I set up this blog to review things I liked. Hell, I named it “Len likes…” with the idea that the title of each entry would be a thing I liked, and that I thought other people should be aware of, because hey, maybe you’ll like it too. But then that election happened. Did you hear about it? It’s crazy. There were two candidates, both flawed.
One had tons of experience in government and a long list of accomplishments in public service, but she had some things going against her. A lot of people thought she was shady, perhaps corrupt, maybe even criminal. (You know, like most politicians.) She deleted some e-mails, and then later there was an investigation that needed to see her e-mails, but some were gone. The e-mail account of a guy in her circle was hacked, and some of her e-mails showed up on WikiLeaks, and in them she had said some things that weren’t cool. Also, she was a woman, and maybe that matters to some voters too.
The other guy was an outsider with no experience in politics, but he was super famous because he was super rich. He had stuff going against him as well. Despite how much money he claimed to have, he never released his tax returns the way most candidates do, and it turned out he hadn’t paid federal income tax in years. Oh, and he’s filed for bankruptcy several times. He said a lot of really dumb things, and got caught in lies all the time. He was very negative about the state of things, but never really offered any solutions. He said things that were offensive to just about anyone that wasn’t a straight, white man. There was a video of him saying some pretty awful stuff about how he likes to treat women, and he has an upcoming court case for fraud. He was pretty easily baited into losing his cool in the debates, showing a lack of temperament. And he had a habit of flying off the handle, especially late at night on Twitter.
Maybe there are some mildly passive-aggressive undertones in the two paragraphs above, but overall I think they’re pretty objective. If you look at the two candidates side by side, based solely on the paragraphs above, neither of them looks particularly good. One seems like a typical shady career politician, and the other one seems like a loose cannon with no track record and no plan. (There had been a third, good option… but the party supporting one of these candidates kind of screwed him over and he didn’t make it past the primaries. Oh, and there was also a dummy and a nutjob.)
So there we were, choosing between a potentially shady career politician and an obvious asshole with no real track record. Heading into the election, we were checking polling sites and trying to guess by just how much of a landslide she would win. We were making plans for the midterms, thinking if we could take back the house and senate in 2018, real good could finally be done. We were looking forward to posting smug status updates on Facebook in the morning, and we were worried about the other candidate’s supporters trying out that 2nd amendment solution he had suggested. But as election night wore on, it became clear that something really scary was going to happen. And then it did. The asshole won.
Wow, that sucked. “Len, I thought this blog was about stuff you like! This is depressing as shit.” Yup, it sure is. It has only been two days, and already we’re starting to see what kind of country we’ll be living in. Hate crimes are on the rise all over the country. There have been protests, resulting in outrage from our president-elect’s supporters, even though he was the one that suggested people protest. Women are scrambling to get reversible birth control while they still can. A business administration major in Wisconsin was beaten to death because he’s Saudi. This dude isn’t even sworn in yet, but because his campaign of demagoguery was successful, his people are emboldened and excited for the new world order. What am I supposed to write about liking, when all this is happening?
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. To “put yourself in their shoes”, as it were. Demagoguery only works if you don’t care about the “others” you’re told are a threat to you and your loved ones. Mexicans are stealing your jobs, and they’re going to rape your daughters. Refugees might be terrorists, rather than terrified children. Black people live in the inner cities where all sorts of scary crime happens. As long as these people are others, they’re scary. You’re not thinking about that little refugee kid, who had to leave his home because of the same terrorists that scare you.
As long as you don’t know these people, you don’t have to care about them. And as long as you don’t care about them, you’re fine with screwing up their lives. After all, your candidate said that the others were the reason you’ve had a rough go of it lately. You’re having trouble finding a job because of those others, not because his company does a great deal of its manufacturing overseas, and that his resort employs people here on work visas.
The thing is, if you care about other people, demagoguery doesn’t work. And I don’t mean just caring about the barista at the coffee shop that hands you your pumpkin spice latte in the morning. I mean, caring about people you don’t know. That’s what empathy is all about.
Remember the Golden Rule? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” — Matthew 7:12. That’s from the Bible, a book that evangelical Christians, which make up a great deal of our president-elect’s base, claim to read regularly. It’s one of the things we teach little kids, even if we’re not into religion at all. Unfortunately, I don’t think we really stress that it’s important to try to feel empathy for everyone; even people that don’t look like you. It’s kind of hard to be stirred up by demagoguery when you’re thinking about how those others are pretty afraid of terrorists too, and maybe are also just as worried about being able to pay the bills on time this month, and not get shot while waiting for the bus.
Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. That sounds kind of pretentious, so how about saying it’s a mix of don’t be so gullible and google that shit. On Facebook, your friends post news articles with eye-catching headlines, and you can choose the believe the article, or not. I won’t call you out if you decide to quietly believe that maybe Janet Reno, who died the day before the election, did say that our president-elect would not be president in her lifetime. But if you share that story, someone in your group of friends may post a link to a site like Snopes that highlights your gullibility.
We don’t teach little kids critical thinking like we teach them the Golden Rule. Quite the opposite, really. We teach kids about Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy. We teach them that good will always triumph over evil, that slow and steady wins the race, and that the kids who tease you are just jealous. We teach them that the pilgrims and the Indians were buddies, and that Christopher Columbus discovered America and was a pretty cool guy.
We teach them that Barney eats one or two kids per season, but that’s okay because he’s a dinosaur, and that’s just what dinosaurs do. (Scratch that last one. Apparently I’m the only one that taught my kids that.)
Over the course of the campaign, and especially over the last few months, social media has been a shitstorm of political news stories. There’s the “mainstream media”, which sometimes adds spin to a story but still sticks to verifiable facts. Fox News, which some say leans Republican, might have a headline like Clinton has health ‘episode’ at 9/11 memorial, doctor says she has pneumonia, while CNN, which some say leans Democrat, might say Hillary Clinton has pneumonia, doctor says, after early 9/11 event exit. They both reported roughly the same story, with subtle variations on emphasis. I don’t have an issue with this type of reporting. They’re competing news agencies, and their tone is what sets them apart from each other.
But then there are the alternative media: websites on both sides of the right/left spectrum that are more concerned with a flashy headline than an honest story. For example, a site called HeatStreet reported the same story above as Hillary Clinton ‘Faints’ At 9/11 Memorial – Appears to Collapse Near Van as Security Panics. (The link to that headline from Google was captioned “Hillary ‘Faints’ At 9/11 Memorial – What’s She Hiding From America?”) For alt news sites, anything that gets you to click is fair game. Each time you open one of their articles, they get paid by their advertisers, so obviously the more clicks, the better.
Some alt sites are worse than others. I don’t really even want to link to this one because they don’t deserve your click: Julian Assange Reveals Hillary’s Criminals ! Hackers Aren’t Russian , They Are Democrat “Whistleblowers” ! Once you arrive at the article, you find that the headline doesn’t actually match the story. Yes, Julian Assange used the word “whistleblower”, but he didn’t say anything about them being Democrats, nor did he identify a link to Hillary. There’s just a lot of speculation, and this example is pretty typical of the articles from this site, and a number of others like it. Their headlines are so outrageous that even if you can’t believe such shocking news happened, you just have to click in and see what they’re talking about. You take a quick glance, see some words, see some pictures or video links, think “hmm… sounds legit”, and maybe you click Share too. Why do you click Share? Because you lack critical thinking skills!
Look, if something seems so outrageous that it couldn’t possibly be true, it probably isn’t. I’ll concede that anything is possible, which is why we have Google. Do a quick search on the words in that crazy headline, and see whether ANY mainstream source also picked up the story. If none of them did, it’s because there is no story. The mainstream media, even including the ones spinning things the way I don’t like, still are bound by journalistic integrity. But more importantly, they’re bound by the risk of getting sued for libel if they print something that isn’t true. Alt sites seem willing to throw the dice that they’re small enough that they’re not worth suing, and cover their bases by careful wording that avoids outright lies in favor of misleading suggestions.
Wow, that was a lot of words about news. Let’s nutshell it: (social media * (sensational press stories + outrageous headlines) )- critical thinking skills = our current president-elect. P.T. Barnum said “There’s a sucker born every minute,” amirite? I truly feel that if more people took a moment and said “wait, that doesn’t sound right…” and took a moment to verify the story on other sources, the election might have turned out differently.
Learn From It
What’s done is done. Spilt milk. Bygones. It’s time to move on. Protest if you like, bitch about it on Facebook if you like. Unfriend folks that liked the other candidate if you like, although that seems a little extreme. But after you’re done with all that, let’s learn from this. Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here, but we have to do what we can to promote empathy, and to encourage critical thinking. Be kind, and be smart. That’s not too much to ask, is it?