Thinking through and writing about issues that rouse
I have a very nice Republican friend, very sweet, very non-confrontational, and very supportive of Trump. Recently my posts on social media have been all about Black Lives Matter. There’s nothing specifically anti-Trump. Hmm. Did I post about that Bible-holding protester-clearing photo op? Maybe in reaction, he sent me this message on Messenger: (the spelling and grammatical errors are his, which he acknowledged and apologized for).
“I know it’s difficult to find something good about a person or group when your bombarded with negative commentary continuously but remember we are all US Citizens and need bridges that we can all build on… even if a particular person has personal faults we can’t change. I hope you can appreciate these well documented accomplishments that may seem or not seem important but the facts are, things are getting done but the biased media will not report these things because they do not attract headlines nor want to give any credit to the other side.”
The very long list of accomplishments starts like this:
Dude has been in office for 3 years…. what has he done? Other than dodging the darts the media and Pelosi have thrown?!? What have PRESIDENT TRUMP and his cabinet accomplished? Here you go.
( A list of about 125 items ensued. I’m addressing part of the list.)
After skimming, I answered back: Interesting. Do you have a source for this that you say is well-documented. If not, I’ll look for verification myself.
His response: Somebody else did all that footwork so they were too many to look up that’s why I didn’t post it as a general but my point was that even if there’s one or two that are incorrect there still a lot that has been accomplished and the people we need to come together rather than build walls.
Me: Ok. I’ll look into it. But really you shouldn’t just trust things that someone sent. Need to check sources which is what I will do.
Him: You know me I normally don’t forward a lot of that crap but because there are so many that I’m sure or I’d like to believe at least 90% of it is correct.
I told him that I loved research and would look into it. By looking into it, I mean check for sources, veracity, and context. Spoiler alert — I may do a sequel, but it was a long list and I didn’t get through it all. After looking up about 30 of the 125 said accomplishments, I started to see a teachable moment — lessons on applying thinking skills.
When you accept the party line uncritically, you are abdicating your agency. I know it may not be fun and games, but if you really do care about the democratic process of government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” then you have a responsibility to be critical. This means questioning not just the other side, but anyone who claims to be acting on your behalf. It’s disturbing to me that so many people will abdicate their responsibily to think for themselves and will just accept what someone says without critique. So this piece is for him, but it’s also for me and active citizens like me who are hoping to influence a community of independent thinkers.
Lesson One: If you are a thinker, you consider the language of demonization
Lesson Two: If you are a thinker, you consider bias, especially confirmation bias
I am a liberal. I believe in working to achieve justice and equality. I may not always catch my bias, but I try. This has become such a problem in today’s era of fake news. What I say is fake is true to you and vice versa. I do think there is a way past this dilemma, and it is in being willing to go there, to question everything and look for the facts. I admire my friend’s desire to build bridges, not walls, even though he has a conservative bias, at least he is reaching out.
In this era of the great pandemic, I know people who demonize mask-wearing. One friend constantly posts things he’s found to prove his point. When I told him one of his sources is a known conspiracy theorist, he replied that this is how whistleblowers are treated by the establishment. There is discomfort when the facts prove you wrong. You have to move past that and commit to the evidence, as if you were a juror. I was once on the anti-mask side but have changed my mind for the simple reason that if it can help, why not? And the videos of the angry anti-maskers are disturbing. I wouldn’t want to be aligned with them.
As I was doing the “accomplishment” research, I looked into where my search results came from. I tried to keep to media or organizations that are considered nonpartisan. I tried to stay away from any source that looked too extreme one way or the other, unless it was appropriate, as in looking for Native voices in issues concerning Native lives. I tried to look for opposing views. I do trust certain outlets better than others and I refer to this chart:
Ask yourself: Am I after truth or just validation of my opinions? Am I willing to admit my bias?
Lesson Three: If you are a thinker, you consider your assumptions
Even labeling this list “accomplishments” is assuming that whatever is on this list is an accomplishment. Just because someone says it is doesn’t mean that it is. For example, on the list is: “He created a White House VA Hotline to help veterans and principally staffed it with veterans and direct family members of veterans.”
This was rated by Politifact (non-partisan fact-checking site) as true. But did it make a difference? That is subject to examination. Trump did set up this hotline. So yes, it is fine that it is on that list. Whether or not it is effective is yet to be determined. The group DisabledVeterans.org asked that question and requested veterans to report back in the comments. There seems to be a lot more negative than positive comments, and in searching for veterans’ issues in general, it is a mixed bag. There are differing views. This opinion piece from USA Today says that “Trump Achieves Major Victories for Veterans.” But the American Prospect, a progressive think tank, is much more critical of Trump’s policies, calling Trump’s policies a “war on veterans.”
Another assumption Ballard and my friend make, is that the quantity must mean something. He assumed that by making a long list of everything he (and the White House) claims is an accomplishment, poof, by magic it is so. Quantity does not mean more truth. Each one of the claims must be examined in order to be deemed an accomplishment.
Ask yourself: Did I make an assumption that needs more questioning?
Lesson Four: If you are a thinker, you look at both sides of the debate
On the list is the claim that: “Violent crime has fallen every year he’s been in office after rising during the 2 years before he was elected.”
There is a difference in the interpretation of the report on violent crime referred to. Forbes (October 10, 2019) (rated as center by allsides.com and mediabiasfactcheck.com) reports that Trump’s policies did have an effect. On the other hand, Politifact and the Brennan Center for Justice, (October 29, 2019) a nonpartisan law and policy organization, provides a lot of evidence that the claim is exaggerated.
