The Problem Isnt Just Trump. Its Our Ignorant Electorate.

For many of us, mornings have taken on a certain nauseating sameness. We roll out from beneath the blankets and, before the scent of coffee has reached our nostrils, we are checking the news feeds for the latest semi-literate tweet coughed up by the ranting, traitorous squatter occupying the Oval Office.

The rest of the day is spent in a kind of horrified suspension, holding our breath, waiting for whatever outrage will inevitably belch forth from the White Houseonce a bastion of seriousness and decorum, now ground zero for the demise of western democracy. How many lies will Trump spew today? Which dictators will he suck up to? Will he smear a Gold Star family? Attack a woman who dares to call out his smarmy predations? Unveil a puerile, racist nickname for a Senator or member of his own cabinet?

As much as we loathe it, however sickening it might have become, every day seems all about him, a former game show host and real estate failure, a hawker of rot-gut vodka and bullshit degrees from a fraudulent University who once styled himself as the Donald. The cable news shows lead with his most recent flatulence, the op-ed pages brim with intimations of doom, late night comedians are having a field day.

He is the president and, thus, bears watching. But we would be mistaken to think that he is truly the center of our universe, a man with a plan, commanding the heights, directing the action.

Virulent as he may be, Donald J. Trump is a symptom not the disease. Without us, he would amount to nothing more than what he had always been before the bizzaro presidential election of 2016: a foppish narcissist desperate for any measure of affirmation; a joke; a nothing. He did not create his voters. They have been there all along, seething with sometimes justifiable anger and suffering their various insecurities. They created and enabled Trump. And make no mistake, in all their vulnerable humanity, they are us: Gullible, compliant, distracted, marinating in irony.

At root, we the people are the problem.

We are understandably reluctant to impugn the intelligence and integrity of our fellow citizens. It is arrogant, uncivil, bad form. Who are we, any of us, to hold ourselves superior? When Hillary Clinton referred to some Trump supporters as deplorables, she was roundly castigated on all sides. How dare she? Yet it is an uncomfortable reality that anywhere from a fifth to a third of our electorate can be fairly (if gently) described as low-information voters. If the results of numerous polls and questionnaires are to be trusted, they know very little about the world they inhabit and what they do know is often woefully incorrect.

Surveys conducted every two years by the National Science Foundation consistently demonstrate that slightly more than half of Americans reject the settled science concerning human evolution. They are not unaware that virtually all credible scientists accept the overwhelming evidence that we evolved from earlier species. They simply choose not to accept that consensus because it doesnt comport with their deeply held beliefs. Many also embrace the absurd notion that the earth is only six thousand years old. Astonishingly, in the early 21st century, around a quarter of our citizenry seems unaware that said earth revolves around the sun.

It is a mistake to regard concern about such ignorance as effete snobbery or elitist condescension. While misapprehensions about basic astronomy, earth science and biology may have little impact on these folks daily lives, does anyone actually believe that similarly uninformed views arent likely to affect their grasp of policies regarding, say, climate change? Income inequality? Gun violence? Immigration?

Profound knowledge gaps like the aforementioned reveal an inability to think critically and leave a person vulnerable to all manner of chicanery. We are all ignorant about many things. Dont get me started on my dismal grasp of mathematics! But the hallmark of a sound education is not glorying in what you think you know, but, instead, appreciating the vastness of what you dont know.

If ignorance is the key that opens the door for charlatans like Trump, improved education, whether in school or in the public square, would seem to provide an obvious solution. But here we confront the perverse Dunning-Kruger Effect identified by psychologistsessentially, the less we know, the more certain we become of our superior knowledge. We have also discovered that exposure to facts and evidence does not always have the expected impact. Many people, when confronted by irrefutable proof that some core belief is incorrect, dont change their minds but dig in their heels. What feels right to them must be right and no amount logic and reasoning will dissuade them. Emotion trumps evidence.

