Sorry to go blog-silent for a while. International events have once again intruded on the things I would have liked to write about. The change of administration in America has caught so much attention, mine included, that it is hard to write about anything else. But I haven’t forgotten that this is a science and religion blog, so I will try not to go too far off that theme.
There has been much worrying evidence of the priorities and sense of morality of Mr Trump over recent weeks. The spat over the size of the inauguration crowd is not very important in itself, but it is another piece of evidence of Mr Trump’s tactics: act in unpredicatable and attention-grabbing ways so as to confuse or misdirect.
In case the reader is not familiar with it, let me say the brief facts. The number of people who turned up to witness and presumably celebrate the inauguration of Donald Trump as President was considerably smaller than that for Barack Obama’s first inauguration. This would not matter very much, but what is odd is that the White House press secretary Sean Spicer called a press conference for the sole purpose, it would appear, of speaking a ridiculous untruth and taking no questions. The ridiculous untruth being that the smaller crowd had in fact been the larger crowd.
I don’t know, and no one but he knows, why Mr Spicer said this, but the impression I got is that he was driven out to face the press by an irate Mr Trump, under some sort of instruction to tell a ridiculous untruth or face losing his job.
Readers can easily find more on this in all the various news outlets, and form their own judgements.
One reaction I found interesting was in a piece in the International New York Times. It pointed out that, in the flurry of news activity prompted by and focussed on this bizarre turn of events, a desperately sad and truly objectionable event was buried. This was Mr Trump’s hasty move to start dismantling the medical health insurance framework called Obamacare. This is deeply, painfully, sad. Mr Trump’s action now sets back health reform in America, which is already so backward in this area, and starts to dump back onto poor people the burden of health poverty. It is also objectionable because it has not been done in such a way as to promote a smooth and orderly transition. It is abrupt and thoughtless; it has been compared to throwing out a bomb in the already shaky insurance market.
The role of science in all this is that it can provide evidence, and it champions truth. I’ll come to religion in a moment.
It is straightforward to gather evidence of crowd sizes. It is on such evidence that statements about crowd sizes should be based. Summary statements are just wasting everybody’s time unless they are based on what actually happened, not on what anyone wanted to happen or predicted to happen. Political leadership which tries to proceed on any other basis is illegitimate.
Similar statements apply to the healthcare issue. The impact of the Affordable Care Act is measurable. After the Act began to have its impact, some people lost their insurance, and very many more people gained insurance. These are not political opinions.
To be poor and ill in America is to be in a worse situation than to be poor and ill in most other developed countries.
Now on the religious question, I, along with many others, felt distinctly uneasy about seeing a group of religious community representatives gathered to lead public prayers on the occasion of the Presidential Inauguration. I also feel that for this man to include religious references in his speech is entirely cynical. That is, to the extent that he did this more than the minimum that might be seen as an expression of courtesy, I think he was trying to manipulate the more credulous end of the citizenry. The speechwriter had been instructed to press certain buttons labelled “religion”, so as to maximise political power for the new President in the context of American culture. This is not a new phenomenon and it is squarely in the category of bad religion. It is the sort of thing that honest people have been objecting to and opposing for thousands of years.
So in view of this, what would I say to those religious leaders who seemed to be offering their support? I don’t know. I think they were in a difficult position. What do you do when the country wants to celebrate its democratic structures and you are asked to play a part? Say “no, thanks”? You would hesitate to take that line. Perhaps you would decide to come along and try to improve the situation. It is not easy to say what you should do. You will be blamed either way. Therefore I won’t pass judgement on those people. But the whole event remains deeply saddening, and the early executive order on health care is the act of a man and a team that has little interest in understanding what makes life more fair.