No matter who is president, we’ll get over it. We’ll get past Trump. We’ll get past whoever comes next.
But once we cease to believe that objective truth is the baseline for every discussion, we are doomed.
I was reading Facebook the other day when a high school classmate of mine posted this:
I had heard Trump’s ignorant remarks on this topic in a speech, in which he said, “We do not know what a ‘community college’ means,” right after expressing nostalgia for vocational schools.
But I was suspicious of this tweet, since I hadn’t heard about it. I suspected that he hadn’t actually tweeted it, since if he’d tweeted something this stupid, I thought I would have heard about it. I checked Trump’s Twitter feed. There was only one tweet from March 30, and this wasn’t it. So I was pretty sure it was fake.
My classmate who posted this is an intelligent and educated woman, but one who habitually posts anti-Trump memes and comments. I assumed she’d like to know that she’d inadvertently posted something fake, so I responded with this:
Xxxx, this is actually not a tweet by the president of the United States. While he said some of these things out loud, he didn’t say others. He didn’t say 13th grade. He didn’t say only for dummys. It is fake.
What surprised me was the response, both from my friend and her daughter who chimed in to support her. Among the arguments they made in favor of the post were these:
- Nothing on Snopes about it being fake. (This was true at the time, but since then Snopes has debunked it.)
- I don’t believe or disbelieve this one quote.
- The unbelievable part is that it sounds like something our President would say. That, in itself, is awful.
- Just because it’s not on his Twitter feed now doesn’t mean it wasn’t at one point. He’s been known to delete tweets too.
- The fact that it’s believable is the problem, like my daughter said and I agree.
- You don’t know whether it’s false anymore than I know it’s true……Occam’s razor comes into play.
- There is so much shit on his Twitter that this could very easily have fallen through the cracks.
This scares me more than anything Trump says
I am worried about what Trump is going to do in North Korea, in Syria, and with the special prosecutor Robert Mueller. Very worried.
But in all of those cases, there is some sort of a backstop. There are members of Congress. There is an opposition party. There are cabinet members like the Secretary of Defense. There is the Supreme Court. And there is the press, which continues to hold Trump’s feet to the fire over things he says that are not true.
But who backstops the truth?
My classmate doesn’t know or accept that you can check somebody’s Twitter feed, including deleted tweets. Or that not every lie instantly gets debunked on Snopes.
She doesn’t want to be wrong, or to admit that she might be wrong, or consider that it might matter whether what she is sharing is true or not. Because “it sounds like something our President would say.” After all, since he said something like it out loud, what difference does it make that he didn’t actually tweet this?
It matters. The truth matters. The details about that truth matter.
This is certainly not a liberal or a conservative problem. There are plenty of Trump backers with the same attitude of sharing stuff that’s not actually anywhere close to true. Or that’s half-true.
If you look carefully at what the intelligence community has determined about Russian interference in the 2016 election, the terrifying thing is that the core purpose wasn’t to get Trump elected. It was to divide the electorate and sow doubt about the integrity of the candidates, the press, and the truth.
And in that, it has been successful.
Do you believe what you want to believe?
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this. My post about a clearly false Trump meme, in which he told People Magazine he’d run as a Republican because they were the dumbest group of voters, has gotten dozens of comments. Many are from people who are certain they’ve seen this interview, even though it is nowhere online and People Magazine has denied it.
We are all susceptible to believing what we want to believe. Because of this, it is our duty to be suspicious.
Try these things.
Imagine that you believe the opposite of what you actually believe. Try on the arguments of the other side. See if they fit. This puts you in a suspicious frame of mind.
It helps to have friends with opposite points of view from yours. I have a few. They are very smart people, they keep me on my toes.
Understand the difference between The New York Times and “Liberal America” (or any of the thousands of other partisan meme-slingers). Be very doubtful of anything from the latter, regardless of which of your friends shared it, and no matter how much it ridicules the other side and makes you feel righteous.
If you disagree with a statement, argue against it with fact. Don’t attack the person who said it. Don’t change the subject.
Learn how to check things like Twitter and Instagram feeds. It’s not that hard. You don’t even have to belong to these social networks to check them.
Recognize that, while tools like Facebook are good at spreading things, including falsehoods, the internet is also a comprehensive device for checking and correcting things. If something actually happened, there will be evidence for it. If it was spoken, there is probably video of it. If it was written, you can find it. Learn to search in clever ways.
And chase links. Three, four, or six links down, you will get to the source material. It’s not just about what Fox News or CNN believes is important in the statement — it’s what the original statement actually was. Wikipedia is not dependable, but the links it its footnotes are gold.
Consider that you might be wrong. Admit it when you are. This is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. (And yes, I’ve been wrong a lot.)
In my world, the truth is more important than which team I’m on. If Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders is lying, I’m just as concerned about that as I am if it’s Ted Cruz or Donald Trump or Mike Pence.
Will you join me in that?