Donald Trump has taken a sledgehammer to science and the core values of our republic. In 2016, Trump ran a political campaign proclaiming the United States was a mess and he alone could fix it, but he has damaged the ingredients of American greatness that prevailed in the post-war era.
After World War II, the United States built a world-class higher education system and infrastructure. We had not only beat the Nazis but held their leaders accountable for genocide. Our president was considered the leader of the free world. With government funding for the National Science Foundation and other organizations, scientific research thrived. Astronauts went to the moon and activists and attorneys pursued civil rights.
Two and a half years into the Trump presidency, scientific expertise in government has been cast aside and undermined, hurting the planet and people.
Under Trump, scientists outside the government are less and less able to provide their expertise because the administration cuts advisory boards.
A recent decision mandating that researchers from two Agriculture Department research groups uproot their lives and move a thousand miles away will lead to a loss of two-thirds of these experts. Many in the agency believe the decision was political because of its impact on USDA economists who study tariffs and found the Trump tax law most benefits rich farmers.
Before this, Trump had already politicized the U.S. Department of Agriculture, refusing to release or publicize peer-reviewed studies, like ones showing that climate change increased allergies and made rice and other crops less nutritious, and a major analysis on how the group could help farmers respond to global climate shifts.
Besides harming the evidence-based research that helps us deal with problems, Trump promotes a cramped, narrow view of America and patriotism.
He attacks people who criticize his immigration approach and other policies. He told four black female members of Congress that, if they don’t like what’s going on, they should “go back” to where their families lived before. Trump tweeted “I don’t believe the four Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country.”
But it’s not unpatriotic or un-American to criticize the president. As Theodore Roosevelt put it, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
People who work on making the country better are patriots.
As Barack Obama asked in Selma, Alabama, “What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?”
There are of course disagreements about who should be elected and what policies we should pursue. That diversity is not a weakness.
A decade ago Sen. Joe Biden explained, “The unique idea of America embodied in our Bill of Rights is that people of diverse racial, religious, ethnic, and geographic origins can live together in peace and pursue their own happiness. . . It is the source of our strength as a nation.”
Implied by Biden’s reformulation of the Declaration of Independence’s emphasis on the pursuit of happiness was that each person has her own way of seeking fulfillment. We are not a collective marching in lockstep, but an interweaving of threads creating a vibrant tapestry.
These precepts of our civil life served us well but Trump has made it easier to dismiss and degrade knowledge and our collective identity.
Should he lose the 2020 election, recovering from the harm Trump has done won’t happen automatically. We all have an obligation to speak up now and to choose candidates who support science and respect people with differing views and backgrounds.