Life In Trumpland: A Third Open Letter To Our Students

U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump speaks at event at Carrier HVAC plant in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., December 1, 2016. REU
U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump speaks at event at Carrier HVAC plant in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Bergin

Dear Students,

I didn't expect to be back so soon, but events in Trumpland seem to be spiraling out of control. Our world is becoming dangerously strange. Things are not what they seem. What's more, the celebration of ignorance, which we attempt to combat through a college education, has reached new heights of absurdity in Trumpland. I'm worried about your future in an America in which the accumulation of knowledge, the mastery of skills and the relevance of facts no longer matter. Why should anyone bother to pursue a college education in a climate in which:

1. Donald J Trump, a minority president-elect, has to be schooled on the US Constitution--by the Speaker of the House;
2. the Trump nominee for Secretary of Education is not an educator and has a record of trying to undermine public schools;
3. the Trump nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development has no executive experience in urban affairs but is a physician who has at least lived in a house;
4. the Trump nominee for Attorney General has a record of racist and xenophobic behavior so extreme that he was denied a federal judgeship in Alabama, a man who recently stated that sexual groping is no big deal;
5. the designated Trump National Security advisor was (a) dismissed from a high-ranking military intelligence position (b) has expressed religious intolerance, and (c) has circulated baseless conspiracy theories on social media;
6. the Trump nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency has denied--in the face of incontrovertible scientific research--that human activity triggers climate change.

Considering these dangerously absurd and unqualified appointments in which people are rewarded for their loyalty or for their ideology but not for their expertise, why should you put in the hard work to master a discipline like mathematics, chemistry, psychology, literature, or anthropology?

If you think I'm being melodramatic read what Trump surrogate, Scottie Nell Hughes, a television commentator, recently stated about nature of facts in Trumpland. Asked about the President Elect's loose relationship with the truth, Hughes made this jaw-dropping comment to NRP's Diane Rehm

Well, I think it's also an idea of an opinion. And that's--on one hand, I hear half the media saying that these are lies. But on the other half, there are many people that go, 'No, it's true.' And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts--they're not really facts. Everybody has a way--it's kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.

The meandering flow of Ms. Hughes's comment speaks for itself. Is Trumpland destined to become the real world manifestation of Aldous Huxley's prophetic novel Brave New World? In that classic work, Huxley explores what happens in a future society in which people have exchanged their freedom for the pleasures of life in a seemingly perfect world. In a 2012 Guardian review of Huxley's masterpiece A. Aiman wrote:

...Brave New World revolves around the idea of totalitarianism and is set in a futuristic world where a combination of science and pleasure form a rather feudalistic society. This idea of totalitarianism is achieved through test tube babies, and hypnotism, resulting in a pre-ordained caste system consisting of intelligent humans suited to the highest positions and conversely, serf-like beings genetically programmed to carry out menial works. In this world of Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and the unfortunate Epsilons, exists drug-induced happiness, caused by what is known as soma. Here, "everyone belongs to everyone else" emphasising the system of forced promiscuity, brainwashed into the people from the moment of birth. At the core of this book is the horrific idea of eugenics and despite being written several decades ago, its message remains valid for our generation.

Does this synopsis seem frighteningly familiar? Should you be concerned that our society might become something akin to Huxley's Brave New World? Will you be assigned to one of the Brave New World categories? Will the Alphas determine where you'll live, who you'll marry, or what kind of job you'll have to do? Will you lose your freedom to disagree or your capacity to pursue an alternative course? Will your pursuit of knowledge make a difference in Trumpland in which fiction becomes truth, in which glimmering superficiality obscures troublesome complexity, in which political expedience trumps intellectual rigor?

If you've been taking courses in the humanities or the social and natural sciences, you know that facts do matter, and that a house of cards built on convenient lies, half-truths and fake news, will not have staying power, especially if you are willing to extend your capacity for critical thought to the world around you. That move is a powerful way to combat the existential dangers of Trumpland.

The stakes are high. There will be pain, sorrow and frustration. But now is the moment for you to separate fact from fiction, voice your dissent, protest against injustice and hate, and safeguard your freedom. With your energy and creativity, you can negotiate the dangerous pathways in Trumpland and eventually hitch a ride on the wings of the wind to a better life in a better world.