The letters to the editor page of our local paper provide an abundance of fodder for these columns, but sometimes I find them overly discouraging. For instance, we have two regulars who are certain global warming is a hoax contrived by out of control liberals. Or, if it is warming, humans have nothing to do with it. Or climate change may be happening but CO2 has nothing to do with it. As one wrote in today’s paper, “if someone believes the liberal nonsense…please support it with scientific facts.” What he means is that the mountain of scientific study that has convinced nearly all climate scientists is nothing more than conjecture about which there is no proof.
Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the regularity of these two on the editorial pages is discouraging because they appeal to the dominant conservative political ethos of the region that prides itself in being suspicious of the educated elite, anything that smacks of government regulation, and is certain the mainstream media is misleading them.
Right behind the climate deniers are a couple of others who’ve taken up the cause of The Wall. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning for TANF, Medicaid, CHIP, Food Stamps, Section 8 Housing, SSI, and more free stuff.” That was the opening salvo from one of them. Coming across the southern border he sees only drugs, human traffickers, and assorted criminals. They’re “storming” the borders. He cites a statistic: “63% of noncitizen households access welfare programs, compared to 35% of native households.”
Those are figures provided by the Center for Immigration Studies based on 2016 data. The Center, known as CIS, advertises itself as anti immigration, which should be a clue that their reports may be biased. With joyful abandon, the numbers have since been repeated ad nauseam under many banners by every anti immigration website there is. A more critical examination of the data, and of their report, from other sources, for instance the internet’s StackExchange, reveals how distorted the CIS report is. But more critical examinations of the data don’t count because they’re the product of intellectual elites who look down on ordinary hard working people. Yet there is a germ of truth, and germs are all one needs to get an “Aha, I told you so”: immigrant persons (legal) have about the same rate of using programs such as SNAP, CHIP, and other family oriented benefits as do so called native persons. Illegal immigrants are not eligible for federal aid, but may receive certain state or local benefits in the way of basic humanitarian assistance.
Aside from citing misleading studies, this morning’s writer assumed that “liberals” want open borders. I have no idea what that means, but hear it often. Moreover, he rested his case on the notion that God created nations and borders because it says so in Acts 17. It’s where Paul, speaking to the Athenians, tried to explain who the unknown God is and why they should listen to him talk about Jesus. For the writer, Trump’s Big Beautiful Wall is the very thing meant when Paul talked metaphorically about nations and borders established by God. Never mind that Paul was speaking in an age when nations were peoples, not states, and borders were vaguely marked, seldom guarded, and the world was free to wander at will.
Letters such as these are feats of legerdemain no less impressive than Lou Costello’s mathematical proof that 7×13=28. Look it up. It’s on YouTube. When Costello is done, it’s hard to believe he didn’t prove it, and the same goes for my letter writers.
I suppose one could argue that getting discouraged by a couple of small city letter writers makes little sense, except that regulars such as they are present in every city and town, making sure their views are made as persuasively public as they can, and they’re backed by well financed propaganda outfits masquerading as genuine think tanks. Are they something new? Did Trump’s election give birth to them? No. They’ve always been there, but they now have more freedom to act out in public with little fear of repercussion.
Popular movements skeptical and fearful of what science reveals have been around since the time of Pythagoras. Americans have seen virulent outbreaks in the years following Darwin’s publication of “On the Origin of Species”, and they have not yet abated. Various forms of xenophobic nativism have an equally long pedigree. Remember the Know Nothings of the mid 19th century? Violently opposed to the immigration of Irish and southern Europeans, they blended right in with other racists, and found common ground with those suspicious of science.
Both are alive and well in the Trumpian era. Forced into the closet following WWII, they been let out, led by their favorite president. The curious thing is they talk like libertarians opposed to government interference in their lives, but think and act like fascists favoring authoritarian rule that will purify the nation, removing contagion of others not like themselves. And that I find very discouraging.