Science, Engineering and Diplomacy Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.Dr. Schweitzer is a pilot and he founded and edited the Malibu Mirage, an aviation magazine dedicated to pilots flying these single-engine airplanes. He and his wife Sally are avid SCUBA divers and they travel widely to see new wildlife, never far from their roots as marine scientists..To learn more about Dr Schweitzer, visit his website at http://www.JeffSchweitzer.com.


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