If there is a difference of opinion on whether or not something is true, what are you supposed to believe? You can do a meta-analysis and examine what values may be guiding their interpretation. In the case of the Forbes article, the writer mentions the restoration of law-and-order under Trump’s leadership. But the Brennan article suggests the opposite:
“ But researchers have failed to uncover a link between such “de-policing” and homicide rises. Instead, the data suggests a different culprit: a crisis in police legitimacy, causing communities to disengage after witnessing unjustified police violence.”
We only have to look at the current protests against police brutality and systemic racism that make the Brennan interpretation the more apt one.
When you get conflicting reports, what do you do? Most important issues have valid arguments on both sides. I recommend going deep (researching different perspectives) on any issue that you are passionate about and what is important in your world. When I was a teacher, I went deep into education issues. Because I live on the Big Island of Hawaii, I went deep into the protests regarding Mauna Kea. At some point, you have to make a stand based on the evidence and your values.
Ask yourself: Have I examined the evidence? Are there opposing conclusions? Have I synthesized my research? Can I make a stand based on evidence?
Lesson Five: If you are a thinker, you need to look at the broader context
For example, the first item on the list was: “Trump recently signed 3 bills to benefit Native people. One gives compensation to the Spokane tribe for loss of their lands in the mid-1900s, one funds Native language programs, and the third gives federal recognition to the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Montana. “ This is true. His tweet about it is dated December 27, 2019. But the website Cultural Survival, an advocacy organization for indigenous people, tells a bigger story. The headline to their article reads: Presidents Day 2020: 11 Ways Trump Dishonors Native Americans & How Natives Fight Back. The bill referred to on this list is included as problematic.
“However, these are the only pro tribal bills signed into law so far this legislative session; and according to Indianz.com, historically about 20 tribal bills have been signed into law during any particular session of Congress, regardless of which parties are running the show in Washington. In the previous session, passage of bills in favor of Tribes was down by about 40% compared to previous years.”
The other ways described in this article provides a fuller picture of Native concerns. Most recently, they have had to fight to get their share of stimulus funding, which is especially cruel given that they have been disproportionately hit by Covid.
According to some conservative media, reported by AP, seen on Michigan Radio (NPR), there were some reports from conservative media that gave Trump credit using demonizing language against Obama, e.g. “A story by the right-wing partisan website The Red Elephants is headlined, “Trump’s EPA sending $100 million to Flint to fix water — something Obama refused to do.”
If you are a critical thinker, you can see the slant in that headline. The Michigan Radio headline reads: “Fact Check: Obama, Trump both had role in Flint Water Relief.” Being able to identify spin is not always easy, but being aware that such a thing is done should make you more vigilant.
Ask yourself: Is that spin? Is it an exaggeration?
Lesson Eight: If you are a thinker, you can consider that a bill signed into law is more of legislative accomplishment than due to the President
Any “accomplishments” on the mega-list that are bills went through the process of becoming a law through the legislative process. Ultimately in order for the law to be enacted, the president has to sign it. So…
Yes. Trump signed a law to make cruelty to animals a federal felony so that animal abusers face tougher consequences.
Yes, Trump signed the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” (FOSTA), which includes the “Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act” (SESTA) which both give law enforcement and victims new tools to fight sex trafficking.
Yes, Trump signed a bill to require airports to provide spaces for breastfeeding Moms.
Yes, there’s more that I did not google.
We do need to keep in mind though, that the work of legislation can take years, and doesn’t have anything to do with the president unless it is a pet project of his, such as in building the border wall or the tax bill. For example, criminal justice reform called for in the First Step Act at the end of 2018, took many years of advocacy.
Ask yourself: (and this for myself) Can you cut the dude a break? Give him some credit? (and for you) Does he really deserve credit?
Lesson Nine: If you are a thinker, you will consider that we do not yet know if this was a net positive
For example, Trump can unequivocally take credit for his tax cuts. And so far, the only people who can say this was a benefit for them are the top 20% of tax-payers. Even before the pandemic, there was no evidence that it had benefited the rest of us. The same goes with the trade agreements. We don’t yet know the impact. I remember when I read a similar list to this last year and it had listed the strides made with North Korea. Well, that didn’t happen.
Ask yourself: Is this an unproven claim? Is it more of a hope than an actual accomplishment?
Lesson Ten: If you are a thinker, you can see how I would be so opposed to a few major items, that I would not count them as accomplishments.
Here is where we need to acknowledge our differences. Here’s where you know I am a liberal. I would never consider his claims about the border wall as an accomplishment, nor his appointments to the Supreme Court, nor the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, nor the forced separation of children from their parents, nor his push to end public education by promoting “choice.” On and on.
My reasons for not supporting Trump have many pillars, and run deep to my core, my values. I think it is fine if you disagree with me, but I would hope that this disagreement is not based on blind loyalty to a person or a party. I would hope that your disagreements are well-thought out and based on the core of your being, your values. I’d like to have conversations about that. I hope we can “agree to disagree” from the deep core of our values and not on the basis of unsubstantiated support for a certain candidate.
Ask yourself: What exactly did he do that you also stand for? Is there evidence of his character that you admire and inspire you to emulate? Is there evidence of accomplishments that has benefited the country as a whole? Do you and he share the same values?
Thinking flies against the face of our fast-food, meme-sharing, mindless scrolling culture. We’d rather just put our faith in someone we have already given our proxy to — our party, or church, our preferred media sites. Maybe we can inspire thinking in snack-sized bites a little at a time. I realize that this piece isn’t snack-sized, but hopefully it is a big bento box that you can share bit by bit as needed.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.