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America: Now Dumber Than Ever!

August 30, 2010

I’ve had this New York Times Opinionator blog post sitting in a tab in my web browser since mid-last week, with the intention of posting it to either Facebook or my blog. It seems now, in light of my last post, about Glenn Beck’s D.C. revival this past weekend, and the stunning ignorance on display at same, even more germane.

The post is written by Timothy Egan, and it’s titled “Building a Nation of Know-Nothings.” It is largely concerned with the misguided belief on the part of many Americans, including 46 percent of Republicans, that President Obama is a Muslim. Also, more than a quarter of Republicans believe he’s not even a citizen. Even further, Egan writes:

[F]ully half of [Republicans] believe falsely that the big bailout of banks and insurance companies under TARP was enacted by Obama, and not by President Bush.

It’s well worth reading the entire post, which tracks just where and how these people have obtained their seriously ill-informed ideas (hint: one of the disseminators has called our Secretary of State a “feminazi”).

But the last three paragraphs really bring home the danger of what some might dismiss as harmless if bizarre lunacy:

It would be nice to dismiss the stupid things that Americans believe as harmless, the price of having such a large, messy democracy. Plenty of hate-filled partisans swore that Abraham Lincoln was a Catholic and Franklin Roosevelt was a Jew. So what if one-in-five believe the sun revolves around the earth, or aren’t sure from which country the United States gained its independence?

But false belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war. And trust in rising home value as a truism as reliable as a sunrise was a major contributor to the catastrophic collapse of the economy. At its worst extreme, a culture of misinformation can produce something like Iran, which is run by a Holocaust denier.

It’s one thing to forget the past, with predictable consequences, as the favorite aphorism goes. But what about those who refuse to comprehend the present?

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