We now live in the era of “alternative facts,” a term coined by Trump supporter Kellyanne Conway to try to justify lies. Predictably, “alternative facts” invariably favor wealthy, secure, privileged people who fail to recognize the limits of their own understanding.
Alternative facts are toxic brain viruses.
- Science clearly shows climate change is real and is destroying the environment. The harshest results of climate change are manifest in the poorest, most marginalized communities. Scientific studies presented at the recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union confirm urban heat islands are concentrated in poor neighborhoods with little vegetation, dense and poorly insulated housing and expansive tracks of dark surfaces. When the causes and results are documented and the onus falls on the poor and marginalized, the facts confirm climate racism.
- In the United States today, 20% of people are considered food insecure, yet 75% of people are overweight. Their diets are heavily reliant on corporate food generated by fast food and agribusinesses. Sadly, the new pick for secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has a background with industrial corn and soybeans and just finished a stint with the U.S. dairy industry.
- Court case after court case has upheld the election results showing Joe Biden the clear and decisive winner. Yet Trump and his supporters continue to stoke doubt and ferment violence and hatred. When armed protesters encircle private homes and shout obscenities, democracy is the loser.
- We now have distribution of an effective vaccine against COVID-19, yet polls show nearly half of Americans doubt the safety of the vaccine. Rather than recognizing the science and research that went into creating the vaccine, they spin conspiracy theories and become victims of their own “alternative facts.” The anti-vaxxers were tolerated before the pandemic hit. Now they threaten to undermine control of a deadly pandemic.
COVID-19 is only the first of a future wave of viruses born out of environmental degradation. Climate change that brings heat inversions traps polluted air that settles in substandard housing near industrial plants. Polluted air weakens the immune system and makes people more vulnerable to COVID-19, other viruses and health impairments.
Ultimately, all these negative consequences can be linked to racism fostered by “alternative facts.” The most chilling statement in Isabel Wilkerson’s book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” was the recognition that Nazis were not evil people. They were regular people who succumbed to lies perpetrated and spun by a certifiably insane dictator.
And we thought that could never happen in the United States of America.
The true cost of the top 1%
Robert Reich addressed the National Press Foundation recently about poverty and inequality; his message is a road map for strengthening democracy, improving the economy and reducing justified anger.
Social solidarity is not socialism; it’s democracy.
When tax breaks and public policies favor the top 1%, it’s hard to keep the economy moving forward, Reich said. The U.S. is unique in the degree of inequality favoring the top, yet the wealthy can’t spend enough to stimulate the economy. The wealthy save and that widens the gap.
Economic growth comes from increases in hourly compensation. (Thank you UnityPoint Health for the recent announcement you are raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The COVID-19 pandemic underscores that paid sick days are as essential as hourly wages.)
The economic research is clear and consistent over decades that favoring the top 1% does little to help the economy. It reminds us that money drives the political agenda. Money is the motive when politicians fail to call out the lies spewed by Donald Trump; that failure reinforces demagoguery. Money is the motive when the referendum fails for converting Illinois taxation from a flat income tax to a graduated income tax; that leaves the wealthiest paying a regressive tax that hits lower incomes the hardest.
Money is the motive when retail establishments and municipalities refuse to comply with the governor’s mandated closings during the pandemic. Sadly, East Peoria’s refusal to close restaurants and bars prolongs and deepens the costs for everyone.