Opinion: It’s time to leave Bonkersville and acknowledge that 2 + 2 = 4

It is beyond comprehension that in the most scientifically and technologically advanced nation on Earth a vast segment of the population has shut its collective mind to reason, logic, evidence and facts.

Millions of GOP supporters swallowed and continue to regurgitate 2020’s Big Lie about the election, preferring fantasy to fact. But, there is hope. Sydney Powell, a Big Lie mouthpiece who is facing a billion-dollar lawsuit, just fessed up. In a startlingly honest about-face, she now claims that “reasonable persons would not accept such statements as fact” — the stream of statements that the election was rigged, stolen and fraudulent. It was only politics, she says, political hyperbole, no reasonable person could have believed it. Well, she’s just indicted herself, the former president and all of his corrupt sycophants for deliberately duping those millions of GOP faithful and grifting them out of millions of dollars.

There is a simple fix for such venal politics: Vote out the venal politicians. That happened to the grifter-in-chief on Nov. 3.

The other 2020 Big Lie was Trump’s COVID-19 pandemic denials, accompanied by derision of masking, social distancing and vaccination. Words have consequences, particularly from the bully pulpit. Witness that more than a third of polled Republicans are opting not to be vaccinated. Epidemiology tells us that this will enable old and new COVID variants to keep arising among the unvaccinated and spreading to the population. Also witness Wisconsin pharmacist Steven Brandenburg. He deliberately sabotaged 570 doses of the Moderna vaccine in December because he believed Trump and his media toadies that COVID-19 was a hoax. He also believes the Earth is flat. He thinks that the sky is “a shield put up by the government to prevent individuals from seeing God.” He’s convinced that a microchip in the COVID vaccine makes people infertile. And he suspects that the government was planning attacks on the nation’s electrical grid.

Brandenburg’s world reality is, well, Medieval. Frighteningly, it’s not just him. Millions of people have chosen to live in an irrational alternative reality, a kind of Bonkersville, where the motto is see no facts, hear no facts, speak no facts. Almost half of polled GOP supporters give credence to QAnon’s demented Medieval drivel that Democrats are Satan-worshiping cannibals and pedophiles operating out of the basements of pizza shops. As repugnant was their prophecy for Jan. 20, inauguration day: A “Great Awakening,” the mass public execution of these Democrats, and the return of the presidency to Trump, their latter day savior. When that didn’t happen, the “awakening” was recalibrated to March 4, which came and went, and then recalibrated again to March 20, which also came and went. The only awakening on March 20 was the scent of spring amid sanity and science in the White House. Prediction: There will be new “awakening” dates. And they too will come and go, because they are based on flapdoodle, not fact. In every apocalyptic movement, each failed prophecy merely brings the next failed one.

How dangerous can it get to cancel rational thought, accumulated knowledge and empirical truth? It’s the playbook of populist autocracies: Suppress science and muzzle the press while exuding conspiracies, lies and apocalyptic hooey. The goal is to sow us-versus-them strife, undermine the nation’s democratic institutions and usurp political power. Current examples are the COVID denial campaigns of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro; of Tanzania’s former President John Magufuli, who died in March, likely of the virus; and of our own former president.

Further, when we diss facts as “fake news” it’s at our own peril. It can stifle research, innovation and breakthrough discoveries. It can render the nation dumb, less capable of sensing and responding to global threats: a pandemic, an economic or environmental crisis, a national security situation, or civil unrest. In effect, it amounts to waging, aiding and abetting war against one’s country. And there has been much aiding and abetting, notably the malarkey spewed by Alex Jones/Infowars, Tucker Carlson/FOX News, and the late Rush Limbaugh. The Economist warns us that Limbaugh was popular solely because “people wanted to hear him hate who they hated.” Hate sells.

In George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” the Party decreed that two plus two equals five. It’s a lie propounded by the Ministry of Truth and eventually accepted by the populace. What’s at stake is our vigilance against Orwell’s nightmare being fulfilled. Let’s start with one current imperative. We know beyond question that vaccines work, whether for COVID-19, polio or smallpox, because science and biomedicine got it right. And we know that the car that will get you to the vaccination center also works, because mathematics and engineering got it right. No matter what, two plus two equals four.

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

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