This is a slight follow-up to my Monday post, headlined “On the economy, Obama owns Trump,” which reviewed some measures of economic performance under President Barack Obama and President Donalc Trump (so far).
I acknowledged that giving a president credit or blame for everything that happens in the economy or in the world during the tenure is an absurdity. So there’s that.
I also admitted that, when dealing with Trump, Trumpism, Trump admirers, it seems like a sucker play to engage in too much intellectual honesty about factual matters, because it too often won’t be reciprocated. That’s not across lines of left and right. It’s about Trump (and his strongest admirers) not accepting the norms of intellectual honesty.
I generally read all the comments that run under my posts (my thanks here to all who comment). There are Trump defenders who regularly rebut and rebuke me. I will defend to the death their right to do so. I don’t believe that I’ve ever replied to them before. But I just feel like doing so today, to say that their position is roughly this:
Barack Obama deserves no credit for anything good that happened during his tenure, but gets the blame for everything bad that happened and everything good that didn’t happen.
Trump deserves all the credit for everything good that has happened since the day he took office, but none of the blame for anything bad that has happened or anything good that failed to happen.
Talking past each other is dangerous. We need to find a way to connect across areas of disagreement and actually listen. The twin demons of “selective perception” and “confirmation bias” are powerful. They get in the way of even noticing (let alone acknowledging) information that supports a position contrary to one’s own. Or, if we do notice such information, we may be powerfully motivated to disbelieve it or explain it away.
I have friends who are much more conservative than I am, who believe in the importance of trying to get the facts right — even, or perhaps especially – when the facts are subject to conflicting reasonable interpretations, with whom I can have such conversations. I treasure those relationships and those conversations. Unfortunately, in the current climate, because they believe in getting the facts right, and believe in civility of exchanges even across areas of disagreement, it’s hard for them to whole-heartedly defend Trump. (Plus he’s not really much of a conservative, as they understand the essence of conservatism.) That’s not their fault; in fact, it’s to their credit.
I looked up a passage from Obama’s televised farewell address, broadcast 10 days before the transfer of the presidency to his successor. He tried to take the high road, but went out of his way not to mention Trump by name. The passage went like this:
Regardless of the station we occupy, we all have to try harder; we all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.
And that’s not easy to do. For too many of us it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. In the rise of naked partisanship and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste, all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.
And increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.
And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy. Look, politics is a battle of ideas. That’s how our democracy was designed. In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we’re going to keep talking past each other, and we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible.
That was good stuff.