The war on truth

Dylan Doyle

Column by Dylan Doyle, contributing writer

In the words of the incomparable Neil deGrasse Tyson, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Science – the physical, the biological, the psychological – asserts that reality itself is knowable, that the truth is attainable through logical processes and rigorous challenging of old hypotheses.

It is one of the fundamentals of our democracy, and certainly of our education system. The bad news: it is under attack.

For those of you that thought President Donald Trump would be a champion for the sciences and the press, those sacred keepers of truth in our society, you were mistaken (and if you entertained that thought for more than a moment, you just have not been paying attention). In fact, Trump’s constant lying is a product of an electorate more concerned with spectacle than veracity.

Americans like Trump for the same reason they like “Celebrity Apprentice:” deep down, we know it’s fake, but we would rather be entertained than have our beliefs or comfort challenged.

This culture of lies, misinformation, ignorance and anti-intellect produced Donald Trump, but he has already won the election. That’s in the past. Let us focus on the here and now.

Enter Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for secretary of education. Her confirmation hearing has stirred a fierce debate between prominent Democrats and Republicans, but set that aside for the moment. Set aside also the fact that she has not completed any of the ethics reviews meant to protect the American people from leaders with conflicts of interest.

For the moment, set aside the deep hypocrisy of the Republican party, who have traditionally been staunch defenders of the ethics review process. In the bizarro world of Donald Trump, this is all the new normal.

Instead, focus on DeVos, the causes she supports and what scant information we can dig up on her views. DeVos is a proponent of “school choice,” which is a code word to describe the privatization of the public education system. Instead of supporting and improving our schools, DeVos and her peers want to implement a voucher system, allowing parents to send their children to private – and often Christian fundamentalist – schools using taxpayer dollars.

A questionable practice to be sure, as having a scientifically-informed electorate is a basic need of a democracy, and that includes the climate and evolutionary sciences at which churches often cringe. It seems the separation of church and state is also under siege, but let’s sidestep that rabbit hole for now.

Much more frightening is DeVos’ rhetoric around guns, opting to let “locales” decide whether guns are allowed in schools or not. Her rumored donations to pro-conversion therapy groups are also cause for alarm. Her unfamiliarity with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is shocking to say the least, but all of this is beside the point.

The confirmation hearing for DeVos, the person Trump has chosen to lead American education, lasted about three hours – three hours longer than DeVos has ever spent working in or attending public schools. She is monumentally unqualified for the job, which begs the question, why was she nominated in the first place?

“Do you think that if you were not a multibillionaire,” asked Sen. Bernie Sanders, “if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions, that you would be sitting here today?”

He’s right on the money, which is to say, the money is always right.

We have moved past the age of experts and knowledge straight into a nightmare of political cronyism and demagoguery, and coming together as a society to reassert our commitment to truth and scholarship is our only remaining recourse. Democracy does not mean my ignorance is just as good as your intellect. To paraphrase Harlan Ellison, no one is entitled to be ignorant.

However, I suppose if you can be elected president with no public service, law or political science background of any kind, it almost makes sense to make a billionaire the secretary of education instead of, say, a teacher.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have watched 13 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, so it’s about time I start performing surgery. I am just as qualified for that as Trump and DeVos are to lead our nation.