U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith visits the School of Science and Technology in February 2016. Credit: Bekah McNeel / San Antonio Report

There never was a world where “alternative facts” existed like invisible, yet-to-be-discovered anti-matter. Such a world does not exist now, even if President Donald Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway says otherwise.

There are only facts. Science has never had a political affiliation, and it doesn’t have one now. We in the media can’t claim to engage in the same systematic study of the natural world, relying as scientists do on measurable observation and experimentation. Much of what we observe is human nature as it unfolds on a daily basis, which makes it subject to interpretation. Yet we share the same devotion to facts and truth.

It’s never really been so hard to tell the truth from lies, either. It isn’t any harder today than it was yesterday.

The choice for Americans of all political inclinations watching events unfold in Washington today is the same now as it was 45 years ago when two young Washington Post reporters latched on to the Watergate burglary and didn’t let go, eventually leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

I am not saying that Trump is a crook, or that he should be impeached, but I do believe we are living in a time that is as dangerously anti-democratic now as it was then. However angry that makes some who read the Rivard Report, that means this is no time for guarded words or playing it safe.

I still read the Washington Post every day, as I did back then, and I am not alone in believing that the newspaper is experiencing one of its finest moments since Watergate with its contemporary reporting on the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress.

I read the Washington Post, among other national publications, because what happens in Washington has a direct impact on life in San Antonio. We are watching science and facts, and truth and the media come under daily assault in Washington. It’s as if together we have been identified as some collective threat to free market prosperity and a simpler life void of such unwarranted threats as climate change, communicable disease, and global hunger.

It makes no sense to sit back and stay silent in San Antonio. This is not a movie we are watching as mere spectators. It’s all about us and our world here and our role in the larger world beyond us. That’s why last week we published a second open letter written by San Antonio architect David Lake to U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who chairs the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

Unlike most citizens, Lake knows exactly what a 31% cut in the budget and a 25% reduction in workfoce at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will mean. In his business, it will allow people with no sense of social responsibility to go back in time when energy conservation, sustainability, clean air, and other environmental protections were not a concern.

The River Relay & Get Outdoors 5K was held to encourage people to get involved in outdoor recreation.
The River Relay & Get Outdoors was held to encourage people to get involved in outdoor recreation. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

That’s just the beginning of the harm that would be caused by such drastic and unwarranted deregulation of industry. Cleanup of Superfund sites, scientific investigation into climate change, environmental protections against polluting runoff, and restoration of badly-damaged habitat from the Great Lakes to the Puget Sound to the Texas Gulf Coast would be shifted to states that have neither the funds nor the political will to shoulder such national burdens.

The Washington Post provided the most detailed picture of Trump’s proposed EPA cuts in this article published Friday. The prospects should alarm conservatives as much as liberals.

The EPA, of course, is just one of many targets where radical budget cuts are being proposed – in part to make way for an equally dramatic increase in military spending, in part to eliminate government waste and bureaucracy, and in part because so many of the people in Trump’s administration come from industries that loathe government regulation.

The case has not been made yet to the American people for why a major increase in military spending is necessary, or what that spending will yield, nor has the case been made that civilian agencies are any more guilty of waste and bureaucracy than the military. Most importantly, many Americans have no inkling of how deep cuts to so many federal agencies will do harm to them where they and their children live, work, and play.

An example of a classroom with no windows and poorly equipped laboratory for science experiments. Photo by Scott Ball.
An example of a classroom with no windows and a poorly equipped laboratory for science experiments. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Perhaps no measure of the country’s anti-science mood is more evident than in the anti-vaccine movement, which has grown from a fringe element to an alarming number of people who find allies from Trump in the White House to Bexar County District Attorney Nicholas “Nico” LaHood – officeholders who demonstrate little understanding of the science yet lend their influential voices to the anti-science crowd.

Never mind that vaccines save millions of children’s lives each year and represent one of the 20th century’s greatest scientific and medical breakthroughs. One discredited and defrocked medical researcher and one false narrative linking vaccines to autism is all the “evidence” millions of people require in this day and age to shape their beliefs and convictions.

Again, read the Washington Post on the subject if you are willing to consider the facts.

San Antonio has one of the highest rates of economic segregation and inequality of any major U.S. city, and while there has not been that much discussion of the potential impact of the federal budget cuts on our city among those running for mayor and City Council, the poor will fare very, well, poorly if Trump’s budget prevails. We should be talking much more about exactly what will happen here.

I’ll send you to the Washington Post one more time to read an article published last month headlined, “If you’re a poor person in America, Trump’s budget is not for you.” The steady, incremental impact on the most vulnerable communities in San Antonio will only become evident when it is too late to reverse the immediate damage.

We will do our best in the coming months as the Trump budget reaches Congress and becomes a topic of greater national debate to show exactly what its impact will be locally. Perhaps more citizens will then join David Lake in addressing open letters to the people elected to represent this city and region in Washington.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.