If I have this correctly, Make America Great Again and Make America Stupid are one and the same slogan. I left “Again” off the second because we never used to be stupid and this is uncharted territory for us. I hope we’re up to the challenge: it’s coming.
“President” Trump’s new budget proposes steep cuts in funding for the National Institute of Health. Now you might think this falls under the heading of “Make America Sick Again,” and it could, but revoking the Affordable Care Act will do that nicely thank-you-very-much. The N.I.H. actually serves a different function: through the issuance of grants it focuses on bio-medical research in general, as well as specific studies of particular diseases.
Trump’s 18.3% budget cut would effectively eliminate new N.I.H. grants and the extension of older ones. As a result, junior scientists may be frozen out of an academic career; senior researchers’ projects may be left unfinished. Oh yes, people will die much as they will when they lose their health insurance, but the toll will swell as less laboratory time results in fewer diseases being investigated and fewer treatments being formulated.
Obama’s fake-news death panels were an alt-right canard, but these budget cuts and the ignorant cynicism of the Republicans supporting them will lead to real death panels whose judges, juries, and executioners will have names like Jason Chaffetz, Mark Warner, and Paul Ryan, while the remainder of their party of sycophants will play the role of witless co-conspirators.
The rest of the world is more astounded than we are. They want to know why we suddenly distrust scientists. They look at the elimination of clean-water and clean-air regulations and and the defunding of bio-medical research, and wonder why our country—where we boast that education is a right given to all students—has suddenly embraced ignorance. Certainly world leaders and citizens can connect the dots and understand that a non-reading, anti-intellectual buffoon in the White House goes a long way toward explaining our sudden denial of learning, but how do we explain it to ourselves and to our children?
I taught English for many years, but when I was a high school student I loved science. I was even a chemistry major for a semester until I realized that my abilities and motivations did not quite equal my objectives. (Euphemism—I wasn’t very good.) But what does a science teacher do today, when after sixty years of post-Sputnik emphasis on the rewards, the advancements, even the magic of science, we have suddenly become distrustful of facts? Not alternative facts: facts. That ignorance has now spread from the environment (carbon dioxide ain’t so bad) to the health field (we don’t need all them there medical researchers): how does a science today teacher decide whether to use skeptical or stupid to describe the current political majority?
A budget proposal is just that—a proposal, and Congress may indeed rescind some of the cuts. But the intent is clear, and the philosophy is clear, and as time goes by and we grow more accustomed to the pervasiveness of an anti-scientific attitude, eventually we’ll lose our resolve to fight. I have no doubt that Trump, Bannon, and the rest are counting on that.