Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Can Knowledge Be More Dangerous Than Ignorance?

OK. Donald Trump has taken the oath of office, attended the inaugural balls, asked for God's Divine assistance at the National Cathedral and uttered his first presidential whoppers.  (Among these were having his new Press Secretary Sean Spicer falsely claim that his inaugural gathering was "the largest in history,"  and then take no further questions. We witnessed the new POTUS gleefully informing CIA agents "I am so behind you" while at the same time bashing the daylights out of the media for any reports to the contrary. Indeed, it wasn't a whit different from his campaign; high on demagoguery, low on truth . . . or as Kellyanne Conway now refers to them, "alternative facts."  This, of course, is her way of saying "blatant lies."  Sorry Kellyanne, you can't put lipstick on that pig. On the bright side however, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the press is no longer interested in giving President Trump and his mouthpieces a free ride; they are finally, finally challenging their lies. This is a good, positive and hopeful sign. But at the same time, one is tempted to ask "What in the hell took you so long?"

Welcome to the "Trump Era"; he's now officially the nation's  45th president.  Already, there have been nationwide protests attended by far, far more people than came to watch him place his hand on (somebody's) family Bible, take the oath of office, and deliver one of the shortest, most caliginous inaugural addresses in memory. To listen to the nation's new Commander in Chief, one would think that America looks like Dunkirk after all the buzz bombs; is the chaotic, dystopian Hill Valley of Back To the Future 2 - a place filled with crime, drugs, destroyed cities . . . a rusting hulk of its former self. And yet, most statistics point to an America which has come a long, long way since both the terror of 9/11 and the fiscal horror of 2008.

Historically, inaugural addresses have been known for soaring rhetoric:

  • FDR promised an impoverished nation "We have nothing to fear but fear itself."
  • JFK told us to "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what can you do for your country."
  • Ronald Reagan spoke of America as a beacon of hope for the world.
  • Donald Trump gave us "American carnage," and promised that two words would shape the next four years: "America first! America first!"

I for one did not watch a minute of the inauguration; rather, in protest - and doing my small part to keep the TV ratings low - I kept one television on Turner Classic Movies, the other on the Animal Planet. I did, however, watch his address on You Tube several hours after its delivery. Click the link for highlights of his 16-minute address.)  

Besides the words "American carnage," which really gives me the willies, I was particularly stupefied to hear the term "America first" used as a rallying cry.  These two words immediately brought to mind Charles Lindbergh's infamous 9/11/41 speech in which he accused the British, the Jews and the Roosevelt Administration of pushing America into war against Germany. It was a notorious speech which even drew the ire and opprobrium of publisher William Randolph Hearst - to be sure, no admirer of FDR.  Lindbergh portrayed Jews as being a bunch of dangerous liberals and Marxists who controlled the media, the banks and Hollywood; people who were the very antithesis of those who put "America first."  

I quickly Googled "Lindbergh+speech+America+first" and came up with an audio capture of that speech.  To say the least, it was more than obnoxious and reminded me of why members of my family never mention "Lucky Lindy" without spitting.  But what really shocked me were the comments on the webpage containing the audio. Reading through them, it seemed as if someone had opened the gates of Hell, thus permitting Jew haters and Holocaust deniers to emerge into the haze of a new day.  And these, mind you, were not comments written years ago; most were less than a week old.  One fellow wrote "USA should have stayed out of the war and the so-called holocaust is a hoax." After reading several-such posts, I had to add my two cents: "How in the world can you call yourself a human being?  There has never been a more exhaustively photographed, filmed and documented event in all world history than the Holocaust."  Among the many responses, one came from a fellow who calls himself "Alexander Solzhenitsyn": "Kurt Stone Actually that is not true, there is no evidence for the gas chambers whatsoever. The chambers we see today were built after the war by the Polish FACT." Another, who signs on as "Applied Logic" smarmily responded to my post "I have forgotten more than you will ever know. People like you know a lot about nothing and nothing about a lot." The thread ended abruptly with my riposte: "If you would "apply logic," you would realize just how illogical your statements truly are. Any time you want to meet and compare knowledge and education, please let me know.  I'll provide the Earl Grey, you bring your AK47 . . ." (OK, this probably wasn't the smartest thing to write, but I was just that ticked off . . .)

Obviously then, when President Trump talks about "America first," some people hear it far differently than others.  One wonders whether Mr. Trump has any idea of what kind of dog whistle these two words are for anti-Semites, racists and Holocaust deniers.  If he does not, then he is ignorant and unlettered when it comes to American history. Perhaps he doesn't know anything about Charles Lindbergh, America Firsters, anti-Semites and how incredibly close America came to staying out of World War II.  Heck, even David Duke used "America First!" as the slogan for his recent failed Senate race in Louisiana - and you had better believe he knows its historic background.  If President Trump knows none of this, then shame on him.

But what if he does know what "America First!!" means? What if he is perfectly cognizant of what repellent hopes, dreams and schemes those two words represent? That would be even worse. For if he is blowing that bilious dog whistle in his inaugural address - just as he had during the campaign - it means that he has no problem roiling the waters of hatred, conspiracy and gutter-level nationalism. It means that he and his team - most notably alt-right conspiracist Stephen Bannon - have no intention of unifying the nation; of bringing us together in common cause. 

Already, we have seen an ominous spike in anti-Semitic activities all across the country.  Even my alma mater, Hebrew Union College - the nation's largest and oldest rabbinic seminary - was spray-painted with anti-Semitic graffiti (a swastika) the other day.  "America First!" indeed . . .

If our new POTUS does indeed know what "America First!" means, it is a worrisome case where knowledge could turn out to be far, far more dangerous than ignorance.

And that, my friends, is not an "alternative fact."

3 days down, 1,457 to go . . .

Copyright©2017 Kurt F. Stone