Trump calls reporters "enemies of the people." He'd have needed something stronger for H. L. Mencken

H. L. Mencken did not waste a lot of time making friends, or worrying about making friends, or for that matter (I would think) worrying about people worrying about his making friends.


He was a humorist and cultural critic, but most important, he was an outspoken journalist. He wrote for two Baltimore newspapers before founding the American Mercury in the thirties. Mencken died in 1956, sixty years too early to see one of his most famous predictions come to fruition:

As democracy is perfected, the office of President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. 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.

Mencken didn't pull punches, either with his analysis of the American voter or that of the average political candidate.


That scathing quote came to mind last week when the president whom Mencken forecasted decades before stood in front of a group of reporters and a national television audience to advocate the use of strong chemicals and cleaning solutions—taken internally—as a way of killing the new coronavirus. They were the musings of a severely limited person. (And if it was indeed sarcasm, a severely deranged one.) But beyond that it illustrated again that Trump's disdain for science comes not from some religious conflict, but from his complete inability to grasp the concept of it.


I have had a great respect for science ever since my "career" as a chemist came to an end after one college semester. Science is hard, and not because it revolves around lots of big words, but because the scientific method itself demands discipline, not pulling half-baked ideas out of the air.


Forgot how that method works? Me too. But unlike the president, I'm willing to read something.


1. It starts when you ask a question about something that you observe. For instance, how do we eliminate or slow down a pandemic like the current one?


2. Then conduct some background research to ensure that you don't repeat mistakes from the past. Did Clorox stop other pandemics? No? Okay, we won't try that.


3. Next, construct a hypothesis, an educated guess—a prediction—about how things work in general. Disinfectants can kill viruses, maybe swallowing or injecting lots of disinfectants can kill this one.


4. Then conduct a fair test, changing one variable at a time. Repeat the test several times. In this example it might be wiser not to repeat it on a human being or an animal. Simply say I read the Clorox label; it's a stupid idea and move on.


5. Analyze your data and draw a conclusion. If the hypothesis was wrong, start over. If right, test it again in a new way. Since ingesting some disinfectants may kill you, definitely start over.

6. Finally communicate your results, understanding that others will question and may try to replicate or repudiate them. In the case of using disinfectants internally, I wouldn't worry too much about the replication of anything.

 

A method this precise is well beyond Donald Trump; in fact, I would say it is well beyond most presidents and most politicians. However, it is not beyond most SCIENTISTS! That's why people like me don't prescribe medications or forecast earthquakes, and why people like Trump have no such compunctions.


His bewildered reaction to the coronavirus is nothing unusual. A few years back the administration prevented the EPA from using any studies that haven’t published their raw medical data, which is usually impossible given medical privacy laws, thereby preventing air pollution studies from being used in its decision-making. He has famously declared climate change a hoax, and sp

"Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes - AUTISM. Many such cases!

Of course that statement was "step one" of the scientific method—he forgot the next five until measles made a comeback last year and he urged children to be vaccinated.


This anti-science, anti-intellectualism may play well to his base, but these days his base is dying too.


H. L. Mencken derived and provided a good deal of entertainment making fun of politicians, but when we look at a lost soul like Donald Trump trying to lead a country through a crisis whose basic tenets he cannot even fathom, the humor fades and we’re left with fear and frustration, but little hope for resolution.

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