The New Challenge of America: reaching the fact-free 48%

It’s early November and Obama has won re-election.  Our Republican brothers and sisters are busy pointing fingers and making accusations about who’s to blame for their loss.  However, Democrats have a big problem as well.  We witnessed the Republican party run the most fact-free campaign in history, and we watched in horror as 48% of American voters bought in to it.  (If you don’t believe that Romney told lies, you may want to check out a blog written by Steve Benen who tracked them: as of election day, he had managed to rack up a record-setting 917 false statements).  

Wake up, my brothers and sisters: It’s going to happen again, and sooner or later, a liar will succeed in getting into power based on falsehood.  The challenge that we must address, starting now, is to convince millions of Americans to think critically, to listen and consider ideas that don’t agree with theirs, and take input from multiple sources.

Frank Rich wrote a reasoned and impassioned recap of the Republican bubble in New York Magazine a few days ago (link).  His article ended with a sad announcement: If truth can’t command a mandate, no one can.  One would hope that a well-seasoned writer and professional journalist such as Mr. Rich would use his skills and position to begin to address this challenge… to reach out to the masses who voted “fact free,” but that did not happen.  There are many reasons why Frank Rich’s article will not have that impact.  Here’s my list:

  • The article is published in an outlet that is not commonly read by conservatives.
  • The article is written such that a poorly educated citizen would find it confusing to read. 
  • The article conflates the voters with the party.  Arguing against the party will not convince the voters.  Arguing that voters are unintelligent will not convince them either.

This is not a criticism of Frank Rich.  His article was probably not intended to have any lasting impact.  But a lasting impact is essential to avoid living through this again.

We cannot count on the folks who make these mistakes to do our job for us.  We will have to do it ourselves. 

We, the individual citizens of conscience, the consumers of science, the respecters of fact, the compassionate majority, we will have to individually and personally make the case to our neighbors that they have been misled.  We will have to teach them how to think critically, something normally reserved for college students at a liberal arts university. 

We will have to do that by listening to their concerns, communicating complex ideas with the metaphors that they are comfortable using, and explaining how to find sources of information that are not polluted with bias.  We will have to teach our neighbors and friends, especially those who have been listening to lies, to think critically.  Specifically, we will ask them to trust democracy more than they trust media, to value facts from reputable sources, to break down rhetoric into simple logic, to listen to leaders with specific and proven skills, and to accept the notion that the repetition of a message does not make the message truthful or accurate.

It is not impossible to reach our neighbors.  Some are too far gone, but most are not.  We must try.  Our democracy depends on it.

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2 thoughts on “The New Challenge of America: reaching the fact-free 48%”

  1. Well put, Nick. I completely agree and this is something Don and I have been attempting to do for more than a decade on the issues centering on equality of rights for homosexuals and transgendered individuals. As is obvious from this election, ground is being gained on our narrow focus at the national level. Unfortunately, the level of nonsensical BS others were willing to generate to avoid truth was simultaneously redoubled. Many leaders simply refuse to accept the facts or listen to their constituents.
    The only way to fight this is education on personal, local, and national platforms. One thing that helps a great deal is the circulation of quality, well thought-out media-bites that can be disseminated electronically. Flyers, cartoons, and video-shorts are just a few of the tools Don and I use on a regular basis as they come to our attention. I would ask all readers to circulate such media as widely as possible, when it comes into their awareness.
    Similarly, when you take notice of anyone making disparaging statements about any non-criminal group, consider stepping up to be counted against their expression, be it political or misguided comedy. I have done so ever since watching the Emmy Award winning Civil Rights Movement PBS TV-series “I’ll Fly Away” in the early ’90’s. Each episode was followed with an interview of an individual with a story to tell. On one occasion, the interviewee was an older black lady who was young at the time of Rosa Parks’ bus ride. She stated that if Rosa could make a stand against her oppressors, then she, a strong young black woman, could certainly make her stand against anyone she experienced oppressing others in her presence. I have learned that making a public stand in the moment does more to educate others to the undeniably unwelcome nature of their oppressive expressions than any other form of experience. In the heat of the moment the contrast is stark.

    Tony Poland, CMT

    1. Very good points, Tony. I especially agree with the personal response. Sharing a photo on facebook is fun, and maybe it even feels good, but Rosa Parks didn’t trigger a movement by sitting in the front pew at a black church, among her friends and peers. She set fire to a nation by doing something that took real, personal, in-your-face courage. Quiet, but real. She had the right, as a human being, to sit where her tired feet allowed, even if it meant that a white person had to stand.

      If you cannot be confronted, if you do not face anger, or hatred, you have not begun to actually stare at the hatred that keeps us all down.

      Tony, Washington state faced our own demons this election day and legalized same-sex marriage. Someday soon, I hope California will make the same step. It is time, and the reason that the time has come is, in part, because of the individual men and women who are unafraid to face down the hatred and ignorance and bigotry of so many people in so many individual, day-to-day, moments.

      It’s the little things that change a nation. In the past, it was sitting on a bus, or at a lunch counter. Today, it is holding hands, or sitting on a blanket in a public park, or daring to talk about your partner in a social moment with your co-workers. Sometimes, these things are free of consequences. Sometimes, there are consequences that range from dirty looks to outright violence, from lost friendships to lost jobs to lost lives. But courageous people, one at a time, are changing America. It is the only way that America will change.

      One citizen at a time.

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