America's celebration of ignorance

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The Universal Notebook

America’s celebration of ignorance

Maine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough has a new book out, a collection of speeches entitled “The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For.” McCullough was being interviewed on Maine Public Radio last week when Maine Calling host Jennifer Rooks asked him if he was discouraged about the “celebration of ignorance” that has swept over America.

“I’m not discouraged,” McCullough responded. “I’m outraged.”

McCullough, who, prior to the election termed Donald Trump “a monstrous clown,” went on to excoriate the current climate of anti-intellectual brutishness by saying, “To think that it’s sort of cool to be dishonest or vulgar or crude is a sharp turn and decline in civilization of a kind that we must not and will not take.”

While searching online for the Maine Calling interview, I found another recent Time interview in which McCullough expanded on his indictment of the know-nothing Trump, saying, “To me, it’s as if we’ve put someone in the pilot seat who has never flown a plane or even read about how you do it.”

To me, it’s as if our pilot has never flown, never read about how to fly and can’t read.

The profound ignorance of Donald Trump about all things other than (perhaps) business underscores the fact that an ability to make money has nothing to do with intelligence and is no qualification whatsoever for leadership. Heck, Paul LePage should have taught us that much.

Yet here we are in an era of willful ignorance in which conservatives have no compunction at all about counseling others to just ignore the news, ignore the facts, ignore the experts. Believe what you want to believe. One opinion is as good as the next. What you don’t know can’t hurt you. What, me worry?

The evil genius of the right is its ability to discredit, in the minds of the weak and gullible anyway, higher education, science, professional journalism, the intelligence community and the judicial system – in short, all of the fact-finders and truth-seekers that might point out the errors of Trump’s ways. That’s also why the conservative political agenda calls for defunding National Public Radio, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, The National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health and, most insidiously of all, repealing the First Amendment right of freedom of the press.

If it sounds as though I see Trump as a wannabe dictator, it’s because I do. This is a man who praises brutal autocrats like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and Rodrigo Duterte. He likes strongmen and sharp cookies. And he does not like being criticized. That’s why he labels anything that displeases him “fake news” and sends his flunkies out to present “alternative facts.”

Would Trump really try to repeal the First Amendment? Probably not. No more than Hillary Clinton would have tried to repeal the Second Amendment. But Trump very well may try to loosen libel laws so he can sue newspapers that print the truth about him.

Make no mistake about it, America is in a deep, dark hole at the moment. Bigots have been emboldened and validated by Trump’s election. The religious right feels empowered to attack public education because one of their own is Secretary of Education. Industry is pleased to be able to ignore environmental protection regulations and the science of climate change because Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator doesn’t believe in protecting the environment and climate change, after all, is just a Chinese hoax peddled by Big Environment in order to keep the grant money flowing. At least that’s what the foolish would like to think.

I would like to think the American people will come to their senses and make a course correction, but that may be asking too much of people who would seemingly rather embrace a comfortable lie than contend with an unpleasant truth. Meanwhile, all that is best in American culture – public education, national parks and monuments, history, science, the arts, a free press, the spirit of self-sacrifice – is under attack by the dark forces of white middle class self-pity and Trumpian self-importance.

“A sense of history is an antidote to self-pity and self-importance, of which there is much too much in our time,” David McCullough said in a 1998 speech entitled The Lessons of History that is included in “American Spirit.”

“To a large degree, history is a lesson in proportions. … History teaches that character counts. Character above all.”

If so, I pity poor Mr. Trump.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • Chew H Bird

    The sentence that matters once the fluff and personal bias has been culled is: “…asking too much of people who would seemingly rather embrace a comfortable lie than contend with an unpleasant truth.”

    This is the crux of the majority of our issues reported on by major media outlets.

    For example, I hardly ever hear anything about the impact of sound pollution on small sensitive species caused primarily by human encroachment, yet I know if plankton were to disappear the oceans would become a wasteland.

    Human overpopulation is the single most primary cause of many of our issues and our social experience is that it is easier to stick out head in the sand than it is to actually correct the root causes of our discomfort.

