Emotion is the death of reason
It’s probably fair to say that the average American has nothing more than a passing interest in politics.
Most Americans care enough to formulate an opinion on bits of information that make their way into the public sphere--but that’s about it. As a general rule, most people don’t seek out new information, let alone cross-reference the information they receive for validity.
This tends to be a problem.
You’ve probably heard the famous Jefferson adage, "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people." But what does that look like, today, in 2017?
It can manifest itself in a variety of ways. There can be flat out lies.
An example of this includes the lie that Vice President Mike Pence once supported the use of public funds for conversion therapy of homosexuals. In actuality, in 2000, while running for Congress, he wrote that Congress should divert funding to institutions that seek to help individuals “change their sexual behavior”. Of course, this statement refers to sexual behavior, not sexual orientation or identity.
Another recent example is the accusation that Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to fill Justice Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court, founded and led a “Fascism Forever” club in high school. This claim conveniently fits the President’s critics’ fascism narrative, however, inconveniently, it’s also horribly and factually inaccurate.
Unfortunately, dishonest information is often more difficult to identify than the two examples cited above. In fact, it usually isn’t a blatant lie.
Usually, it manifests itself in the mischaracterization of sensitive and difficult issues.
Like most political problems, this tends to be a problem that reaches across the political spectrum. In other words, both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of misrepresenting issues.
For Republicans, this could be accusing someone who is pro-choice of wanting to murder small children. Of course, this is untrue and a misrepresentation of the real issue at hand.
Or, maybe it’s the way that some conservatives characterize the marijuana debate, citing morality concerns while failing to realize the practicality of the plant as a medicinal drug, for example. Or just maybe, it’s insisting that our first black president wasn’t actually born in the United States despite no basis on which to ground such an argument.
However, this issue has been demonstrated no more clearly than in the backlash to the President’s signing of executive orders reinstating the Mexico City rule. This executive order, coupled with the statements of Republican leadership, has led many to worry that the administration will attempt to totally defund Planned Parenthood.
This action has been met with widespread negativity. I’ve seen numerous individuals criticising the administration, not for trying to limit federal funding for abortion, but for trying to deny women their healthcare needs.
I take it those individuals don’t know that the GOP’s plan is to divert funding from Planned Parenthood to Federal Community Health Centers, institutions that provide the same services as Planned Parenthood with the exception of abortion. I take it they also are unaware of the fact that Federal Community Health Centers already outnumber Planned Parenthoods at a rate of 20 to 1. Yes, really.
But, of course, it’s much easier to win an argument if you mischaracterize your opponent’s point of view, and with a population of nearly 320 million people, unverified information can spread quickly and freely.
This is the type of malicious distortion of sensitive topics that must be removed from the public sphere if we’re ever going to make any real progress. We shouldn’t be dragging our feet in the mud by trying to win petty political fights, especially on important issues like women’s healthcare. It’s time to get serious about our political discussions by educating ourselves and refusing to take everything we hear at face value.
Jonathan Deemer is a sophomore studying biomedical science.