If your bliss is ignorance, this is a great time to be alive in the U.S. It’s always been easy to shut out the facts, especially when they don’t confirm your deeply held views on contentious issues. But wouldn't it be even easier if there were no facts at all?
That’s where the Trump administration comes in.
The president, with the help of Republican leaders in Congress, has endeavored not only to encourage ignorance, but also to ensure it through budget cuts, personnel decisions and policy changes. The federal government is doing its best to limit the information we have about this country, the people who inhabit it and the forces that are shaping it.
Unfortunately for bliss-seekers, the Constitution mandates a decennial census, which prevents the government from operating in complete ignorance of its population. Luckily, though, the Constitution also grants Congress the power to carry out the census in “such manner as they shall by law direct.” The manner that this Congress has selected appears to be “on a shoestring.” The Census Bureau has complained that it doesn’t have the funds to properly plan for 2020, which will be the first-ever census conducted primarily online — a huge undertaking. And it’s working with only an interim leader because its director, who departed in May, has not been replaced.
We’re not going to prioritize the collection of accurate information about our country? Information that determines how many representatives each state gets and how billions of dollars in federal funds are distributed? That sure sounds bad — but only if you fail to consider how stressful it is to make decisions based on actual figures about who lives in the United States and where. Starting with the facts might lead to some sort of government accountability. It’s far more relaxing to begin from a position divorced from reality.
Since Trump took office, according to the Washington Post, several departments “have changed some federal policies and how they collect government information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.” Recently, some career analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they were encouraged not to use the phrases “science-based” or “evidence-based” in budget requests.
An anti-evidence sentiment is ascendant across the federal government. This summer the Office of Science and Technology Policy published a memo on its priorities for the coming year that failed to mention climate change. Civil servants with the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency who once focused on studying and mitigating the effects of climate change have been reassigned and sidelined. And, almost a year into his administration, Trump has yet to appoint a top science advisor. What you don’t study can’t kill you, right?
There will always be academics and researchers who stubbornly continue to collect facts. But they can’t stop red-blooded Americans from claiming their right to live in ignorance: Privately funded research is easier to refute as biased. You can't make a strong case for renewable energy if you don't acknowledge evidence that our current energy sources are contributing to climate change. You can't address the specific health needs of a marginalized population if you refuse to consider data confirming that population exists. Ignorance is the perfect way to delicately sidestep complicated problems.
During the 2016 campaign, voters who agreed with the statement “Thinking is not my idea of fun” supported Trump by a 12-point margin. But the bliss gap may be closing. The headlines are so unrelentingly awful that it’s tempting to tune out, and many of us do. With each lapsed subscription and deactivated push-alert notification, a few more of us RSVP to the low-information party.
The more you ignore the challenges facing our country, the happier you’ll feel. Say goodbye to gloom-and-doom statistics about childhood asthma and rising sea levels! Bid farewell to sad figures about HIV transmission rates! Never feel angry about a tax bill again, because who knows how many low-income people live in the U.S. anyway? Just tuck your head down in the warm sand, take a deep breath, and thank the president for your sweet relief.
Ann Friedman is a contributing writer to Opinion.