fed up with social change and politics as usual? try trump brand snake oil!

Trumpism is nothing more than the political equivalent of alt med woo and it's bound to have the same efficacy.

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Illustration by Glen Southern

With an honest to goodness President Trump in charge of the nation which leads the world in scientific research and innovation, despite the best efforts of certain members of Congress, scientists and engineers have been worried about the future of their work. After all, the new president lacks interest in even talking about the economic damage automation imparted on many of his voters and will continue to in the future, thinks climate change is just a hoax, and is an anti-vaxxer to boot. This is why so many popular science and tech blogs have turned highly political as of late. The future of scientists and techies is uncertain, and the only indications we do have for what’s to come are not exactly encouraging. And while many of us have been busy trying to explain the rise of Trumpism with the economy, Juggalos, the economy, all manner of geopolitical or hacking shenanigans, — oh, and did I mention the economy? — Dr. Alan Levinovitz, a professional folklorist and skeptic, tried another angle, which should seem familiar to many skeptical readers.

According to Levinovitz, the eclectic mix of politically weaponized nostalgia and economic protectionism commonly referred to as Trumpism, is basically the civic equivalent of snake oil. It tackles a very real and complex problem, like the lethality of pancreatic cancer or income inequality, then offers what sounds like a common sense, simple way to fix it, like switch to a vegan diet or close the borders to open trade. When contradicted by experts who point out flaws in the simple solution, accuse them of being in on a conspiracy to discredit those who can help, so just like Big Pharma is covering up a cure for cancer so they can cash in on your misery, sinister global elites want to destroy you under their oppressive economic regime for their own benefit, and to restructure the social order however they want. It’s the same reason why alternative medicine sells despite being bunk. If you suffered from that very real and complicated problem, wouldn’t you want to believe that there was a simple solution on the horizon and that all you need to do to get is to deal a monetary or political defeat to villains profiting off your woe?

One of the reasons why I personally like this theory is for the nuance it has to offer, because framing it as the desperate search for a cure to things that ail us can explain why people who by all account wouldn’t want to vote for someone like Trump on paper do anyway, much like people who we know are scientifically literate and skeptical fall for quackery. They’re desperate to find a solution to a problem and are willing to overlook whatever nastiness goes with their choice because nothing else seems to be working. Casting all of them as racists and bigots, or jobless blue collar workers, or however else the media wants to categorize them to find that elusive common thread for an easily digestible narrative, often ends up painting a very black and white picture with many exceptions popping up as supposed living proof that the pundit’s hypothesis is fatally flawed. In scientific parlance, the data seems to fit Levinovitz’s model better than most others’ and therefore seems like the stronger candidate for the Grand Unifying Theory of Trumpism.

We can even extend this model further. Much like alt med gurus talk of the halcyon days of yore, when there was no such thing as cancer and all those who died did so of “old age” rather than disease, Trumpists reminisce of the days when there was no political correctness and jobs were everywhere for anyone willing to work hard. But both narratives have critical flaws those in the know can quickly point out. Cancers existed since the dawn of complex life and not only have we found mummies who died of cancer, but dinosaurs with fossilized osteosarcomas. Similarly, factory jobs have been shrinking in number for decades, as machines have become capable of taking over more and more tasks that once could only be done by humans, and to keep up in today’s world requires more education that’s been soaring in price. Buying a juice cleanse regimen won’t defeat a 3 billion year old biological killer, and a tariff with a few threats against outsourcing won’s top the march of robotics and AI, and will undercut jobs generated by more trade.

And if a robot took your job and you couldn’t afford the required training for a new career, or a doctor told you that your cancer is incurable with modern medicine, wouldn’t you feel powerless? Wronged by fate and those who you thought were supposed to help you? Would you, even if highly skeptical of a positive outcome, try the simple, alternative solution? After all, what do you have to lose? The damage has already been done, as far as you’re concerned, and the only way to go from this rock bottom is up. So you buy the organic, non-GMO, cruelty-free detoxifiers made by Cthulhu knows who and where, and vote for the crazy sounding showman who’s at least honest about what he feels and thinks on social media. What do the experts think? Who cares! It’s not like they helped you when you gave them the chance, so you’ll take matters into your own hands and maybe even show them up in the end…

# politics // 2016 election / alternative medicine / donald trump / pseudoscience


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