By George B. Kauffman
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen, Random House Trade Paperback, New York, 2018, $18.00. ISBN 9780812978902.
Donald J. Trump is not sui generis but only the latest P.T. Barnum huckster to take advantage of our susceptibility to believe in make-believe. America was founded on our believe-in-anything-that-you-want fantasy, as French sociologist and political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) noted in his influential De La Démocratie en Amérique (1835).
Here are some current statistics showing the extent of our belief in falsehoods. Nearly one of two Americans believes that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election. More than one of three believes that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a conspiracy of scientists, government and the media. One out of three Americans believe that extraterrestrials have visited or now reside on earth.
One of three Americans believes that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, that is, they deny evolution. At least one of four Americans believes that vaccines cause autism. One of four Americans believes that Barack Obama may have been the Antichrist.
One of four Americans believes that U.S. officials planned the 9/11 attacks. One of four Americans believes in witches. One of four Americans believes that the media or the government adds secret mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals.
Kurt Andersen, the New York Times bestselling author and co-creator of the public radio show “Studio 360, the Peabody Award–winning public radio show and podcast, and co-founder of the legendary Spy magazine, provides a new and comprehensive understanding of our post-truth world and the American instinct to believe in make-believe. He graduated from Harvard College, where he was editor of the Harvard Lampoon. He is the author of the novels Heyday, Turn of the Century and True Believers. He contributes to Vanity Fair and the New Yorker and currently lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
George B. Kauffman, Ph.D., chemistry professor emeritus at Fresno State and a Guggenheim Fellow, is a recipient of the American Chemical Society’s George C. Pimentel Award in Chemical Education, the Helen M. Free Award for Public Outreach and the Award for Research at an Undergraduate Institution, and numerous domestic and international honors. In 2002 and 2011, he was appointed a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, respectively.