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.