According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who went up against Hitler and paid with his life, ignorance, being uninformed or misinformed is a more dangerous enemy of the good than evil is. Against evil, he maintained, one can protest; it can be exposed and, if necessary, stopped by force, but against a lack of knowledge we are defenseless.

As I watched the president’s acceptance speech at the end of the Republican Convention a few weeks ago, I thought of these words of Bonhoeffer’s I had read earlier that day in a book of his meditations. I wondered about these people sitting shoulder to shoulder, almost no one wearing a mask—so obviously ignorant, or misinformed, of how contagious this Covid-19 virus is—do they know that many children of migrants legally seeking asylum in our country are still being separated from their parents by the Trump administration? As a psychologist I believe this is one of Trump’s most heinous acts. Do they know that after a phone call from President Erdogan of Turkey last October, without consulting any of our generals, let alone the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Trump pulled our troops out of Syria allowing Erdogan’s forces to cross the border and slaughter many of our most loyal allies, the Kurds. The Kurds were totally betrayed and their community, a budding democracy, was destroyed. This also left Russia in command of this region of Syria instead of the United States, another gift from Trump to Russia. Of course, many in this privileged audience were probably among the 1% who received 80% of the Trump tax-cut, and have benefitted richly from his policies, but do they know how he has weakened our position in the world and that this will ultimately affect them?

Bonhoeffer also said this of uninformed people: when facts contradict their own prejudice, they only need to be disbelieved, and when facts are unavoidable, they can be swept aside as meaningless isolated cases.

Do these people who are shouting, “Four more years,” at Trump’s rallies know how much he has weakened our government agencies by firing career officers with years of experience and installing his own supporters with no background or expertise in the role in which he has placed them? The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, for example, has been actively rolling back and eliminating EPA safeguards. In fact, Trump has rolled back over a hundred of the EPA’s protections, and most recently he has opened the pristine forests of Alaska to logging and the building of roads. If they were told this, would they not shake their heads and say, “All this alarm about climate change is just a Democratic hoax designed to take Trump down.” Hopefully, logging in this untouched wilderness will be fought in the courts and if a new president is elected will be overturned. The fires in California? “We just need to rake the forest better,” they would say, because they believe their leader. It is interesting that I did not hear one word about climate change, our most dangerous crisis, though I watched the whole convention.

Another disturbing comment from Bonhoeffer’s meditation is that he believes in contrast to evil people, uninformed people are satisfied with themselves and can easily be encouraged to go on the attack, therefore more care must be taken in regard to ignorance than to evil.

Recently I have heard people express fears that if Trump loses the election there may be violence. A friend of mine is even storing food so that she and her husband would not have to leave their home if this were to happen. At first, I thought this was over-the-top fear. Then I learned that over 10 million guns have been sold since the pandemic shut down in March, many more than usual. This may seem like a small item, but the Biden-Harris sign I placed at the end of my driveway at 10 am last Wednesday had been taken down by 3pm. This is a felony. Since I began writing this article, Trump has said he will consider the election results fraudulent unless he wins—no need for a peaceful transition, just a continuation. This is very troubling.

I am not going to store food. At least not yet. But I am going to do all I can to help Biden-Harris win the election. Since the Woodward tapes have come out, and we can hear Trump’s own voice acknowledging that he knew as early as February 7th that this virus is, “five times as deadly as a strenuous flu,” and yet told the American people a different story, I have heard of some Trump signs coming down and more Biden signs going up. That is encouraging. I talked to a man whom I knew to be a strong supporter of Trump in 2016, a business owner, and asked him if he still supported Donald Trump. I was relieved when he said, “Not on your life. That was a huge mistake.” I asked him if he knew about the children of people legally seeking asylum being separated from their parents. He did not. Or the slaughter of the Kurds by the Turks? He did not. The mishandling of the Covid-19 virus was enough for him, although he said he still knows people who think the virus is a hoax that will go away after the election.

A democracy cannot exist for long without an informed electorate. The misinformation Trump gives out at his rallies to a portion of our electorate could give this president four more years, because they believe it. Many who believe Trump’s false boasting that he has done a great job handling the pandemic, are unaware or disbelieve what the scientists tell of that is the exact opposite. That it did not need to come to this. I agree with Bonhoeffer. Ignorance, that is being uninformed or misinformed, is truly more dangerous to the good than evil.

Sarah Slagle Arnold, Ph.D., a psychologist practicing in Topsham, can be reached at [email protected]

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