During his presidency, Abraham Lincoln got pretty ticked off. Given the times, that is easy to understand. And when he was particularly enraged, Lincoln would write a letter to the subject of his ire and let fly with a full blast of rage and fury. He would then set that draft aside, until he had calmed down, and would add a note to the letter, writing “never sent, never signed.” Thus, one of our greatest presidents held a nation together during horrendously difficult times.
Who am I to second-guess Lincoln? Hence this second draft of my column, leaving (most of) the anger and vitriol of my first draft behind. Mostly…
Today I want to praise the bipartisan service being performed right now in Denver, by the members of the Colorado state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee. With the current virus crisis, and the resultant loss in income to our state’s government, the JBC must make terribly difficult and problematic choices to reach the required balanced budget for Colorado. That may mean up to a 25% cut in spending, which will make the lives of countless Coloradans much more difficult. I applaud the work of the JBC’s members and staff as they work through decisions that are not about cutting fat, but rather in deciding what bone to amputate, what programs to slash, which communities in our state to injure. There are no easy choices and I don’t envy them their tasks.
I’m also very proud of Colorado overall, with a strong majority favoring the new “safer at home” rules put forth by Gov. Jared Polis, who is also more popular now than ever — even as silly people carrying big guns march around yelping about haircuts and tattoos.
Which, of course, brings me to Donald Trump, David Dunning, and Justin Kruger. You may not have heard of the last two gents, but they are important in these trying times. Dunning and Kruger are social psychologists most noted for their study of what is now known as the “Dunning-Kruger Effect.” Simply put, the DK effect is a cognitive bias in people wherein people with low abilities in an area — say medicine — vastly overestimate their ability to understand the subject at hand. For example, remember when then-candidate Donald Trump announced that, despite no military training (his semi-military high school doesn’t really count), claiming that he knew more about Isis than the generals? That arrogance was certainly dangerous for actual military folks.
But far more dangerously recently, Trump has become the Dunning-Kruger president of virology. He has repeatedly announced his expertise in areas where an objective observer would clearly see that Trump, in fact, hasn’t a clue. He pushed a medication to fight the virus that, after proper study, was shown to not only be ineffective against corona, but was in fact harmful, causing serious heart problems in some patients. He recently suggested injecting, well, bleachy stuff, to “clean” the body somehow.
Additionally, in this crisis, we now clearly see the dangers inherent in a president placing more value on personal and fanatical loyalty to him above any other qualification. Trump named his son-in-law Jared Kushner (a man with no real qualifications for, well, nearly anything) in charge of the effort to secure needed medical equipment. Rather than take advantage of experts with decades of experience in areas such as medicine, manufacturing, and international relations, Kushner chose to hire on a team of young (some just out of college) and inexpert kids — Dunning-Kruger examples all, with only one key consideration apparently required: fervent loyalty to Donald Trump. The result? Well, not good, despite what the Trump folks continue to claim about testing and supplies.
Such intellectual deficiencies lead to truly terrible policy decisions. An example is the president’s recent fixation on meat-packing plants, and his insistence that workers return to such facilities, even if they fear for their health. After all, Trump knows virus stuff, right? Well, in the lovely little town of Perry, Iowa (not far from where I summered on my grandparents’ farm), the Tyson Foods plant there initially was able to hide the percentage of workers that tested positive recently admitted that fully 58% of their workers were positive, a result so remarkable that even Fox News reported on it.
Here in Colorado, we are fortunate to have quality bipartisan leaders during a time of crisis. Polis is doing a very good job, as he balances health and economic issues. For the most part, our state legislators are also working for the common good. The JBC continues to pound away at horrible choices, and most folks are wearing masks when they go out. We have real concerns in the Centennial State, such as the JBS plant in Greeley, but we are far better off here than many states where devotion to Trump is placed above the inputs of science and reason.
In the meantime, I respectfully suggest that you, dear readers, should be more influenced by Anthony Fauci than that guy on YouTube. Your grandmother’s life might depend on it.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.