Trump’s Tony Fauci Problem

“Tony Fauci has one of the hardest jobs in America right now”–CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta

I have copied part of the transcript of yesterday’s press conference below. “John” is Fox News White correspondent John Roberts. “Peter” is NBC White House correspondent Peter Alexander.

John: (42:19)

To Dr. Fauci, if I could? Dr. Fauci, as was explained yesterday, there has been some promise with hydroxychloroquine as potential therapy for people who are infected with coronavirus. Is there any evidence to suggest that, as with malaria, it might be used as a prophylaxis against COVID-19?

Anthony Fauci: (42:36)
No. The answer is no. The evidence that you’re talking about, [John 00:17:40], is anecdotal evidence. As the commissioner of FDA and the president mentioned yesterday, we’re trying to strike a balance between making something with a potential of an effect to the American people available at the same time that we do it under the auspices of a protocol that would give us information to determine if it’s truly safe and truly effective. But, the information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal. It was not done in a controlled clinical trial, so you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.

Speaker 4: (43:11)
Mr. President?

Speaker 5: (43:11)
Mr. President, on that thought …

Speaker 6: (43:11)
Mr. President?

Speaker 7: (43:13)
Mr. President?

Speaker 5: (43:15)
On those therapies-

Donald Trump: (43:18)
I think, without seeing too much, I’m probably more of a fan of that, maybe, than anybody. I’m a big fan, and we’ll see what happens. We all understand what the doctor said is 100% correct. It’s early, but I’ve seen things that are impressive. We’ll see. We’re going to know soon. We’re going to know soon. Including safety. When you get that safety, this has been prescribed for many years for people to combat malaria, which was a big problem, and it’s very effective. It’s a strong drug.

John: (43:55)
It was also apparently effective against SARS.

Donald Trump: (43:56)
It was, as I understand that … Is that a correct statement? It was fairly effective on SARS?

Anthony Fauci: (44:02)
John, you’ve got to be careful when you say “fairly effective”. It was never done in a clinical trial, they compared it to anything. It was given to individuals, and felt that maybe it worked.

John: (44:11)
Was there anything to compare it to?

Anthony Fauci: (44:13)
That’s the point. Whenever you do a clinical trial, you do standard of care versus standard of care plus the agent you’re evaluating. That’s the reason why we showed, back in Ebola, why particular interventions worked.

Speaker 5: (44:28)
Sir, on that topic-

Peter: (44:28)
Mr. President?

Speaker 8: (44:28)
Sir, on masks-

Peter: (44:31)
About the possible therapies, yesterday, Mr. President, you said that they were for “immediate delivery”. Immediate. We heard from-

Donald Trump: (44:37)
We were ordering … Yes, we have millions of units ordered. Bayer is one of the companies, as you know, big company, very big, very great company. Millions of units are ordered. We’re going to see what happens.

Donald Trump: (44:51)
We’re going to be talking to the governors about it, and the FDA is working on it right now. The advantage is that it has been prescribed for a totally different problem, but it has been described for many years. Everybody knows the levels of the negatives and the positives. But, I will say that I am a man that comes from a very positive school when it comes to, in particular, one of these drugs.

Donald Trump: (45:17)
We’ll see how it works out, [Peter 00:00:45:18]. I’m not saying it will, but I think that people may be surprised. By the way, that would be a game changer. We’re going to know very soon. We have ordered millions of units. It’s being ordered from Bayer, and there is another couple of companies also that do it.

Peter: (45:35)
For clarity, Dr. Fauci said there is no magic drug for coronavirus right now, which you would agree. I guess on this issue [crosstalk 00:45:41]-

Donald Trump: (45:42)
I think we only disagree a little bit.

Peter: (45:44)
Sorry.

Donald Trump: (45:44)
I disagree. Maybe and maybe not. Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t. We have to see. We’re going to known soon.

Peter: (45:52)
Is it possible that your impulse to put a positive spin on things may be giving Americans a false sense of hope and misrepresenting our preparedness right now?

Donald Trump: (45:57)
No, I don’t think so. I think got-

Peter: (46:01)
[crosstalk 00:46:01] the not-yet-approved drug-

Donald Trump: (46:05)
Such a lovely question. Look, it may work, and it may not work. I agree with the doctor, what he said. May work, may not work. I feel good about it. That’s all it is. Just a feeling. I’m a smart guy. I feel good about it. We’re going to see.