Not too long ago, I fell into conversation with a woman aboard an airplane. Our chat somehow turned to health care. She offered the opinion that people who couldnt afford health insurance didnt deserve medical services. Why should she pay for someones care when they were obviously too lazy to earn their own money?

Because Im my own kind of fool, I rose to the bait. Did that mean they should be allowed to die in the street? I wondered. Well, no, she said. That would be inhumane. They could always go to an emergency room. So she was willing to pay for their care, I observed, but only in the least efficient, most expensive manner. This gave her momentary pause, but she quickly regrouped, simply repeating her prior assertion: Why should she pay? I didnt ask who she planned to vote for in the then-upcoming presidential election, but given that she had also voiced the opinion that women were, by virtue of their gender, unqualified to be news anchors, Im guessing it wasnt Hillary Clinton or Jill Stein.

She is hardly the worst example of an unthinking voter. Bill Maher once invited onto his show former GM Executive Bob Lutz. One supposes that such a fellow has benefited from an adequate education and that hes open to reason. Yet, when the subject of climate change arose, Lutz denied it was happening. A bunch of nonsense as far as he was concerned.

As it happened, Maher had also invited Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, educator and Director of the Hayden Planetarium. Tyson patiently explained why Lutz was misinformed. The planet was warming. Humans were largely to blame. This is how we know.

You might expect an educated person to respond by at least engaging on the topic. Tyson was, after all, vastly more knowledgeable on the subject at hand. Had their roles been reversed, with the topic being cars, I have no doubt he would have deferred to the automaker, asking questions, trying to improve the state of his own knowledge. Not Lutz. You could see him shutting down before Tyson had even warmed to the topic (no pun intended). As Upton Sinclair famously put it, Its hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.

Anyone who has watched the focus groups of Trump voters has seen this sorry dynamic played out again and again. Everything, no matter how tawdry or malicious, is excused or minimized. You get the feeling these folks would accept the sexual molestation of teenage girls as a trade-off for Neil Gorsuch. In fact, many did in supporting Roy Moore.

Welcome to the Post-Truth Era.

Much has been written about the impact social media and the internet in general have had on how people receive and absorb information. By now, we are all familiar with bots, trolls, phony scandals and the tendency of folks to hunker down in their own info-silos. The old adage that a lie is halfway round the world before the truth gets its socks on has never been more salient.

Consider the recent attacks on one of the young Parkland shooting survivors. A teenager who had just witnessed classmates being gunned down at his own school quickly discovered that speaking up for common-sense gun regulation resulted in vicious trolling and the viral lie that he was a paid crisis actor. This was similar to what befell the grieving families of the small children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Imagine waking one morning in a state of searing grief over the violent death of your baby to discover that some odious prankster like Alex Jones is telling his gullible audience that the whole tragic incident was staged, that your child was actually a paid performer doused in artificial gore and posed in a gruesome tableaux of death.

That Jones and his ilk have not been thoroughly shamed and driven from the public sphere says a lot about our growing tolerance for vile nonsense.

Trump did not invent Fake News. The Big Lie has been the stock in trade of con men and tyrants since time immemorial. But he understands its value. Alternative facts as his lickspittle factotum, Kellyanne Conway infamously put it, has long been his metier. Hes a bullshitter, a phony and now hes our president.

This shouldnt have happened. But we let it happen, though Trump did have plenty of help

Unsurprisingly, the Fox propaganda machine and any number of right-wing radio ranters enthusiastically clambered aboard the Trump Train. They were abetted by many in the mainstream media who, mindful that Trump lured eyeballs to advertisers and too timid to call him out as the carnival barker he so obviously was, went along for the ride. A number of Republicans in Congress dismissed him at first. But when it became clear he had a shot at winning and that his devotees comprised at least half of their party, they scurried to adopt him as their useful idiot.

Its true that we are not all equally culpable. Roughly three million more people voted for Trumps chief opponent. But the right-minded among us didnt do enough to forestall the plainly looming disaster. The proof of that is the Trump presidency itself.

