An Ominous Turn – Idiocy Trumps American Exceptionalism

One has the sense that America is in deep trouble. How we will stem this tide of foolishness that engulfs this country should concern every American and the rest of the world

Vice President Kamala Harris calls situation at the US-Mexico border ‘tough’. Pic – AP

By Anil Madan

The Ninth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States declares: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This is an unmistakable declaration that rights other than those enumerated in the Constitution are indeed retained by the people. The so-called strict constructionists, including some Supreme Court justices argue that if a right or privilege is not expressly enumerated in the Constitution, it does not have Constitutional-level protection. A dialectic on the intricacies of the arguments for and against such “textualism” as it is sometimes called is for another day.

For now, I want to focus on the not entirely unexpected observation that some Americans seem to have discovered the right to be stupid and the freedom to embrace idiocy over science or truth.

I recently lamented the idiocy of the anti-vaxxers, the vaccine resisters, the vaccine skeptics. My fear is that a wider national pandemic of idiocy has gripped America. It comes not only from the right-wing yahoos and their special kind of idiocy, but also from the lefty loonies who themselves are worthy imbeciles. There is no vaccine for stupidity. And if there were, the variants of idiocy would rapidly outfox any vaccine.

Whether you are a proponent of American Exceptionalism or a full-throated skeptic who thinks that the very idea that America is exceptional is a hoax, this widespread embrace of idiocy in America manifesting itself most commonly in partisan sniping should trouble you. It looms ominous and foreboding over this nation, very ominous, very foreboding.

As we explore some examples, I will come back to the unremitting idiocy of Republican governors who embrace Trumpism while ignoring science in their response to the exploding Covid-19 crisis in general and, in particular, the Delta variant.

First, the situation on the USA-Mexico border is a mess. After President Biden all but invited a surge of émigrés in quest of the promised land, he tasked Vice President Kamala Harris with leading an effort to stem migration across the border. A senior administration official explained that Harris’s role would focus on two tracks: both curbing the current flow of migrants and implementing a long-term strategy that addresses the root causes of migration.

Understanding the root causes of migration is simple. Those who migrate want to uproot themselves from where they are and establish roots in America. No other explanation is necessary. If you want to stop illegal immigration, you have to enforce immigration laws. Harris’ initial efforts at curbing the flow of immigrants consisted of making this statement: “As one of our priorities, we will discourage illegal migration. And I believe if you come to our border you will be turned back. Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.”

‘Americans want to be free to be stupid.’ Pic – Financial Times  

For those of you bringing your hands together to applaud this declaration by our VP, and wondering what is wrong with it, consider that she made the statement in English to migrants who speak only Spanish and weren’t listening to her speech on their trek to the U.S. If anything stands out from the Biden administration’s approach to immigration, it is a lack of enforcement. Not only that, but those who came in caravans, were coming precisely because they thought they would get away with it. Harris’ promise to enforce the immigration laws must have sounded idiotic even to herself.

Some months later, she allowed that some of the reasons for the surge to the border can be broken down between acute factors and root causes. “Acute causes,” include food insecurity, hurricanes, and Covid-19. As for the root causes, she said: “I’m thinking of corruption, violence and poverty, the lack of economic opportunity, the lack of climate adaptation and climate resilience, the lack of good governance.” It is not clear what programs or policies she will implement to address these acute factors and root causes. If we are to depend on stopping hurricanes and Covid-19 in order to control immigration, this is not a war we can win.

At the same time, one might wonder why the ongoing lament about lack of opportunity, reinforced by the lack of climate adaptation and climate resilience coupled with a lack of good governance hasn’t prompted an exodus from the United States.
As you now desist from applause and begin to shake your head, keep in mind that she is but a heartbeat away from becoming President. Kamalubdub, Kamalubdub.

Second, let us consider my alma mater Cornell University—yes, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit the connection. Last year, the university announced that: “Cornell’s Behavioral Compact for the 2020-2021 academic year outlines several important steps that students must take as they return to Ithaca. In addition to requiring the wearing of masks and engagement in physical distancing, the Compact requires students to participate in ongoing surveillance testing for covid-19 and to be vaccinated against seasonal influenza.” Cornell also decreed that students who were not vaccinated against the flu, would not be allowed into campus libraries.

At first blush, this seems reasonable. After all, no Covid-19 vaccines were then available. Requiring flu vaccines seems prudent. However, Cornell outdid itself: “We recognize that, due to longstanding systemic racism and health inequities in this country, individuals from some marginalized communities may have concerns about needing to agree to such requirements. For example, historically, the bodies of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) have been mistreated, and used by people in power, sometimes for profit or medical gain. We know this history and validate the potential concerns it may raise. At the same time, we know that long-standing social inequalities and health disparities have resulted in Covid-19 disproportionately affecting BIPOC individuals.”