Donald Trump: (46:21)
You’re going to see soon enough. We have certainly some very big samples of people. If you look at the people, you have a lot of people that are in big trouble. This is not a drug that, obviously, I think I can speak from a lot of experience, because it’s been out there for over 20 years. It’s not a drug that you have a huge amount of danger with. It’s not a brand-new drug that’s been just created, that may have an unbelievable monumental effect like kill you. We’re going to know very soon.

Donald Trump: (46:51)
I can tell you, the FDA’s working very hard to get it out. Right now, in terms of malaria, if you want it, you can have a prescription. You get a prescription. By the way, and it’s very effective. It works.

Donald Trump: (47:03)
I have a feeling you may … I’m not being overly optimistic or pessimistic. I sure as hell think we ought to give it a try. There’s been some interesting things happened, and some very good things. Let’s see what happens. We have nothing to lose. You know the expression? What the hell do you have to lose?

Peter: (47:22)
What do you say to [crosstalk 00:47:22]-

Donald Trump: (47:26)
John, go ahead.

Peter: (47:26)
What do you say to Americans who are scared, though? Nearly 200 dead. 14,000 who are sick. Millions, as you witness, who are scared right now. What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?

Donald Trump: (47:38)
I say that you’re a terrible reporter. That’s what I say. I think it’s a very nasty question, and I think it’s a very bad signal that you’re putting out to the American people. The American people are looking for answers and they’re looking for hope, and you’re doing sensationalism. The same with NBC and Comcast. I don’t call it Comcast, I called Concast, for who you work.

Donald Trump: (48:01)
Let me just tell you something. That’s really bad reporting, and you ought to get back to reporting instead of sensationalism. Let’s see if it works. It might and it might not. I happen to feel good about it, but who knows? I’ve been right a lot. Let’s see what happens.

Donald Trump: (48:18)
John?

John: (48:19)
Want to get back to the science and the logistics here-

Donald Trump: (48:21)
You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

John: (48:21)
The units that were ordered, are they for clinical trials? Are they for distribution to the general patient population?

Speaker 7: (48:27)
As I understand it, we are going to be taking samples in New York. Governor Cuomo very much is interested in this drug, and they are going to work on it also after they get a certain approval. We’re waiting for one final approval from the FDA. We’ll see what happens, but we’ll use it on people that are not doing great or even at the beginning of not feeling well.

John: (48:49)
This would fall under the modified hospice-

Speaker 7: (48:50)
John, what do we have to lose?

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), represents science and facts. This makes him an immediate threat to Donald Trump, a president who peddles in propaganda, lies, and other assorted mistruths.  Fauci’s words are based on evidence and expertise. Trump’s words are based on a feeling. Perhaps this is the kind of feeling that the former casino owner gets when he makes a business deal or invests in a stock. Consider Trump’s words again:

Look, it may work, and it may not work. I agree with the doctor, what he said. May work, may not work. I feel good about it. That’s all it is. Just a feeling. I’m a smart guy. I feel good about it. We’re going to see.

Trump has a Tony Fauci problem. The good doctor is a rock star because he knows things. And because he knows things he has more authority with the American people than the president. This might cause a narcissistic populist to lose sleep at night.

What are the Court Evangelicals Saying About Trump’s Coronavirus Speech?

Trump Jeffress

Last night Donald Trump delivered a nationally-televised address to the nation on the coronavirus. It was a disaster.  And he followed-up today with an equally bad press conference.

  • Following his speech, Trump’s administration had to clarify facts about his travel ban on multiple occasions.
  • Trump’s failure to calm fears, tell the truth, and get his facts straight last night resulted in the stock market’s free-fall today.
  • Today Anthony Fauci told Congress that the country is failing in its attempt to test for the virus.
  • Less than an hour later, Trump said that “testing has been going very smooth…if you go to the right area you get the test. We are very much ahead of everything.”  This, of course, is not true.
  • Also today, the president said that all Americans coming back to the country from Europe were being tested for the coronavirus.  That is not true.  Some of these travelers are getting screened, but they are not getting tested for the virus at the airport.

The criticism of Trump’s handling of the virus is coming from some unlikely places.

After a briefing with senators, conservative Republican Jim Lankford of Oklahoma said, “We couldn’t get a good, clear answer on when we are going to get commercial testing out there, labs that can get faster responses.” He said that the president’s claim that anyone who wants a test for the virus can get it is incorrect.

Here is Trump’s court journalist (at least among evangelicals) David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network:

Trump’s speech did not go well.  But that did not stop some of the court evangelicals from praising it:

Here is Robert Jeffress:

Dallas-area megachurch pastor Jack Graham was comforted by the speech.