So, if we in our various incarnations are the problem, then what is the solution? Is there any way out? Wed better hope so. Whats certain is that its on us. We made a wreck of our government and its up to us to fix it.

There are positive signs:

A once compliant media has begun to take the gloves off. Genuine conservatives, outraged that their movement has been hijacked by philistines, are sounding the alarm. People are rising up and calling BS. For every Sean Hannity there is a Rachel Maddow, Jake Tapper or even Shepard Smith (at Fox News, no less!). For every Paul Ryan, there is a David Frum or Max Boot. Frothing crowds at CPAC are countered by the #MeToo movement and impressively eloquent teenagers fed up with politicians of any stripe who cower before the gun industry. On a good day, a John McCain or Jeff Flake will stand up to the cringing accommodationists in their own party. And, of course, Donald Trump himself, along with his corrupt lackeys, face a formidable foe in the person of Robert Mueller.

NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers recent testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee should mark a turning point, though he merely confirmed what has been apparent for some time: that even as our nation is under attack from a Russia determined to subvert our democracy, the president has not directed any relevant agencies to defend the country. This is a violation of the oath Trump swore on inauguration day and smacks of treason. We have entered uncharted waters.

Whats clear is that we need to use all non-violent resources at our disposal to rid ourselves and our country of the dangerous infection spreading from the White House into our body politic. These are not normal times and our usual reflexes will no longer suffice.

Trump is a problem of our own creation. We must become the solution.

Ron Reagan is an author and political commentator who lives in Seattle and Arezzo, Tuscany.

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Parkland Students to President Trump: Stay Far Away From Us

PARKLAND, FloridaTwo days after enduring a horrific school shooting, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and parents of the victims have one request for President Donald Trump: stay away.

"In my opinion I do not want Trump here at all," Ameer Hussain, a 15-year-old freshman at the school told The Daily Beast.

Trump is scheduled to be at his resort in Mar-a-Lago this weekend. And reports on Friday said that he would be paying a visit to Parkland, Floridathe site of the shooting that claimed 17 lives on Wednesday while wounding 15 othersto, in his words, "meet with some of the bravest people on earth."

Its common for presidents to visit the sites of national tragedies and, while there, meet with the affected. But Trump is neither a conventional president nor one whom many people here particularly want to see.

Hussain imagined that Trump would use this event to make himself look better politically.

"It's not meaningful, he added. He's the president and he should be speaking on what he's going to do to make it better for next time. My friend group, Hispanic kids, black kids, they're not caring for this at all. My dad is of the same idea."

Another student who participated in Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) with Florida shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, but asked that he not be named, said most kids and people in town agree that Trump should not swing through.

"One big reason people don't want him here was his speech yesterday and tweet of his," the student said. "Apparently [the president] said it was the kid's responsibility to report Nikolas Cruz so in a way it was our fault. A lot of people aren't happy about his visit."

Emotions remain raw among students in Parkland, especially after President Trump tweeted on Thursday that Neighbors and classmates knew [Cruz] was a big problem" and that, in such cases, people Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!

The missive left several students at the school livid, with some angirly responding to the president with tweets of their own.

"How is this our fault?" one student said on Twitter on Friday. "We cant even vote and when we say something its usually pushed aside. Dont you dare say that it is our fault, unless you were there, unless you tried your best you have no right to tell anyone what to believe."

The FBI did receive a tip about Cruz in January, but failed to transmit the warning to its Miami field office.

On Thursday, Trump made his first public statement on the shooting, saying that his administration was committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.

It is unclear how far Trumps outreach to the Parkland community has or will progress beyond that. No parent or students who spoke to The Daily Beast said they had heard about Trump reaching out to bereaved families. The Trump White House, meanwhile, has yet to confirm any details related to a potential trip or meetings with survivors and their families.

