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Ignorance in Democracy

First, back when Mr. Trump was railing against trade deals, he had no idea what he was talking about. ...
Talking nonsense about trade didn’t hurt Mr. Trump during the campaign. But now he’s finding out that those grossly unfair trade deals he promised to renegotiate aren’t all that unfair, after all, leaving him with no idea what to do next. ...
Mr. Trump came into office talking big, sure that his predecessors had messed everything up and he — he alone — could do far better. And millions of voters believed him. ...
A few weeks ago Mr. Trump whined, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” Now, one suspects, he’s saying the same thing about trade policy.
- Paul Krugman, Trump Is Wimping Out on Trade, NYT, APRIL 3, 2017


One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a world view despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.
Remember James Watt, President Reagan's first secretary of the Interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever-engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."

Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots out across the country. They are the people who believe the bible is literally true – one-third of the American electorate, if a recent Gallup poll is accurate. ...
So what does this mean for public policy and the environment? Go to Grist to read a remarkable work of reporting by the journalist, Glenn Scherer – "The Road to Environmental Apocalypse." Read it and you will see how millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed – even hastened – as a sign of the coming apocalypse.
- Bill Moyers, Battlefield Earth, AlterNet, Dec. 8, 2004


Remember when Donald Trump declared that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated”? It was a rare moment of self-awareness for the tweeter-in-chief: He may, briefly, have realized that he had no idea what he was doing. ...
...Trump’s promises on trade, while unorthodox, were just as fraudulent as his promises on health care. In this area, as in, well, everything, he has no idea what he’s talking about.
- Paul Krugman , Oh! What a Lovely Trade War, NYT, JULY 3, 2017


The polling company Ipsos Mori found that Americans think 33% of the population are immigrants, for example, when the actual number is 14%. A 2013 poll found that Britons thought 24% of the population was Muslim—almost five times the correct figure of 5%.

Misperceptions about economic policy are common, too. Asked to name the top two or three areas of government spending, 26% of Britons cited foreign aid, more than picked pensions or education. In fact, aid spending is a small fraction of the other two and only 1% of the total.
Only a quarter of Britons could work out that the odds of throwing two consecutive heads in a coin toss was 25%. People are also heavily influenced by anecdotal evidence and by fears for themselves or their families—hence the tendency to overestimate the prevalence of crime or teenage pregnancy. (Asked how many teenage girls get pregnant each year, Americans plumped for 24%; the actual figure is 3%.) ...
Financial products are often complex and buyers can be confused by the terminology. One survey found that only half of Americans knew that mutual funds did not offer a guaranteed return. A lack of mathematical knowledge is a further difficulty. Another survey asked 50-somethings questions that related to financial literacy; asked to calculate how much each of five prize-winners would get from a lottery jackpot of $2m, only 56% of respondents could answer the question. More than two-fifths did not know the difference between simple and compound interest.
- Ignorance isn’t bliss, Economist, May 28th 2016


Remember Pizzagate? That’s the bizarre theory that Hillary Clinton was helping run a child sex slave ring out of a D.C. pizza joint, as allegedly proven by code words in hacked Democratic emails. Lest you think this theory was espoused by only a handful of Internet nutjobs, observe that nearly half of Trump voters believe it’s true. ...
''About half of Trump voters also believe that President Obama was born in Kenya, even though their once-birther candidate has since disavowed this conspiracy theory" ...
Another conspiracy theory still held by the president-elect is that millions of illegal votes were cast in the recent election. About 6 in 10 of his own voters agree with him. Surprisingly, about a quarter of Clinton voters agree, too. ...
Alarming shares of both Trump and Clinton voters also believe that vaccines cause autism, despite the medical community’s reviews finding no connection.... ...
The same survey also found that, astonishingly, about a third of respondents believe the share of Americans without health insurance has risen in the last five years. Even a sizable chunk of Clinton voters (21 percent) believes this.
- Catherine Rampell, Americans — especially but not exclusively Trump voters — believe crazy, wrong things, The Washington Post, December 28, 2016


We’re reached a critical mass of ignorance that has made normal governance impossible.
- gemli, Boston, commenting on Charles M. Blow, Constitutional Crisis in Slow Motion, NYT, Feb. 5, 2018


In the daily race that is her life, Sharla Baker does not think about politics very much.

She rises early, drives to the gas station to buy coffee, feeds her baby, dresses her two other children, ages 3 and 2, and hustles them all off to day care. By 9:30 a.m. she pulls into a hair salon 45 minutes away, where she is training to be a cosmetologist. ...
Several voters said they chose Mr. Trump for the same reason they chose Mr. Obama: a deep craving for change and disgust with both political parties.
- Sabrina Tavernise and Robert Gebeloff, They Voted for Obama, Then Went for Trump. Can Democrats Win Them Back?, NYT, May 4, 2018


As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
- Henry Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun, 26 July 26, 1920, fact checked in Snopes, Did H. L. Mencken Say the ‘White House Will Be Adorned by a Downright Moron’?


Not one man in America wanted the Civil War, or expected or intended it.
- Henry Adams. The Education of Henry Adams, (Kindle Location 1389).


le, albany, Dec. 10 2018
The Leave vote was gained by making fraudulent promises and with meddling from Russian operatives (sound familiar?). It's a general legal doctrine that a contract made through fraud is null and void, no matter the terms. That should be the case here. A second referendum in which voters know the actual, as opposed to fictional, terms of departure is the only reasonable course at this point,
- Response to Stephen Castle, Facing Defeat, Theresa May Seeks Delay on Brexit Vote in ParliamentVideo, NYT, Dec. 10, 2018


I'd link much of it [voters choosing bad leaders] back to education, or the lack thereof: too many americans are incapable of rational thought on complex issues, of following through with an argument for their views that makes sense, irrespective of which side it comes down on ... And/or, while educated, they are simply too overburdened by life in general to engage with the complexity of contemporary issues....
- Reed Erskine, Bearsville, NY, 8/15/19, Comment on Steven Rattner, How World Leaders Ruined the Global Economy, NYT, Aug. 15, 2019


His life is a testament to what dedicated public servants can do when they... are guided not by how things worked in the past, or how they might wish them to be, but by the world as it is. And the right answer isn’t always the most popular.
- Neil Irwin, Paul Volcker’s Greatest Lesson Wasn’t on Economics. It Was on Being a Public Servant., NYT, Dec. 9, 2019


Homelessness among American college students has become an increasingly visible problem, with those who attend community colleges hit the hardest. Seventeen percent of community college students experienced homelessness in the last year, according to a 2019 survey of close to 167,000 college students by The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice in Philadelphia.
- Kyle Spencer, In College and Homeless, NYT, Published Feb. 20, 2020, Updated Feb. 21, 2020
But the referenced report was based on a survey with a response rate of only 8%. Those students who responded may not have been representative of the full population surveyed. Moreover, students were counted as having experienced homelessness if, in response to “In the past 12 months, have you slept in any of the following places? Please check all that apply.”, they checked "Temporarily staying with a relative, friend, or couch surfing until I find other housing" (checked by 12%) or "At outdoor location (such as street, sidewalk or alley; bus or train stop; campground or woods, park, beach, or riverbed; under bridge or overpass)" (checked by 2%). Thus a student who returned from a summer job elsewhere and stayed with a friend for a couple days until her dorm opened could be counted as having been homeless, as could a student who slept in a tent while on a camping trip. Counting such cases misleadingly inflates the number reported homeless, making the problem appear worse than it is. Such distorted reporting prevents people from having a clear picture of problems needing attention, interfering with their ability to judge how they should be addressed.


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