Steven Pinker states in the introduction that his book is not about the Trump presidency. Fair enough, but for me reading it is and was a referendum on Trump, and solidified my reasons for despising this least enlightened of all presidents. This final entry on Enlightenment Now will summarize how Pinker (near the end of the book in Chapter 20) helped me solidify my opposition.

None of this, you’ll notice, has anything to do with Russian interference or conspiracy to steal an election. Did Trump cheat? Maybe, but even if he did, the fact remains that millions upon millions of Americans voted for him. It never should have been even close. The fact that it was is an indictment of our country, a sign that we, collectively, have failed to absorb the message of the Enlightenment. Maybe Pinker’s book will help.

Consider all the anti-Enlightenment stances Trump has supported.

Through the knowledge of the Enlightenment and the empathy it has helped foster, public health in America and across the world has improved. But Trump  supports withdrawing health insurance from millions and endorses debunked claims about vaccines causing autism.

The Enlightenment led to a globalized economy that has greatly reduced famine and extreme poverty, and is pulling more and more people into prosperity even as population continues to increase. Yet Trump supports protectionist trade wars and sees international trade as a zero sum game with winners and losers. He thinks trade wars are “good and easy to win” though there is zero historical evidence to support this claim.

The lifeblood of the improving world since the Enlightenment is innovation, education, infrastructure, and regulated financial institutions. Trump is indifferent to technology and education, supports tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of the social safety net, and wants eliminate the regulations that stabilize the global economy.

The Enlightenment led to the greatest explosion of equal rights in history. Trump demonizes immigrants, tried to ban Muslims from the country, demeans women, tolerates vulgarity, accepts support from white supremacists and equates them with their opponents, and appoints people who are hostile to civil rights movement. And that’s not even to mention the “why do we want all these people from shithole countries” crack that came to light in recent months).

The Enlightenment’s emphasis on individuals and their welfare opened the door for the environmental movement which has been enormously successful in cleaning our environment. Trump’s administration is rolling back environmental regulations. Trump’s environmental appointees are both unqualified and hostile to environmental protection. Trump has called climate change a hoax and has withdawn the US from the Paris climate agreement.

Another gift of the Enlightment’s emphasis on the individual (one that, admittedly, took a long time to realize) is the personal safety we enjoy in public and in the workplace. But Trump is anti-regulation, saying he wants to kill two regulations for every new one. How many of those “killed” regulations contributed to the plunging numbers of workplace and traffic deaths?

The Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason leads to evidence-based policies for crime prevention. But Trump is contemptuous of experts and facts and prefers tough talk and his brand of common sense to those methods that actually work to reduce crime. Not surprising as one of his trademark lies was that crime is out of control and that only he can fix it.

Since the end of World War II especially, the world has seen how trade can cement peace. Trump villifies international trade and threatens to tear up agreements and weaken international organizations.

One of the cornerstones of the Enlightment is freedom of the press. Trump has kept up a running attack on the free press and wants to change libel laws to chill written dissent.

If the Enlightenment was one thing, it was a repudiation of violence as a way of solving disputes. Trump flaunts the rule of law. He encouraged violence against his critics, tried to discredit the popular vote without evidence, threatened to imprison his opponent,  and attacked the legitimacy of the judicial system when it went against him.

The Enlightenment was above all a respect for knowledge. Trump repeats ridiculous conspiracy theories and “sees public discourse not as a means of finding common ground based on objective reality but as a weapon with which to project dominance and humiliate rivals)

Most critically, since the end of Warld War II enlightened thinkers have supported a nuclear war tabo. Trump wondered why we shouldn’t use nuclear weapons and wants to renew a nuclear arms race that, before Trump, showed every signs of disappearing into the dustbin of history.

And, in the middle of this section on Trump, Pinker went there “Several members of Trump’s administration secretly colluded with Russia in an effort to lift sanctions against it, undermining a major enforcement mechanism in the outlawry of war.” (page 398)

The great hope that Pinker points to is that the president is not a dictator. There are checks on his power. I tend to agree, and rather than impeachment I hope we just get a president who is so boxed in he has nothing left to do, and then fades away in the 2020 election.

Advertisements