And here is Trump’s boy wonder Charlie Kirk:

As I said in another recent piece, the court evangelicals will never criticize the president. He holds them and their public faith captive.

Does the United States Have the Moral Fortitude to Respond to the Coronavirus?

Coronavirus cell

I hope so.  But I am not very optimistic.

As Dahlia Lithwick writes at Slate, social capital is at all-time low. We don’t trust each other or the government. Science and truth are under siege. The free press is under attack. We have a president with an approval rating under 50%.  Can we step-up?  Here is Lathwick:

Virtually every thoughtful epidemiologist I have read on this says that the absolute worst thing to be done right now is hoarding surgical masks and putting yourself first. Conversely, the decision to put altruism before panic would redound not just to our own benefit, but to the actual benefit of the entire herd. The choice to stay home, to care for the elderly and the sick (and help them stay home), to figure out systems to look after children whose parents cannot take time off—all of that would be good for everyone. Yet it comes after years, if not decades, of being told constantly that vaccines cause autism, poverty should be punished and criminalized, and every government system is “rigged” to harm you and help others. Tell people that everyone’s a criminal and grifter long enough and it’s awfully hard to get them to look out for each other.

David Roberts at Vox has been writing thoughtfully about the political science literature around “social trust”; the phenomenon, as described by Kevin Vallier, wherein one has a “generalized trust” that extends to “strangers, persons within one’s society with whom one has little personal familiarity. Social trust can thus be understood broadly as trust in society. But trust to do what? Social trust is trust that persons will abide by social norms.” Social trust, writes Roberts, is a sense that “we are all in this together,” whoever “we all” may be, and without it, no law or policy or institution can be effective. With social trust and political trust working to undermine one another, societies can enter a “doom loop” that allows us to increasingly distrust both systems and each other.

It is that infection that makes us far more susceptible to the coronavirus; a preexisting social and psychological condition that allows critical medical truth to be suppressed in the name of politics, which in turn allows an entire society to doubt the veracity of both government institutions and the press. And as we grow mistrustful of two central pillars of liberal democracy, we become inclined to mistrust the very people around us, whether they’re grabbing the last rolls of toilet paper at the supermarket or walking around among us despite exposure to the virus. We’ve spent the past three years fine-tuning the notion that the other half of the country hates us. It’s hard to imagine turning on a dime now to be mindful of the needs of strangers.

Read the entire piece here.

Has Trump Made ANY Truthful Statements About the Coronavirus?

Trump corona

Ignorance. Lies. Half-truths. We deserve more from the President of the United States and his team. Here is a taste of a recent piece by CNN factcheckers Daniel Dale and Tara Subramaniam:

President Donald Trump has been comprehensively misinforming the public about the coronavirus.

Trump has littered his public remarks on the life-and-death subject with false, misleading and dubious claims. And he has been joined, on occasion, by senior members of his administration.

We’ve counted 28 different ways the President and his team have been inaccurate. Here is a chronological list, which may be updated as additional misinformation comes to our attention.

The list:

February 10: Trump says without evidence that the coronavirus “dies with the hotter weather”
February 24: Trump baselessly claims the situation is “under control”
February 25: A senior White House official falsely claims the virus has been “contained”
February 25: Trump falsely claims Ebola mortality was “a virtual 100%”
February 26: Trump wrongly says the coronavirus “is a flu”
February 26: Trump baselessly predicts the number of US cases is “going very substantially down” to “close to zero”
February 26: Trump wrongly says the flu death rate is “much higher” than Dr. Sanjay Gupta said
February 27: Trump baselessly hints at a “miracle”
February 28: Trump baselessly hints at an immigration link to the virus
February 29: Trump exaggerates Tim Cook’s comments about Apple and China
March 1: Azar wrongly says 3,600 people have been tested
March 2: Trump falsely claims “nobody knew” the number of US flu deaths
March 2: Trump says a vaccine is coming “relatively soon”
March 4: Trump falsely claims Obama impeded testing
March 4: Trump wrongly says as many as 100,000 people died of the flu in 1990
March 4: Trump says “the borders are automatically shut down”
March 4: Trump says he believes there was a coronavirus death in New York, though there hadn’t been one
March 4: Trump falsely claims the Obama administration “didn’t do anything” about H1N1
March 5: Trump misleadingly describes a Gallup poll
March 6: Azar wrongly claims there is no test shortage
March 6As the number of cases and deaths in Italy rises, Trump says the number is “getting much better”
March 6: Trump falsely claims anybody can get tested if they want
March 6: Trump exaggerates the number of people on the Grand Princess cruise ship
March 6: Trump falsely says US coronavirus numbers “are lower than just about anybody”
March 6: Trump baselessly muses that “maybe” the coronavirus improved US jobs numbers
March 9: Pence says Trump’s “priority” was getting Americans off the ship
Click here more about these false statements.

