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The ongoing saga of George Santos feels like a complete rerun of the Trump show highlighting another completely unqualified and morally bankrupt candidate who has now become one of the faces of the Republican party. The most interesting part of the Santos saga is not the abject failure of the Democratic party to vet this scoundrel, not the inability of the local Republicans to see through his sorry tale, but the fact that he has succeeded in being seated and will probably remain in the House for two years or more.

The fact that George Santos has become a pariah among the Republicans of Long Island is interesting, but those Republicans have no clout. Kevin McCarthy has shown us clearly during his entire career as one of the weakest men with great power we will ever see, that there is no interest in the Republican Party in the concepts of honesty, integrity, doing the right thing for the people, or even trying to appear to care about these values.

Donald Trump, with his complete lack of any moral framework, has created a Republican Party that says all the unsaid stuff out loud now. Most Americans would not have believed, 10 years ago, that a person who bragged in a horribly vulgar video about molesting women, who has openly consorted with self-identified Nazis, who has clearly stated that democracy does not apply to him, could have been elected president by a large minority of voters. Racial hatred, which was always present but quieter between the ugly period of Strom Thurmond et al in the Senate and the current crop including some truly unsavory racists, has come to be a vital part of the Republican playbook. The war on women is all but openly declared. When these Republicans talk about a post-truth America, they mean it. The acceptance of bold face lies that are incredibly easy to disprove has become the hallmark of Republican politics.

One of the very few true statements Donald Trump made during his first presidential run was "I love the poorly educated." There are so many reasons for this, but for the most part, it is because people with no education are unlikely to have good research or critical thinking skills, and often have low literacy levels. To the surprise of exactly nobody, these people are often among those brought up in Christian homeschooling environments, or in far right wing academies, as well as the underfunded public schools in the American South. The attack on teaching the truth about American history and culture is a strong reason why Ron DeSantis is currently the darling of the far right. Refusing to allow students in Florida to even vie for the college credit that comes with AP African American History is pretty astounding, but the idea that a teacher can be accused of a felony for having books in her class that are not on the state wide approval list is even more amazing. At this point, Florida teachers, you are probably safest if the only books in your classroom are the Bible and the Little House series.

I believe many of you reading this will identify as I do: as a life long learner. Most of the people I know who lean left make a strong effort to read, to have issue-based discussions, to look and think critically about the news and the government. For as long as I can remember, the Republicans in leadership have attended elite universities — although Trump is a bit of an exception — and many went to the fanciest prep schools. And yet, these are the same people who, for as long as I can remember, accuse the left of being the "coastal elite." How is being a person who wants to understand the truth of how the world works, rather than being fed the lies of a stolen election, or "pizzagate," or JFK being reincarnated, make a person an elitist?

The current anti-intellectual bend of the Republican party is not new at all, but like so much in this time, more open and more extreme. When we hear that a sizable minority of Americans buy into the idea that JFK Jr. never died and will be Trump's VP when he emerges, or that we are all controlled by lizard people, or that Hillary Clinton drinks the blood of kidnapped children, how can we see these people as sane, much less smart? The first reaction of any thinking citizen is that these people must be incredibly dumb to buy into these obviously nuts ideas. But, it may be beneficial for us to think of the far right, racist, anti-Semites who follow these conspiracies as hurt individuals who are searching for a way to feel part of something that they can completely embrace. The stories I have read of those who have gone full QAnon, or even those who have become obsessed with the stolen election narrative, are generally of some pretty sad people. White, racist, homophobic, sad people. Not people who I feel sympathy for, as they have become part of a cult that is very dangerous, and in fact endangers the people I love and the environment I live in.

What seems to be vital at this time is our support of teaching critical thinking, how to read between the lines in the media. In fact, Fox News is very bothered by the fact that New Jersey is the first state to pass a law making it compulsory for students to learn media literacy from K-12. Hopefully some of us can work to create similar laws in our own states. We also need to openly and always combat lies — no matter who is telling them. And it is generally the cult that used to be a political party who is guilty. If we are not successful in making sure our voters are able to understand issues, know how laws are made and broken, and understand what really benefits the majority of citizens and not only the elites, we might have a chance to save our democracy. And when the next huge crisis occurs, we need to be prepared to combat the far right's push for martial law — fascism can often be presented as the answer to any problem of governance. The time to make sure we are presenting the sane portion of the American public with the strong arguments for democracy, for a real multi-racial democracy, is now.

Nancy Braus writes from Guilford. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.


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