Okay, let me parse this out. The flu vaccine is a great idea because of the Covid-19 situation although the flu vaccine has nothing to do with Covid-19. However, even though BIPOC individuals are disproportionately affected by Covid-19, we will allow them to refuse the flu vaccination because at some time in the past, other people of colour were exploited.

I cannot think of a more racist policy than to encourage anyone (including BIPOCs) to refuse a scientifically proven vaccine on the grounds that there may have been past instances of unrelated misconduct by unrelated third parties. Either Cornell believes that misconduct continues or it doesn’t. Either Cornell believes that fears expressed today, by BIPOC persons are unfounded, or it does not. Decades from now, if BIPOC individuals die from the flu or Covid-19 because Cornell allowed them to abjure vaccines, history will judge the university harshly. What explanation will Cornell offer when people who are not vaccinated spread Covid-19 on campus?

Now that Covid-19 vaccines are available, Cornell has a new policy requiring all students to be vaccinated for Covid-19 but seemingly has abandoned the BIPOC exemption but this is not clear. However, Cornell still allows medical and religious exemptions. Why Cornell supposes that any legitimate religion worships a God who is an anti-vaxxer is beyond me.

Third, Governor Kate Brown of Oregon privately signed a bill last month ending the requirement for high school students to prove proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic before being allowed to graduate. Although the Governor herself did not want to bring attention to the bill and refused to discuss it, her spokesman said the new standards for graduation would aid Oregon’s “Black, Latino, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of colour.” So far, there has been no explanation as to how allowing students to graduate from high school without being able to read, write, or do arithmetic helps them and particularly why this is so for students of colour.

Finally, let us consider the group of Republican clowns who serve as Governors of several southern states. It is difficult to pick the top two prize pigs in this beauty contest, but Governor DeSantis of Florida and Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi stand out. Governors Greg Abbot of Texas and Kristi Noem of South Dakota are also no slouches in the idiocy marathon.

Reeves made somewhat of a name for himself in Trumpkin circles for his support of lawsuits to throw out election results in several states where Trump supporters made baseless false claims of voting fraud. But when it came to Covid-19, he outdid himself. He overrode local leaders’ orders for people to stay at home instead telling Mississippians to rely on the power of prayer. After he was severely criticized for his response to the pandemic, he imposed some state-wide restrictions on non-essential businesses but two days after doing so, he declared April Confederate Heritage Month. On the other hand, somewhat to his credit, although he ended virtually all Covid-19 restrictions earlier this year, he left school mask mandates in place. But just recently, he again spread his Republican wings and flew back to the cuckoo’s nest contradicting himself by proclaiming: “There will be no lockdowns and there will be no state-wide mandates” in Mississippi.

Taking a page from Trump’s playbook, the Republican governors have decided that their cred with the far-right fringe of their party depends on establishing their opposition to any and all policies and recommendations coming from the Biden administration. Indeed, to the extent that they can couple this opposition with a conspiracy theory tying the Democratic administration to some supposed agenda being promoted by Bill Gates or George Soros, the more strident they become.

Masks and lockdowns are a definite Democratic plot and vaccines are not to be openly promoted. So, Governor DeSantis of Florida, in the face of soaring infections among those not vaccinated, has declared that there will be no mandates or lockdowns in Florida. He has even threatened to withhold the salaries of educators who defy his injunction against masking in schools. Governor Abbot has likewise tried to preclude local officials from imposing mask mandates. Governor Kristi Noem of South Dakota has pooh-poohed concerns that a rally of some 700,000 bikers will become a potential super spreader event for Covid-19 cases even as Delta variant cases spike in her state. She has called the rally a “fantastic event” and even showed up on horseback, as standard-bearer for the imbeciles.

When asked about the rally, she said: “I think it’s interesting that this side, this political party, the Democrats, who embrace getting abortion on demand, are accusing us of embracing death when we’re just allowing people to make personal choices and have personal responsibility over when they want to assemble, when they want to gather and spend time outdoors enjoying their way of life.”

There you have it: the right to be stupid, the freedom to embrace idiocy are the building blocks of the Republican Party platform for the next round of elections in 2022 and then for the White House in 2024.

One has the sense that America is in deep trouble. How we will stem this tide of foolishness that engulfs this country and come together to address the profound challenges that require thoughtful, united and coherent action should concern every American and the rest of the world.


* Published in print edition on 17 August 2021

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