In Defense of Knowledge

knowledgeHere is the American Association of University Professors:

“Knowledge,” as Francis Bacon observed in 1597 at the dawn of the modern era, “is power.” Without knowledge no nation can govern its economy, manage its environment, sustain its public health, produce goods or services, understand its own history, or enable its citizens to understand the circumstances in which they live.

Knowledge is produced by the hard work of disciplined, well-trained investigators. Industry and government must hire doctors, chemists, lawyers, architects, teachers, journalists, economists, and engineers. Colleges and universities are the only institutions qualified to provide this expert training. It is therefore most unfortunate that at this moment of intense global instability, there is an ongoing movement to attack the disciplines and institutions that produce and transmit the knowledge that sustains American democracy.

This is not the first time that the very idea of expert knowledge has been under assault. Indeed, US secretary of education Betsy DeVos unironically recycles Pink Floyd—who in the 1970s sang, “We don’t need no education . . . teachers leave those kids alone”—when she warns college students that “the fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.” When college students are encouraged to confuse education with, as one student recently put it, being “intimidated by the academic elite in the classroom,” we have a crisis.

 Is it intimidation to teach eighteen-year-olds to solve differential equations? Is it intimidation to teach them the principles of quantum mechanics? Is it intimidation to teach them the somatic effects of nicotine? Is it intimidation to teach them about the history of slavery and Jim Crow, or the history of the Holocaust? Is it intimidation to teach them how to read closely the texts of Toni Morrison or Gabriel García-Márquez? Is it elitism to predict the path of a hurricane? Is it elitism to track the epidemic of opioid addiction? Or to study the impact of tariffs on the economy?

We do not think so. This is research and education, not intimidation or elitism. Coiled beneath the comments of Secretary DeVos lies the assumption that all knowledge is just opinion and that each person has an equal right to her own opinion. Stephen Colbert put it nicely, referring to what he called “truthiness”: “It used to be everyone was entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all.” Now some would urge us to inhabit a universe of “alternative facts.”

But, as John Adams long ago observed, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” If we ignore facts, we will forever be running aground on their unseen shoals. It is especially worrisome, then, to witness what has become an organized attack on knowledge.

Read the entire piece here.

Truth-Telling and Persuasion: The Case of Paul Krugman

Krugman

This morning I read (in print!) The Atlantic‘s review of Paul Krugman‘s new book Arguing With Zombies: Economics, Politics, and the Fight for a Better Future.  The reviewer, Sebastian Mallaby, spends most of his review trying to figure out why Krugman is angry all the time.  Here is a taste:

In the introduction to this collection of mostly journalistic writings, Krugman contends that he didn’t change. Rather, politics did. Republicans lost respect for facts and data, turning politically neutral technocrats into involuntary foes. “In 21st-century America,” Krugman writes, “accepting what the evidence says about an economic question will be seen as a partisan act.” He began to feel this viscerally before the period covered in this volume: George W. Bush anticipated the revolt against experts when he sold his tax-cut proposal dishonestly during the 2000 election campaign. But since then Krugman’s frustration has only grown deeper.

In the Obama years, technocrats determined that the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying in a depressed economy wouldn’t generate dangerous inflation, but “the official Republican view,” Krugman tells us, was that the Fed was being irresponsible. In the Trump presidency, technocrats have pointed out the lack of support for the claim that tax cuts for high earners will generate prosperity, but Republicans have preached this gospel regardless. Commentators in this post-evidence, post-truth environment find themselves “arguing with zombies,” to cite Krugman’s book title. They confront “ideas that should have been killed by contrary evidence, but instead keep shambling along, eating people’s brains.”

Faced with these alarming undead adversaries, Krugman has concluded that politically neutral truth telling is not merely impossible. It is morally inadequate. He duly sets out four rules for engaged public intellectuals. First, they should “stay with the easy stuff,” meaning subjects on which experts have achieved consensus: This is where an authoritative commentator can improve public understanding by delivering a clear message. Second, they should communicate in plain English—no controversy there. Third, and a bit more edgily, Krugman insists that commentators should “be honest about dishonesty.” If politicians deny clear evidence, they should be called out for arguing in bad faith. Finally, Krugman proclaims a rule that flies in the face of traditional journalistic tradecraft: “Don’t be afraid to talk about motives.”

