One of the gravest threats to autocratic, fascist, theocratic, and kleptocratic regimes is a flourishing scientific, artistic, and intellectual community that dares to challenge the regime's designs on a nation-state and its people.
That is why we should all be very alarmed that Donald Trump's transition team is demanding from the U.S. Department of Energy the "names" of scientists who have done work on climate change, and the professional society memberships of its lab workers; a request that the agency has thus far rightly rebuffed.
These efforts are similar in spirit to "Professor Watchlist," a website whose stated purpose is "to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom." I encourage you to visit this website. It's chilling, with links to "submit a tip" and a "watch list directory" that boasts over 100 professors at colleges and graduate institutions around the country whose ideas ostensibly need to be monitored.
Viewing this as a backlash to "political correctness" and "safe spaces" or as "discrimination" against those who oppose these concepts as an equal affront to free expression is naive and reductive. The only "propaganda" here is the McCarthyite effort to list, shame, name, blame, and ultimately silence intellectual critics and detractors.
Our Founding Fathers recognized this danger, of course. That among other reasons is why they wove into the fabric of the Republic a separation of church and state, freedom of speech, and numerous other safeguards of free thought, expression, and assembly.
Ask yourself why the nascent Trump administration and its cheerleaders are so afraid of scientific advancement and intellectualism? To get started on an answer, read about Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and any number of intellectuals who fled Nazi Germany.
There is no greater threat to a demagogue and an autocrat than an intellectual or a scientist challenging his views.
Why? Because autocracy is a parasite that leeches off a facile, malleable, suggestible, and gullible public host. One that is fed a steady diet of fear and false hope, and that is kept penned up in its own ignorance while those bold enough to resist or inform find themselves penned up in a jail cell, or worse.
America's long, tragic repudiation of education as a Thing That Matters has led to a serious vulnerability. One that is now poised to be exploited by a bumbling kleptocrat and his team of domestic beneficiaries and foreign colluders, none of whom, by the way, include the American citizens who actually elected him or who will do any good at all for those citizens.
Ask yourself why the incoming administration wants to blacklist scientists and intellectuals? The answer is straightforward: They are standing in the way of its naked agenda of personal enrichment and creeping militarization of American minds and bodies.
Alarm bells should ring for this, and loudly.