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The New Know Nothing Party and the High Price of Willful Ignorance

Ignorance: The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed.

Here in the 21st Century the Republicans have become the new Know Nothing Party.  Just as the original Know Nothings employed fear, bigotry, ignorance and hate to motivate its base, so too does the Republican Party.

Look at the litany of the new Know Nothing’s commitment to willful ignorance. 

For example, the idea that debt and deficits spell doom and austerity will grow the economy.  This buffoonery can no longer be attributed to ignorance – history tells us it isn’t so, and the failed experiments in Europe confirm it.  At this point, holding fast to this notion can only be explained in terms of willful ignorance – AKA bald-faced lies. 

Or take the trickle down fantasy that has dominated their economic policy for 30 years.  Nothing trickled down, but a great deal of our wealth has trickled up.  Believing in trickle down can only be explained as a de facto act of economic aggression on the middle class and low-income earners.

We could go on and on here with the Republican’s commitment to lying.  Government as inefficient. The private sector as the provider of all good things by pure serendipity. The Republican’s commitment to freedom and liberty –except when they want to shove an ultrasound device into your vagina, tell you who you may or may not marry, who can and cannot fight in wars … on and on it goes.

But one area of willful ignorance eclipses all others in terms of its denial of fact and the consequences of that denial:  Climate change.

The scientific consensus is clear at this point, and it’s backed up by empirical evidence.  Events that were forecast to occur are occurring, although they’re happening more quickly than modelers expected.  

We are trading away children’s future.  If we don’t act, they will face  extreme droughts, a billion or more climate refugees, food scarcity, vast stretches of new deserts, rapidly rising sea levels, extinction of some 50% or more of species, wildfires unlike any that humanity has ever witnessed, floods of biblical proportions, and spreading of tropical diseases, and literally trillions of dollars of defensive investments made in a futile attempt to fix an unfixable disaster.  And unchecked, ocean acidification will destroy virtually all fisheries, and could ultimately effect the generation of atmospheric oxygen.

So we have a clear and present danger, a strong scientific consensus, and empirical evidence that we are on the verge – or well into – irrevocable global disasters of epic proportion.

How does the Party of Willful Ignorance respond?  With intentional ignorance, of course.


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The question is why.

And the answer is simple. They sell ignorance because it is in the interests of their true constituency – the uber wealthy and the corporate special interests.  While tackling climate change would avoid catastrophic costs and create jobs, it will hurt the coal, oil and gas interests. 

Austerity preserves the status quo on who has and who doesn’t.  Them that has would continue to get, them that doesn’t would lose even more.

Hawking government as the problem lets them turn over trillions in retirement and health care profits to the private sector while increasing your individual debt.  It converts education from a public right to a private profit center. It allows them to justify cutting back on regulations so banks can once again screw you with impunity. It trashes your air, pollutes your water, and destroys your climate. 

So why do the Democrats and the press not confront this willful ignorance as the Big Lie it is?  For three and a half years, Obama barely contradicted Republican talking points. But the Republican’s lunatic positions force him to adopt progressive positions in the campaign, just as he had in 2008. But this quadrennial embrace of progressive rhetoric fades as soon as the election is over, and he drifts into the pragmatic compromiser.  And it’s not just Obama.  How could Reid not change the Senate Rules on filibusters?  In fact, the whole Democratic Party acts like the skinny kid in the cafeteria, willfully giving up his lunch money.

To some the answer is that Democrats are actively complicit – that the entire political process is a Kabuki dance in which each Party plays its part. But the fact is, Republicans get 8 times more in political contributions from corporations than Democrats do, so the vested interests seem to see a real difference.

But whether we are in the midst of a Kabuki dance or victims of political cowardice may not matter.  The outcome is the same, and so is the solution.

We the people must seize control of the political process with our votes.  Progressive principles won the recent election, and a majority of Americans support progressive positions on a case-by-case basis.

If we fail to translate these individual beliefs into broader political practices and votes, it’s due largely to the mainstream media, which regularly presents the “debate” about issues as opposed to the reality of the issues.  Thus, Rubio can still trot out the entire Republican playbook of lies and willful ignorance, and the press treats it as a legitimate debate and focuses on a drink of water.

As a result, our democracy is diminished; our children’s world is compromised; and our economy remains in service only to the uber rich.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson

screen_shot_2017-07-26_at_9.09.47_pm.pngJohn Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track, both available from Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @john_atcheson

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