Elissa Slotkin is the Democratic candidate in Michigan’s 8th District Race. She had “assumed that her campaign for Congress would be built around pocketbook issues such as the rising cost of health care, stagnant wages and unaffordable college tuition.” Instead, her campaign events are “therapy sessions.” “Voters say they are tired of the anger and polarization emanating from Washington. They say they crave compromise. Yet these same voters view the rival party with disdain and frequently punish politicians for reaching across partisan lines. They want the anger to stop but can’t stop being angry.”
The two malignant centers of righteous indignation in the United States are politics and religion. American politics has devolved from what once was a cordial biennial sport into continuous all-out warfare! As one of Ms. Slotkin’s supporters said, “How do you deal with friends and family that are constantly posting things that are not accurate or that go blatantly against what you believe?” How, indeed?
America’s Founders warned us against allowing political parties to form. George Washington said it best: “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” It was as if he could foresee today!
When you study America’s racial problems, you find that all of them were caused by politically-motivated blunders over the past two centuries. Every one of them. Seeing how that tragedy unfolded has made me realize that politics has to be the worst way to manage any country! It isn’t only that political fighting can poison our personal relationships; and it isn’t so much that having political parties makes it easier for George Washington’s posited “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men” to seize power. No, the worst thing about having political parties is the way their battling obscures the facts and makes wise decision-making nearly impossible.
You cannot expect to hear facts from politicians. Informing you is not their job! Our system of government assumes that all citizens will inform themselves, and we will then choose our leaders based on what we know about our problems and which candidates seem best able to solve them. Back when voters understood their responsibility to inform themselves, our political system did kind of pretty much more or less work a lot of the time. Now, however, it does not work at all. The big difference between politics today and politics decades ago is that in recent years two political parties have taken over the dissemination of information in the United States. Isn’t “the news” supposed to be about facts? Yet if you watch MSNBC and Fox News on the same evening and attempt to reconcile their different sets of facts, your head could explode. Each of them calls the other “fake news,” and on that one point they both are right! As was said by the woman quoted above, “friends and family… are constantly posting things that are not accurate or that go blatantly against what you believe.” Since most of us now depend on a few politically biased sources of information, for Americans to suffer repeated bouts of righteous indignation against those who happen to live in a different political reality is inevitable!
One of the wisest politicians of the past century was Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He said, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” One of the few things on which most people still agree is the fact that facts are factual. Somewhere there is an objective truth! The problem is that neither political party and no other major source of information really focuses on discovering that truth. For example, in the area of race in America here are two spectacular facts!
If either of these facts surprises you, then you have discovered our urgent need for a source of objective, nonpartisan truth!
Building a repository of unbiased information about political issues should be easy. Voters might go to a website called, for example, SeekFacts.org, and look up any point of political differences. There they would find independently verifiable information, and also information on the political positions of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Surely there is an American philanthropist who sees a well-informed electorate to be our most urgent need of all?
Nearly all decisions that are made politically can be demonstrated to do more harm than good. Politics has nothing to do with actually solving complex problems! And the more we have politicized the decision-making process in this country, the more we have obscured the truth. For example, here are four highly politicized areas where I would love to have better information:
On each of these topics, FindFacts.org might provide a Factual Summary, links to sources on which that summary is based, and both Blue Corner and Red Corner sections that would showcase each political party’s positions. The parties would be invited to write their own Corner statements, and they even could devote their Corners to political refutations of the Factual Summary. If they found new information to share that would pass FindFacts.org’s rigorous vetting, then of course the website’s Curators would accordingly revise their Factual Summary. In this way the political parties could use facts-based advocacy for their own positions as a way to help us better zero in on what is actually true. And with FindFacts.org available to them, voters could efficiently learn enough to develop their own informed opinions and head to the polls as more confident and much more open-minded voters.
Thomas Jefferson had a contentious relationship with the heavily politicized press of his day, but still he said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” On the topic of political parties he said, “The greatest good we can do our country is to heal its party divisions and make them one people.” Perhaps foreseeing our present rabidly partisan moment, he also said, “He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”
Political battling is a terrible way to make any kind of decision. And while we may not be able to move at once from a politics of destructive rage to a wise and benevolent form of government that is based in thorough study of objective facts, at least we can improve our political process and tone down the current level of righteous indignation by making it easier for all citizens to inform ourselves. It would be good, too, if we all realized that adamantly holding to our own beliefs is always a vice and never a virtue. Next week we will talk about the poisonous role of holding a deeply-held faith in anything….