Were still working on that, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley told The Daily Beast Friday afternoon when asked if Trump is meeting with mass shooting survivors or their family members in Florida. The White House also would not confirm to The Daily Beast if the president had already called any of them, yet.

I cant believe that pig is coming down here," said Kylan Reynolds, 23, a graduate of Florida Atlantic University in South Florida. The man is a coward.

Not everyone is demanding that Trump stay away, however. Some, like Nikhita Nookala, a 17-year-old senior at the school, are eager for him to come to Parkland so that he can, in her words, "learn a lesson."

"If Trump comes down I think it's important that he shows us he's with us," Nookala said to The Daily Beast. "I think the death of 17 people should encourage the president to consider [gun] restrictions There's been too many school shootings and we don't need kids to die before they go to college. "

She said that for the president to come down and not take any direct action to limit guns in the country would be "hypocritical."

"By action I mean urging legislators to stop listening to interest groups like the NRA and stop considering the rights of people to keep guns as a hobby over the lives of kids who just want to go to college and get a job and be Americans," she said.

Amos Fernandes, whose daughter is a junior who survived the shooting, also feared that Trump would exploit the tragedy with a visit. But he also imagined that a such a trip could provide piece of mind.

"I think right now, people really really don't want to see him here. But we need to show him that everybody is angry. It's crazy," Fernandes said. "I am so angry and a lot of parents are angry like myself. The whole city is angry."

Fernandes, who lived in Connecticut during the Sandy Hook school shooting, said he was outraged that Congress had done nothing to restrict gun ownership.

"These politicians like Trump are getting paid, and while they're getting paid people are getting killed," he said.

Fernandes' daughter, 16-year-old Kathlyn, said that if Trump does make the trip to Parkland, she hopes it will change his mind about gun control.

"What happened at my school could have been prevented if he had supported gun control," she said. "It makes me feel bad he hasn't done anything. At the end of the day, if you're 18 you shouldn't be able to buy a gun."

One of my former students, shes a junior at the high school went to therapy today, she told me I dont think I will get the memory of gunshots and people screaming out of my head, said Catherine Kuhns, who was standing with fellow protesters calling for common sense gun reform two days after the shooting.

I dont understand why in the State of Florida, you can get an assault rifle at 18 but have to be at least 21 to purchase a handgun. Its just absurd," said Kuhns, who has been teaching since 1975 and at Country Hills Elementary since 1992. In 1998, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching from President Bill Clinton.

She added: "We will be back on this corner protestingtomorrowstarting at9 amhoping to gather a crowd and hoping President Donald Trump travels past our pathtomorrow.

White House officials have undoubtedly become aware of how fraught a potential swing through Parkland would be. Trump has had mixed results in similar situations before. He did pay a visit to Las Vegas following the massacre of 58 people in October and called the shooting an act of pure evil," but that event was far less politicized. Earlier last year in August, the president botched his response to Charlottesville when he failed to condemn white supremacist James Fields, who drove a car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing 32-year-old activist Heather Heyer.

Several senior Trump aides expressed concern to The Daily Beast that Trump could potentially find himself in a situation in Parkland where he is trapped with grieving parents or students who harangue him about his administrations position on guns, creating horrible optics and more negative press for the president. The same officials also voiced worry that the presidents response to such a situation could potentially make the situation on the ground worse, unintentionally. Asked for an explanation, one White House official referenced the incident when President Trump ended up making a widow cry when he meant to comfort her.

The fact that Cruz wore a pro-Trump "Make America Great Again" hat while making racist remarks to his fellow classmates makes a visit all the more complicated.

Still, some allies of the president publicly maintain that he could indeed rise to the occasion.

Weve had many presidents in the past who have gotten into emotional exchanges with distraught parents and siblings and others in times of, for example, returning the remains of someone who died in warThis challenge is not something unique to the Trump presidency, Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign adviser, told The Daily Beast. I know President Trump well enough to know that in a situation where hes met with an emotional response, he canrespond appropriately.

Hes a compassionate person, Caputo added.

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