    We can argue all day about the validity of various studies, or the degree of impact humans have on global warming, or the costs of healthcare, but the truth is if we had less people our overall impact on our planet’s resources would be lowered.

    • Queenie42

      Thank you, Chew, for your comment. FWIW, I agree.

    • poppypapa

      So how would you implement your desires?

      • Chew H Bird

        I have no idea how to preserve and protect, in a fair and honest manner, the individual rights of people while lowering the population to a level that is sustainable. The only way I can think of is to somehow encourage voluntary participation in a manner that inspires individuals to the point where everyone wants to be part of the solution, over multiple generations. I am reminded of my Dad who enlisted in the service right out of high school in 1942. He said that just about his entire class signed up. How can that type of commitment be accomplished on a world wide basis? I have no clue.

        The other, (subversive, sneaky, and intrusive, but “fair in method”), and reeking of big brother, would be to have every world nation find a way to limit fertility through biological means that would be completely random to every individual.

        Less people would be born. It is that simple. However, increased problems due to human nature would arise and I personally disagree with most things that would be classified as “big brother”. That said, if we ultimately face our own extinction, sometimes such stark and extreme measures may become necessary. Hopefully I won’t be around to witness it.

        • poppypapa

          It is an issue not unlike “climate change” and acting to control it. The number of ‘actors’ in the system is immense, and the delays in observing reactions to any policy changes can be years, decades, and even more. Furthermore, isolating the cause of the change to policy vice several other factors is nearly impossible.

          Population replacement rates are tied to fertility factors. Maine’s is already below the replacement level of 2.1. Several countries in Europe are literally dying off, with levels down in the 1.8 range. The last time we were in Italy, 6 years ago, it was very noticeable. It was during the summer, yet you virtually never saw children, but the elderly were everywhere.

          Even worse, how do you decide when the policy was a mistake, and must be reversed, and how long does it take for the system to reverse course?

          Suppose climate policy changes start us cooling off, and heading for danger in that direction? WHO will be in charge of the global thermostat, and how much must it be backed off to reverse the global chilling?

          The only person I know with a lofty enough view of himself to think he can do this is Eddie. And he doesn’t have enough years left to see it through.

          By the way, I believe there is a fertility rate figure below which population recovery is mathematically impossible. Something like 1.3, as I recall. So these are not casual issues.

          They quickly drift off into the realm of playing God.

    • poppypapa

      Careful; you’re treading on thin ice. I believe Eddie has waxed on about his three daughters and who knows how many grandchildren at this point, which puts him above the average family size in this day and age.

      But we all know it’s not that we need less people; it’s that we need less of the type of people who disagree with Eddie, and more of those who agree with him.

      Have you noticed he hasn’t rambled on lately about how many conservative friends he has, all of whom he gets along with swimmingly, and who love him for his humility and wisdom?

      Wonder why that is?

  • Jimmy_John67

    Finally an Ed Beem article to take seriously! Like he said, the American people shouldn’t ignore the experts and Ed is one of the foremost experts in being ignorant that I have ever encountered. Who better to write about the acceptance of ignorance then someone who embraced his own brand of ignorance over 40 years ago and has yet to give it up. Bravo Ed!

    • danmaine

      Thanks, brought a big smile to my face 😉

  • yathink2011

    “To a large degree, history is a lesson in proportions. … History teaches that character counts. Character above all.”

    What type of character does it take to instruct your closest Personal Assistant to forward emails containing Classified Information to her husband, who, between texting naked photos of himself to women he doesn’t know, prints out the emails so the Secretary of State can read them? And what kind character does it take for the Former FBI Director, when asked if Anthony Weiner was reading the classified information, to say, “I don’t think he was”.

  • Charles Martel

    Are you saying Nero & The Hidabeast have character? That’s rich.

  • poppypapa

    So, Eddie, you’re worried about Trump and the First Amendment? Have you paid attention in the months since he was elected? Why don’t you tell us about the First Amendment rallies at various college campuses, including Berkeley, and numerous others, where those who think and feel like you do don black masks and hurl barricades through windows, set fires, terrorize nearby miscreants, and otherwise choose anarchy as their preferred strategy?