Read the entire review here.  It is a very interesting reflection on how to balance truth-telling and the defense of facts with persuading people to your point of view.  Krugman’s points about engaged public intellectuals is also helpful..

Intellectualism and Anti-Intellectualism in the Age of Trump

hofstadter

Richard Hofstadter still looms large in any discussion of anti-intellectualism in America

Here is a taste of Adam Water‘s and E.J. Dionne‘s recent piece at Dissent: “Is Anti-Intellectualism Ever Good for Democracy?

Intellectuals are not entitled to special privileges, and “intellectualism” should not be seen as a superior way of life. But the intellectual project, involving the search for truth and understanding with some independence from the pressures of both the state and the market, must be defended. And it is a project that citizens who do not have any formal status in the academy or think tanks can join.

Intellectuals are integral to the battle against falsehood, but they need to work as part of a broad democratic enterprise involving citizens of every background who are concerned about what Trump and his cronies’ systematic denigration of facts means for the vitality of our democracy. There is no magical political strategy for building this coalition, and in the range of priorities for progressives, this would not rank as a central cause.

Read the entire piece here.

The Role of Historians in “Unfaking the News” (#AHA19)

trump fake news

Matt Lakemacher of Woodland Middle School in Gurnee, IL reports on a very relevant panel held at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.  You can read all his posts here. Enjoy! –JF

This afternoon’s AHA19 panel, “Unfaking the News: Historians in the Media in the Age of Trump,” was a lively and much needed discussion on the role that historians can and should play in bringing their scholarship to the general public through mass media.  It was by far the most political session I’ve attended, but it’s hard to envision how that could have been avoided, considering the session’s namesake politician’s evident lack of historical understanding and (according to the Washington Post just two months ago) average of five false or misleading claims per day since becoming president.

The format was round-robin and each round of discussion was started with a question posed by session chair Kenneth Osgood.  This allowed for plenty of back and forth from the panelists and a good deal of follow-up questions and commentary from the audience.  What follows are two of the questions asked, with a summary of the responses from the historians on the panel.

1)  What’s an issue facing the country that cries out for meaningful historical understanding?

Nicole Hemmer – “The crisis of political journalism in the Age of Trump.”  According to Hemmer, the values of objective reporting have come under fire and the solution of some to just offer both sides has led to false equivalencies being created and unchallenged notions being promoted on the air and in print.

Jeremi Suri – “The bureaucracy (the ‘Deep State’).”  Despite its demonization, and view by some during the current government shutdown that it’s even unnecessary, Suri explained how bureaucracy is a good thing.  It makes our lives better and we need it.  At a conference with attendees from all over the country, his example of the air traffic controllers who are currently working without pay had easy resonance.

Julian Zelizer – “Partisanship and polarization … we need to understand just how deeply rooted this disfunction is or we’ll always be waking up like we’re Alice in Wonderland.”

Jeffrey Engel – “How much do we need to be educators, how much do we need to be citizens, and how do those responsibilities overlap?”  He continued, tongue in cheek, “When Trump sends that next tweet, we need to be able to step in and say, ‘well no, John Adams also tweeted that.’”  In some of the more sobering analysis from the panel, Engel admitted that over the past two years he has genuinely started to think that the Republic is in danger.  “What does the history we are talking about mean to us today?” he asked.  “These are unusual times.”

2)  Is Donald Trump just saying out loud what other presidents have thought in quiet?  Is the Trump Presidency unprecedented?

Hemmer – “The ‘just saying it out loud’ is important … that matters.”

Suri – “What makes Trump unprecedented is that despite the impossibility of the job, he doesn’t even try to do it.  He’s the first president to not be president.  He is running the Trump Organization from the White House.  He is using the office to help his family … He is running a mafia organization from the Oval Office … Every other president has tried to do the job; he is not doing the job.”

Zelizer – The unusual question we’re continuing to see played out is, “how far to the brink is the party of the president willing to go in support of their president?”

Engel – “Abraham Lincoln’s most recent thoughts didn’t immediately pop up on your phone.”  He continued, “If any other president had admitted to having an extramarital affair with a porn star, their world would have exploded.  It’s important to know just how far we have, and how far we have not, come in the last two years.”  Engel explained that never in the discussion of Stormy Daniels was anyone seriously questioning whether it happened.  The debate was always over whether it was illegal.  And for him, that’s a shocking development.  He also cautioned that historians have to be careful with how they use the word “unprecedented.”

