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Manheim, PA, 2016 © George Sheldon

A Nation Awash in a Sea of Ignorance

The willfully ignorant are too many in number and growing at all levels of American society as the fog of misinformation overwhelms the national capacity to see through it.

The word “deplorable” got its own place in political lore when Hillary Clinton decided to create a “basket of deplorables” chock full of people who were buying so much of what Trump was selling in the 2016 presidential election. Now, almost two years later, “deplorable” could aptly describe so much of the political landscape in America that there is no basket big enough to contain the detritus.

Topping the list of deplorables would be Trump himself. Peruse a list of words that are routinely applied to Trump by neutral observers and you will get the idea: liar, bully, misogynist, adulterer, immoral, uninformed, dangerous, unqualified, opportunist, narcissist… and you can add your own favorites.

Apparently, however, the originals in Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” haven’t been able to connect enough of the dots to dull their enthusiasm for the Trump they continue to adore. Sadly, this tells us more about those in the basket than it does about Trump. Hillary’s warning about the deplorables never gained political traction, but it bears repeating anyway:

“We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”

There is surely an American underbelly that hits all of Hillary’s checklist high points, but to identify some deplorable behavior is not the same as understanding how deplorables got that way. A common denominator of most of the ideology that feeds deplorable conduct is willful ignorance.

Today’s America is awash in a sea of purposeful ignorance that may well sink the democratic institutions at the core of America’s governance experiment. There was a time when I thought the greatest threat to those institutions was the “faith” of religious zealots and their “god bless America” mantra. Now, I believe it is willful ignorance, the willingness to accept as fact only that which is filtered through one’s own personal echo chamber.

Fake News and Alternative Facts

Just think about the concepts of “fake news” and “alternative facts” that seem to have infected the present political discourse. Before Trump and his merry band of deceitful charlatans came along, there seemed to be a common notion that news was essentially reported facts and that fact was separated from fiction by some measure of hard evidence. In that earlier time, reporters often reported the facts they had uncovered and only rarely polluted their reporting with opinion, speculation and ubiquitous anonymous sourcing.

Yet today, as hard as it may be to imagine, freedom of the press has been bastardized as much as the right to bear arms. In the gun nut world, I expect that most have never even read their revered Second Amendment and, if they did, would likely fail to note that the amendment is focused on ensuring a well-regulated militia and says nothing about assault weapons.

Likewise, “fake news” aficionados frequently seem to confuse the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech with that same amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press.

In America, it is clearly OK to blather on about most anything, including “alternative facts.” But it should not be OK for that free blather to be confused with the legitimate work product of a free press.

To ensure the clarity of this distinction, the free press is obligated to report facts and carefully distinguish fact from opinion. Put another way, “fake news” has as little to do with freedom of the press as private possession of modern assault weapons has to do with a well-regulated militia.

These discrepancies are growing more important every day. America’s government is in a headlong  race to the bottom, undermining critical elements of a limited safety net and making a mockery of domestic and international efforts to ensure a meaningful collective response to difficult challenges that affect our planet, our quality of life and our capacity to respond to those in need.

This situation is only exacerbated by deplorable corporate conduct. From seeking corrupt advantage by associating with a presidential fixer to the entirely predictable disregard for their employees implicit in the disparate distribution of the fruits of a massive corporate tax cut, many of America’s corporate barons are sowing further seeds of discord while merrily wallowing in buckets of ill-gotten gains.

In Trump world, the aim is to encourage collective ignorance and to use it as a club on those who seek the information needed to reduce ignorance and promote informed discourse. Trump somehow found a discordant note and has managed to turn it into a dangerous symphony.

The Deplorables

This brings us back to “deplorables” and the unsettling feeling that there are many folks in America who applaud routine attacks on the press, universities, public education, public broadcasting and the like. Maybe this is what Hillary was trying to talk about, but like much of her message, she lost it somewhere along the way.

Critically, way too many individuals in our society seem to have no clear path to the information needed to define a better collective response to the issues of the day. With no obvious political leadership and virtually no corporate leadership, how can the daily institutional damage be stopped and then reversed?

Those who care and those who are educated enough to inform themselves and others have to try harder. It is not enough to simply write off the “deplorables,” the willfully ignorant. They are too many in number and growing at all levels of society as the fog of misinformation overwhelms the national capacity to see through it. Today’s imperative is to identify and support leaders who can reach those with whom they disagree and seek to engender a much more enlightened self-interest.

A much more enlightened self-interest is a prerequisite for a collective conscience. Without both, America will doom itself to a divided and declining national trajectory.

*[A version of this article was also featured on the author’s blog, Hard Left Turn. Updated: May 16, 2018, at 23:30 GMT.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: George Sheldon / Shutterstock.com