    Seems to me your rhetoric is heading down the same path. You’re trumping the Blessed Clinton’s use of ‘deplorables,’ and Obama’s ‘clinging to their guns and religion.’ I don’t know how many hinges hold you to your door-frame, but I hope the editors and others who worry about your state of mind are running a weekly check for missing screws.

    Of course, you could align yourself with this passage from Rutgers:

    Rutgers president Robert Bachi defended Yiannopoulos’
    right to speak on campus despite expressing views that may be considered
    offensive, but the “Language Matters” campaign contradicts that message
    through 60- to 90-minute workshops examining how “negatively
    charged words…create a damaging environment for all of society,”
    during which presenters seek “to demonstrate how microagressions hinder
    our ability to have a diverse and inclusive society/community.”

    When I read it, I commented as follows:

    There’s enough in the article alone to keep us busy, if we’d allow it,
    for weeks. For now, we’ll just hit you with some of the ‘new language’
    developments, like the three types of ‘micro-aggression:’ microassaut, microinsult, and microinvalidation. Just imagine the new types of victimhood this opens up.

    Once you’re paying staffs good money to generate that sort of
    psycho-social-babble, there’s no turning back. They become
    self-perpetuating and self-breeding.

    Call us alarmists, but we wouldn’t be a bit surprised if students at the Rutgers College of Law are busy preparing themes on how to take this concept and turn it into a case to repeal First Amendment free speech rights. “For the greater
    good,” you understand.

    If you can’t see a threat to the First Amendment in this enlightened thinking, then you’ve already ‘invalidated’ it in your thinking.

    Frankly, your levels of ‘micro-aggression’ these days had me thinking you need to stroll on over to the Bowdoin campus to see if their counseling service would consider giving you therapy privileges, even if you had to pay for them. That way, you don’t risk running cars off the road that don’t fit with your preferred templates, and getting yourself hurt.

    Unfortunately, the campus service is in overload, as 1 in 4 students are seeking regular therapy sessions for all manner of anxiety, distress, and depression. Including ‘academic distress.’

    Can you imagine that? The most privileged and pampered student body you might find anywhere, living in a bubble that coddles them in every regard, especially when it comes to filling them with leftist social justice thinking akin to yours, places tampons in what used to be called men’s rooms, and guarantees safe spaces and other ‘places of refuge’ from the real world. It is among the most exclusive in all Ivory Tower land.

    Yet in their waning teen years, one out of four of them requires regular professional therapy to cope with their Growing Up Anxiety Disorder. Come to think of it, it makes a nice symmetry with your Growing Old Anxiety Disorder.

    Maybe you should ask yourself what’s wrong with this picture. If living in a bubble that feeds them nothing but pure Eddie-ness in the guise of an elite liberal-arts education churns out this hoard of quivering victims of micro-whatever, maybe it’s time for another way of living their young lives. Maybe they need to seek another reality….

    As Jack Nicholson once said, ‘we’re all stocked up with crazy around here.’ We’d appreciate it if the esteemed world of academia would back off on shipping us a fresh supply with every class they graduate.

    There you go, twinkles. My commencement address to you and those that gather round you in the fruits and nuts and veggies section at Hannafords. One of these days you’ll have to stop shopping at Half Foods and look for love somewhere more fruitful.

    I actually saw some deplorables there last time I visited, and you don’t want to get yourself too close to them; they could have a pocket constitution, or a pocket gospel with them.

    PS: thanks for all you do to foster a ‘diverse and inclusive society/community.’

  • EdBeem

    The First Amendment only restrains the government, it does not prevent private individuals, private organizations, private companies or private institutions from restraining speech.

    • poppypapa

      No doubt you missed this nuance, but UC, Rutgers, and such are actually government entities.

      And hurling barricades through building structures to do property damage is, well…..