Suri – “We need to move people away from the false use of history.”  For him, the word unprecedented means “beyond the pale for the context that we are in and the trajectory we’ve been on.”  He stressed that historians need to push back against the impulse to say that “everything is Hitler,” just as much as they need to push back against the narrative that “everything is normal.”

Osgood had opened the session with the observation that “these challenges were not invented by Donald Trump, but they have been exacerbated by him.”  Towards the end of the panel he added that for Trump, “Twitter is the source of his power.”  With that in mind, perhaps it’s a good thing that Kevin Kruse, Kevin Levin, the Tattooed Prof, and other so-called “twitterstorians” are practicing public history online and on the air.

Thanks, Matt!

The “Bottomless Pinocchio”

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive in Rihad, Saudi Arabia,

The Washington Post Fact Checker has introduced a new dishonesty rating custom-made for the Trump era: the “Bottomless Pinocchio.” The newspaper says the new tier will be issued to politicians who “repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.” In order to be awarded the Bottomless Pinocchio, the claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from the Fact Checker, and must have been repeated 20 times. Fourteen statements made by Trump already qualify for the list—no other politician has yet been given the dubious honor. In an article announcing the introduction of the new level, the  condemns Trump and says: “He is not merely making gaffes or misstating things, he is purposely injecting false information into the national conversation.” The most repeated falsehood so far, according to the Fact Checker, is Trump’s assertion that his tax cut was the biggest in history, followed by his exaggerations of the size of U.S. trade deficits.

Source

We Need to Say It Over and Over Again: Donald Trump is a Serial Liar

trump

E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post says enough is enough.  Here is a taste of his recent column:

By now, we know that President Trump is a lying demagogue. Because this is not said often enough, he has been allowed to routinize lying and enshrine the vilest forms of divisiveness as a normal part of our politics.

Lies do not deserve deference just because a president tells them…

Political polarization has many sources, but the prime cause of it now is the president himself. Polarization defines Trump’s survival strategy, and it means that demagoguery — toward immigrants, toward crime, toward special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe, toward dissenting NFL players, toward anyone who takes him on — is what his presidency is all about.

What thus needs exposing is not simply Trump’s indifference to the truth but also the fact that he depends upon the kinds of lies that will tear our country to pieces.

Read the entire piece here.

Tweeting the History of Slavery at the University of Virginia

UVA

The Daily Progress has a nice piece on Kirt von Daacke, Professor of History at the University of Virginia and the university’s co-chairman of the President’s Commission on Slavery, who has been tweeting the results of his research. Check out his tweets @slaveryuva

Here is a taste:

Kirt von Daacke, an assistant dean of history and co-chairman of the President’s Commission on Slavery at the University, writes most of the tweets. The periodic intrusion into Twitter timelines helps to keep the immediacy of slavery alive at the university, von Daacke said, and helps users get a sense of how interconnected and violent the system was in Central Virginia.

“Real people lived and died to build and maintain the U, it’s not just abt Jefferson. #SlaveryU,” he posted in January.

“I started tweeting out information eight or nine months ago just as a way to share it, promote our existence and begin to think about the evidence,” von Daacke said. “As I did it, I was struck by how useful it was as a way to begin to see patterns in all the data.”

So he kept tweeting between classes and meetings, sometimes enlisting students or other researchers to write a few posts about their own research.

“Each individual tweet doesn’t do much, but if you are following, it starts to creep in just how many people were involved, how much money, how much violence and misery,” he said.

Read the rest here.

This project is certainly fitting in light of what happened on the Charlottesville campus in August, but it also serves a great model for using Twitter to share snippets of historical research.

 

 

The Task of the History Teacher in the Age of Trump

SeixasPeter Seixas, a scholar of historical thinking at the University of British Columbia, gives some credence to what I have been saying for several months now at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  The age of Trump has forced us to go back to the basics.  We must do a better job of explaining the role of truth and facts when we teach historical thinking.  This is no longer a given.

Here is a taste of Seixas’s excellent piece at Public History Weekly:

Many of the modern, liberal traditions that have been challenged by Trump and his fellow travelers were, until recently, so fundamental that history educators barely gave them a passing thought. Academics hardly needed to rally to defend the idea of truth, because the only threat was from some of our own poststructuralist provocateurs, delivered in prose so tortured that it had little apparent impact on the broader public sphere. When a serial liar became the United States’ President and an advocate of “alternative facts” was retained as his assistant, the game changed.

