Your Turn: The real enemy is the current administration

Last year, the Journal-World joined 350 of the nation’s newspapers in decrying the repeated slogan from the White House that “the press is the enemy of the people.” These are really code words for “the facts are the enemy of the people,” particularly facts reported by the press that the administration does not want Americans to know or think about.

Instead, the administration deploys its version of George Orwell’s “1984” “newspeak.” Facts it does not want to face or admit are derided as “fake news.” Or they’re scrubbed in favor of “alternative facts,” a polite euphemism for whoppers — the nonburger variety — that we are expected to swallow. It’s called conning the public: Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes “truth,” a mantra attributed to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister.

Some of the “alternative facts” are manufactured to stroke the ego of the administration, e.g., inflating the actual attendance figures at the presidential inauguration. The harm isn’t fatal — just a head-shaking bewilderment at the lack of honesty and class. But when pernicious “alternative facts” threaten national security or domestic health, the administration becomes its own favorite epithet: the enemy of the people.

Consider that in denying climate change and its consequences, the administration is the enemy of the American people who will most suffer those consequences: coastal cities; Arctic communities; the Southwest U.S.; farmers and ranchers; and children and the elderly. The climate case is closed. The evidence gathered during the past 30 years is overwhelming. The planet has been heating up at an unprecedented rate since 1975 because of a doubling of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mostly CO2. Check out NASA’s data, which the administration spurns under the simpleton notion that calling it a hoax makes it one.

Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research tried to warn the House Intelligence Committee that climate change is “possibly catastrophic” and threatens “to undermine national security.” But the White House censored the testimony. Here is the document’s “bottom line”: Climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security over the next 20 years through global perturbations, increased risk of political instability, heightened tensions between countries for resources, a growing number of climate-linked humanitarian crises, emergent geostrategic competitive domains and adverse effects on militaries.

Specific consequences — and the hundreds of billions of dollars in economic costs — include extreme floods, droughts, fires and storms; risks to global food supplies and crop yields; spread of virulent diseases to the U.S such as Zika, dengue and chikungunya; and civil strife from mass displacement of people. NOAA, in a separate report, issued the same dire warnings. And the verdict from the U.S. military to the Senate Armed Forces Committee is blunt: “We have to respond militarily very often to the effects globally of climate change.” For example, “the Syria conflict … started because of a 10-year drought.” India’s six largest cities are running out of water because climate change has severely reduced normal monsoon rains.

Consider that an administration that is deliberately weakening the Clean Air Act is the enemy of people, particularly America’s children and elderly, by increasing their risk of premature death, lung cancer, asthma, cardiovascular harm and susceptibility to infections. According to the latest figures from the American Lung Association, 140 million Americans — 43% of the population — live in counties with unhealthy air. That’s a true fact, not an alternative one. Rolling back car emission standards or air pollution standards at coal-fired plants and oil-and-gas-drilling sites won’t make this country breathe easier.

The enemy of the people is not the press. We learned in civics class that a free press is democracy’s essential fourth estate to hold governments and institutions accountable to the people. And we learned in history class that despots and dictators squash a free press precisely for that reason — think North Korea, Eritrea, Syria, China, Sudan and other countries where every bit and byte of information is an official government alternative fact.

Who is the enemy of the people? An administration that trashes its free press. An administration that denigrates its own best scientists, medical researchers, military minds and intelligence strategists — the very people on whom the nation depends to safeguard the promise of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

— Leonard Krishtalka is director of the Biodiversity Institute and a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas.


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