      • EdBeem

        Nope. Just clarifying. The people who attack those who practice hate speech are rarely government employees, so they cannot infringe on anyone’s constitutional right of freedom of speech.

        • poppypapa

          Got it. So the administration of the University of California can just stand back and let the goons and thugs destroy the place and terrify those who wish to offer a view outside the PC sphere because none of them are government employees.

          You have an amusing world view. Not to mention a puzzling view of legal matters.

          • EdBeem

            No, you “got” nothing. You don’t understand squat. Tell us how much you love Milo. He lost his job, his book deal and an invite to CPAC because he is a racist scumbag, but Berkeley violated his free speech? Get real.

          • poppypapa

            Bringing up Milo and Coulter is an artful dodge and has nothing to do with the subject.

            Faculties in this day and age usually pride themselves on including inflammatory left-wing wackos as marquis headliners, and if not, the colleges pride themselves on bringing them, and worse, to speak on campus in the name of free-speech and ‘liberal learning.’

            Your ‘inflammatory’ is another person’s ‘thought-provoking,’ or ‘stimulating,’ or ‘creative.’

            Your desire to be in charge of which is which gives insight into your inner fascist.

          • EdBeem

            You are a total waste of time. You brought up University of California and I told you what I thought. Enough of your self-righteous guff. Always a mistake to respond to you.

          • poppypapa

            Hey….the needle on your recorded response is stuck in a scratch.

            One could only aspire, if one were warped enough, to your exalted level of self-righteousness and guffery. Maybe a few tokes on that legalized herb will elevate you to the next level.

            But thanks for your pontifications on diversity, inclusiveness, and free speech. They help to clarify so much of what we hear and read these days.

            In that regard, you are not a waste of time. Pressing you always ends up in further revelations of your self-absorption and intolerance.

            BTW, gotta tell ya, the little disqus avatar in your posts makes you appear all the more yada, yada, yada. Far more than the official outsized head shot on the Forecaster web site.

            Stew, baby, stew.

          • poppypapa

            Hey; look at it this way. You finally came out as a sexist homophobe. Why not go all the way, and label Clarence Thomas the worst Supreme Court Justice in history? You’d pull off the rare triple play in support for diversity and inclusion.

            We already know you’re inflammatory; you’ve bragged about it on numerous occasions as why the Forecaster prides itself in carrying you.

          • Mainer1

            Stupid is as stupid does. Liberals try and force their views on Conservatives and so do teachers and the media. All ruining the USA.

    • poppypapa

      So you endorse the anarchists who threaten those they disagree with with violence and property destruction?

      You support “giving them room to protest” and burn?

      We should have known; there are no limits to disobedience if it’s ‘for the common good.’

      • EdBeem

        Nope. Wrong as usual.

    • poppypapa

      Define “limiting speech” for starters.

  • Mainer1

    Edgar is not a journalist he is a propagandist.

  • EdBeem

    The mistake I make in responding to some anonymous posters is thinking they might be sincere and honest, even if they have a different opinion than I do. That is rarely the case.

    • poppypapa

      What’s the matter, Eddie? Ever heard about the goose and the gander?

      Or giving as good as you get?

      How can anyone be afraid of the truth, when according to you, there is no such thing as objective truth?? Huh?? Could you please answer that for others, Eddie? Or do you have a Humpty Dumpty understanding of truth? You know, when you say something is true, it is, but when you don’t like someone else’s truth, you declare there is no such thing.

      I know you don’t want to waste your time on moi, but think of all the others that need the benefit of your clarity and consistency.


      Your buddy Pem

      PS: so what do you think of Justice Clarence Thomas?

      • EdBeem

        I try not to think about Justice Thomas, or the Supreme Court as a hole (sic) for that matter.

        • poppypapa

          So the real Eddie can’t control himself.

          Sincerity and honesty? I have no doubt that you honestly and sincerely despise Justice Thomas.

          Not disagree with him; despise him.

          Let the readers see what you really are. We trust you are indoctrinating your several progeny in the basics of progressive appreciation of diversity and inclusivity.