By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – That whirring sound you hear is the founding fathers spinning in their graves.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
The news that sent Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Ben Franklin and George Washington all awhirl came from President Donald Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services.
The Washington Post reports that HHS doesn’t want to see seven words – diversity, fetus, transgender, vulnerable, entitlement, science-based and evidence-based – in budget proposals from the Centers for Disease Control.
HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd, who earlier in his career carried water for both former Indiana Gov. and current Vice President Mike Pence and the Koch brothers, tried to thread a needle in framing his response to the Post’s story.
“HHS will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans. HHS also strongly encourages the use of outcome and evidence data in program evaluations and budget decisions,” he said.
Translation: CDC researchers are free to use those seven words in budget proposals if they want to, but they won’t get any money and they’ll be wasting their time if they do.
The suppression of the last two words on the list – science-based and evidence-based – would send Jefferson, Franklin and the other founders into a non-stop spin cycle.
They were products of the Age of Enlightenment. Their faith was in reason. They believed that the closest approximations to absolute truth and justice human beings could achieve would come through the gathering and close analysis of facts and information.
They sought to create in our government an arena in which truth and falsehood could joust. Their conviction was that, over the long haul, truth always would prevail.
Jefferson, often called the apostle of liberty, gave voice to this credo:
I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
Such a statement is anathema to much of Donald Trump’s America, which is at war with history, with logic, with reality, with facts.
When the president rails about any revelation that casts doubt upon his claims of near-omnipotence by calling such things “fake news,” most people have assumed it is the “fake” part that bothers him.
We now must consider the possibility that it is the “news” part that really upsets him.
He doesn’t want any pesky facts popping up to undermine, contradict or otherwise weaken the elaborate fantasies he’s conjured up.
President Trump’s opponents love to dismiss him as nothing more than a con man. Maybe so, but it’s likely that he is a con man who has fallen in love with and believes his own con.
That’s why he reacts with such vehemence to the work of fact-gathering.
He’s not alone in that.
For years, the CDC has worked in handcuffs, crafted and locked into place by the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers. By law, the CDC is prevented from researching the causes and consequences of gun violence in America.
Every time there is some firearms-related horror in our land, the NRA and its foot soldiers always scream that they want to have a “factual” discussion about guns, while at the same time they do everything they can to prevent the collection of facts that would make such a discussion possible.
Their reasoning, such as it is, is the same as the president’s.
Because their fantasy is that every gun owner, however untrained or unhinged, is a potential John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, they can’t tolerate unruly or contradictory facts to intrude.
Fantasies are fragile things that can’t bear close inspection.
Reality, on the other hand, has staying power. That was a large part of the reason the founders were so hard-headed about acknowledging human beings’ imperfections and setting up a system of government that welcomed, rather than suppressed, the free exchange of ideas and information.
They knew that facts were not something to be feared.
Rather, facts – knowledge – could be our salvation, could sustain us as a nation and as a people of widely varied interests.
It’s a pity that the faith of the founders in reason and the ultimate wisdom of the people has become yet another casualty in this current war on knowledge.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.