The implications for history education and its scholars, internationally, are profound. If we need to revisit our stances on truth and facts, so too do we need to re-examine those of research and knowledge, interpretation and evidence, community and nation, identity and difference, and citizenship and solidarity.

One hardly need mention the attention, in recent decades, to positionality in knowledge production.[3] But where does “positionality” leave knowledge in relation to the purveyors of “alternative facts,” who claim they are the truth from their own position in Memphis or Moscow? Of course, people’s varieties of experience and belief, and differences in relation to power and privilege, are at the core of the social, educational, and historical sciences. But building knowledge must ultimately emerge through dialogue, debate and discussion, as a common project conducted on a common basis of civility and with a shared respect for evidence. In the current climate, we cannot afford to toy with separate islands of identity-based theory.

The problem of teaching about historical interpretations, similarly, needs to be examined through a new lens in this political environment. Most history education scholars in recent decades, myself included, have sought to destabilize students’ belief that what is in the textbook—or any contemporary account—is the story of what happened. We have focused on the categorical difference between interpretations of the past and the past itself. That difference has not vanished in the age of “alternative facts,” nor has the importance of teaching it.  But the burden is upended. That is, our central challenge will be to help students understand the limits of interpretation, the constraints that bind what we say to the evidence that we have, and the importance of defending interpretations that are supported by the weight of evidence, not as just one among many possible ways of seeing things.

Read the entire piece here.

Seixas also makes a “special recommendation” of Sam Wineburg’s forthcoming (2018) book Stuck in the Past: Why Learn History When It’s Already on Your iPhone? (University of Chicago Press).  You can listen to our interview with Wineburg at Episode 4 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Did Fake News Come From Liberty or Harvard?

Truth

David Brooks’s recent column defending Western Civilization is bound to get the descendants of the New Left and the defenders of multiculturalism very angry.  But I think he ends the column with a very fair point:

These days, the whole idea of Western civ is assumed to be reactionary and oppressive. All I can say is, if you think that was reactionary and oppressive, wait until you get a load of the world that comes after it.

Casey Williams, a Ph.D student in literature at Duke, doesn’t necessary defend Western Civilization in his recent op-ed in The New York Times, but he does seem to put the blame for our so-called “post-truth” society on those academics who have spent their careers undermining the very idea of truth.

As Darryl Hart writes at Old Life in a jab at Molly Worthen’s recent piece about how evangelicals contributed to our “post-truth society: “Want to know where fake news came from? Looks like it was Harvard not Liberty University.”

Here is a taste of Williams’s piece:

We’re used to this pattern by now: The president dresses up useful lies as “alternative facts” and decries uncomfortable realities as “fake news.” Stoking conservative passion and liberal fury, Trump stirs up confusion about the veracity of settled knowledge and, through sheer assertion, elevates belief to the status of truth.

Trump’s playbook should be familiar to any student of critical theory and philosophy. It often feels like Trump has stolen our ideas and weaponized them.

For decades, critical social scientists and humanists have chipped away at the idea of truth. We’ve deconstructed facts, insisted that knowledge is situated and denied the existence of objectivity. The bedrock claim of critical philosophy, going back to Kant, is simple: We can never have certain knowledge about the world in its entirety. Claiming to know the truth is therefore a kind of assertion of power.

These ideas animate the work of influential thinkers like Nietzsche, Foucault and Derrida, and they’ve become axiomatic for many scholars in literary studies, cultural anthropology and sociology.

From these premises, philosophers and theorists have derived a number of related insights. One is that facts are socially constructed. People who produce facts — scientists, reporters, witnesses — do so from a particular social position (maybe they’re white, male and live in America) that influences how they perceive, interpret and judge the world. They rely on non-neutral methods (microscopes, cameras, eyeballs) and use non-neutral symbols (words, numbers, images) to communicate facts to people who receive, interpret and deploy them from their own social positions.

Call it what you want: relativism, constructivism, deconstruction, postmodernism, critique. The idea is the same: Truth is not found, but made, and making truth means exercising power.

The reductive version is simpler and easier to abuse: Fact is fiction, and anything goes. It’s this version of critical social theory that the populist right has seized on and that Trump has made into a powerful weapon.

Read Williams’s entire piece here.

