Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Trump Administration is Clearly Showing the Flaws of Ignorance as Virtue

Republicans have a long-standing habit of anti-intellectualism, of dismissing expertise and even knowledge as "elitist" and "inauthentic," and praising ignorance and "authentic," close to regular folks and therefore (presumably) good.  Sarah Palin was the extreme example of the tendency until Trump came along.

Speaking as one who blog posts acting much more knowledgeable about many subjects than I actually am, I can kind of, sort of understand it.  After all, the experts disagree on a lot of things.  And they also make mistakes.  (See the Iraq War and their determination to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome). So if experts can disagree on matters of public policy and make mistakes, why shouldn't regular folks be allowed to weigh in with an opinion?

To which I suppose I would answer, nothing wrong with regular folks having an opinion.  But regular folks' opinion is going to be extremely vague and general, not getting into the weeds.  Which is fine. There is no reason for regular folks to go into the weeds. Getting into the weeds on policy is not regular folk's job, and the details are deathly dull, so why should some guy on a bar stool or in front of a TV set have any more than a superficial knowledge and opinion.

But there are professional policy makers, and professional policy makers really do need to get into the weeds to work out the details.

Healthcare is an obvious place to start.  No one is very happy with Obamacare.  The main reason for the discontent is that premiums and deductibles are high.  Regular folks want better healthcare at lower costs.  Well, here is a very basic concept that regular folks should understand.  If insurance companies charge less for a policy, it will be a skimpy policy and make you pay more out of pocket. If insurance companies cover more and charge less out of pocket, policies will cost more.  And if government wants to mitigate this tradeoff by offering subsidies, it will make taxes go higher.  All this is just basic math.  Where this tradeoff should be drawn is absolutely something regular folks and -- and should -- weigh in on.  These are policy decisions with no technocratic answer that should be democratically reached based public opinion.

But public opinion is worth listening to only if it recognizes the basic math involved.*  And we need experts to work out the details.  Giving the job to people who don't know anything about healthcare policy and just want to boast that we did it leads to proposed bills that will strip 20 million or more of their health insurance.

The Qatar crisis is another good example.  Saudi Arabia and its satellites are blockading Qatar and making outrageous ultimatums to lift the blockade, a clear act of war.  Trump, whether because he gave pre-approval to the Saudis (as his tweets suggest), or just out of impulse has been siding with Saudi Arabia.  Then it turns out there is a little complication there.  We have an air base in Qatar that has been vital to our fight against ISIS.  This is probably not the sort of detail your average person on the street would know.  Nor is there any real reason your average person on the street should know it. But it is kind of important that the President of the US know it before heedlessly plunging into a possible war against Qatar.

I think the basic premise of right wing anti-intellectualism is not just that people who hold to it want leaders who aren't snooty enough to know more than regular folks and go with their gut.  It is the basic view that gut-level intuition is superior to knowledge and expertise.  Presumably no one wants a leader who goes with the gut, only for it turn out to be a disaster.  What right wing anti-intellectuals want is a leader whose gut-level instincts are right and prove better than expert opinion. And that can happen, after all.  People who spend their time staring down the microscope do have a certain tunnel vision and can miss something outside their limited range.  But expecting a leader whose gut-level instincts are consistently better than expert opinion, and who doesn't need experts even to work out the fine details, is utterly unrealistic.

It also really isn't conservative, at least not if you define conservatism as the belief that people should work hard and earn what they have.  Well, guess what.  Knowledge, was well as money, must be worked for and earned.  David Frum was brilliant in explaining this in the context of Jewish opposition to Sarah Palin:
Jews do think that knowledge is important to a president. They do think a president should be able to think clearly and to distinguish between true information and wishful delusions. I feel sure most Americans of all faiths would agree.

. . . . . . . .

Ignorance is bad. But we all start ignorant. Jews – again like other people, only more so – expect their leaders to start early and to work hard to remedy their ignorance, by learning things. People who don’t, won’t or can’t learn – whose followers disparage the value or need to learn – are going to forfeit Jewish support, and not only Jewish support.
And if that is not enough to convince Trump supporters of the value of knowledge, maybe they should consider another point.  Hillary Clinton sent State Department e-mails on a private server because of her lack of tech knowledge.

*Admittedly, it is our leaders' responsibility to explain the basic math to the public.

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