It’s not 1633, but some days it seems like it is. The anti-science bent of Donald Trump and his malleable Republican minions is emerging as a modern-day echo of the vile popes and persecuted scientists of 17th century Europe. It ain’t pretty.
For the historically challenged, the first years of the 1600s were distinguished by a conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and scientific discoveries by such greats as Galileo and (a little earlier) Kepler and Copernicus. They postulated and then proved by mathematics and observation that the heliocentric (sun-centered) conception of the solar system was accurate; and that the Earth-centric, allegedly biblical doctrine of the church was demonstrably wrong. The most famous fracas of the time came to be known as “il processo a Galileo Galilei,” or “The Galileo Affair.”
Beginning in about 1610, two popes and the Roman Catholic Inquisition condemned Galileo’s support of heliocentrism as heresy, culminating with his trial and conviction by the Inquisition in 1633. He was kept under house arrest until his death in 1642.
Galileo was right about the configuration of the solar system, and one of the popes, Urban VIII, knew the scientist was right. Urban had been friendly to Galileo because Galileo had traveled to Rome in 1623 to congratulate the new pontiff. But Urban, feeling the political pressures of court intrigue, eventually succumbed to the Inquisition’s influence and turned against Galileo, banning his books and ordering him to abandon his theories. Sound familiar?
Trump is no Urban VIII. The prez is not that smart. But when it comes to ignoring science for political expediency, Trump’s playbook is not unlike the Urban’s stratagem. Consider the Trump administration’s determination to disregard scientific facts and undermine apolitical researchers:
- An attempt (thus far thwarted) to roll back long-standing proven protections for water, air and federal lands.
- The deleterious transfer of U.S. Department of Agriculture functions and personnel from Washington, DC, to cities across the nation in a transparent attempt to purge USDA of scientists whose professional work does not conform to the administration’s flawed policies.
- Diminishment of the historic role of the Environmental Protection Agency, so much so that “environmental protection” as it applies to the agency is a non sequitur.
- The president’s laughable forecast that Hurricane Dorian threatened Alabama, followed by his pathetic doubling down on his ignorance by using a doctored map to save face; followed by a Trump Cabinet officer ordering leaders of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to support the president and reject the accurate conclusion of NOAA meteorologists who said the storm would not cross into the Gulf of Mexico and would not be anywhere near Alabama.
- Rejection of the proven impacts of human activity-induced climate change; accompanied by dismissing the science and muzzling U.S. scientists who don’t dance to the mindless Trump tune.
The partial list demonstrates that Trumpanistas are eager to undermine scientific inquiry and fact when science refutes their policy narrative. Administration toadies and spineless Republicans who go along with Trump’s pernicious tosh fall somewhere between Luddites and Inquisitors. Trump is the 21st century’s reprehensible version of Pope Urban VIII. The scientists in his inquisitorial crosshairs are modern-day Galileos. And it’s not 1633. Really, it’s not.