 

 

Readers Respond to My Piece on Evangelicals, Fear, and Anti-Intellectualism

Read the piece here.

A distinguished professor of religion at a church-related, non-evangelical liberal arts college writes:

Well done, John. Though I’d want to push on the anti-intellectualism a bit. We want to go beyond attention to verifiable evidence to also encourage clarity of analysis and sound interpretation.

This scholar and church-person is absolutely correct.

But as someone who spends a lot of time with evangelicals and evangelical students, I am finding it more and more necessary to go back to square one.  Last week I was a guest on a NYC-area radio program talking about this very thing.  I  told the host, a fellow academic, about my experience last Fall teaching students how to write Chicago-style footnotes. What was once a rather mundane part of my course took on a new sense of urgency.  Yes, analysis and interpretation is much needed, but it always begins with good evidence and the dogged pursuit of truth.

Where are the Trump Evangelicals Today?

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

The Trump administration is off to a very bad start.  It seems as if Trump and his staff cannot tell the truth.  On Saturday Trump told his press secretary Sean Spicer to lie about the crowd size at his inaugural.  On Sunday Kellyanne Conway said that Spicer was simply offering “alternative facts.”  Trump, despite the fact that he is now in the White House and functioning as the POTUS, is still claiming that millions of votes were cast illegally in the November 2016 election.

These are blatant lies.  The last time I checked, Christians believe that lying is a sinful practice.  The last time I checked, Christians stood for things that are true.  With this in mind, why don’t I hear a massive chorus of evangelical Christians–especially the 81% of Christians who voted for Trump–calling the POTUS to task?

Where is Robert Jeffress today?  Didn’t he write a book called Outrageous Truth?  Or what about this devotional from his *Pathway to Victory* website:

Mark Twain once said, “When in doubt, tell the truth. It will astound your enemies and confound your friends.” That’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Just about everyone lies. The majority of us find it hard to get through a week without lying—some people can’t make it through a single day without telling a lie. We lie to just about everyone, especially those closest to us.

Before you start thinking this commandment doesn’t apply to you, let’s take a little quiz, okay? Let’s see how prone you are to telling the truth:
1. Do you have a private life that you keep secret from others?
2. You break an expensive vase in an antique store. Nobody sees you do it. Would you tell the owner?
3. You are hooked up to a lie detector. Would you agree in advance to answer any question your spouse asks you?
4. Do you ever say things you don’t mean for the sake of politeness?
5. Have you ever lied about your age, your income, or your education?
6. Would you tell a close friend that he or she has bad breath?
7. Have you ever told anyone “I love you” without meaning it?
8. Did you lie just a little bit on this test?

Although lying is rampant and socially acceptable in our culture, it violates one of God’s most foundational principles for living.

The Ninth Commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). It’s interesting that this commandment doesn’t just say: No lying. “You shall not lie.” Why does it talk about not bearing false witness against your neighbor? Remember, the Ten Commandments were given when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. During these wilderness wanderings many crimes would take place, and some of them would be capital crimes deserving of death. So God placed in His law the requirement that before someone could be executed for a crime, there had to be two or three witnesses who would testify against the person. Thus to wrongly accuse someone was to be, in fact, guilty of their murder. You would be testifying falsely against someone deserving of death.

In Deuteronomy 17:7, the law required that whoever accused somebody else of a capital crime also had to participate in the group for forming the execution. So if you accused somebody of a crime worthy of death, you had to be among those who would cast the stones. Therefore, to lie would also be to be guilty of murder. Now, this is the strictest meaning of this commandment—bearing false witness against a neighbor that would result in their execution.

But in Leviticus 19:16 God expanded the scope of this commandment to include slander; to speak out against someone falsely. And then when we get to the New Testament, this commandment is expanded even further to involve any kind of distortion of the truth.

Psalm 51:6 says, “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being.” God desires for us at all times to speak the truth.

By the way, one of Jeffress’s “Outrageous Truths” is the idea that  “America is a Christian nation.”  I assume that Jeffress believes that our democratic republic is built upon Judeo-Christian principles and will ultimately fall apart if our leaders do not conform to these principles.  So where is the outrage?  How come we are not hearing his voice today?

And where is Jerry Falwell Jr. today?  He leads a university.  Does Liberty University value the pursuit of truth?  If so, why isn’t Falwell Jr. on Fox News today speaking out against the lies emanating from the highest position of power?  Why isn’t he speaking truth to power at today’s Liberty University convocation?

How much longer will evangelicals sit by and let the POTUS lie to us in this way?