America has a boat-load of problems. To open a newspaper any day of the week is enough to discourage anyone. Partisanship has reached nearly-fervid proportions. I fear we have little hope of seeing the forest for the trees when 45% of Americans don’t think Donald Trump should be tried in the Senate! Indeed, Trump may be the grotesque manifestation of a country that is sick, but the origins of what ails us are older than the huckster in the White House. What does this have to do with values? Truth, wisdom, and critical thinking are not values that one can expect to apprehend if one sits around watching Fox News, “America’s Got Talent”, and football. If we want to improve, to thrive, to avoid disaster, the road ahead is a tough one – much tougher than a trope such as “Liberals have been causing the decay of American society for decades now!” or “The most important thing in 2020 is to remove Donald Trump from office!”
The “founding fathers” came from a time when Americans read much more widely than they do now. I remember hearing that some famous figure – Dickens, I think – put out a book in 1750 or so and it sold better in the colonies than in England! That’s amazing for a group of settlers, indentured servants, and adventure-seekers in a far-off land where formal education was virtually nonexistent.
America’s early aristocrats (mostly, as we now are well-aware, Hamilton was famously not an aristocrat, and of course, Franklin, was 100% self-made and self-educated) set out to break free from England for reasons of conscience, commerce, and necessity. They feared a king who was hardly answerable to Parliament, who behaved in a foolish and irrational manner. They also believed that they were British as much as anyone else was. Hardly anyone in the colonies wanted to “become an American” in, say, 1770. They simply wanted to be treated fairly, to be treated as though they were part of the British political and economic system, not as beneath it.
Then, British colonial subjects desperately needed to gain independence, be treated with fairness and economic justice, and honored as the French- and Indian-fighters they perceived themselves to be.
Today, we are the progeny of those brave and erudite and principled patriots (and in no small measure, immigrants). Today, Americans desperately need truth, wisdom, and critical thinking.
46% of Americans don’t think that Trump did anything wrong! Good God, where are they getting their news! And more fundamentally, what is wrong with their thinking that they can see bountiful evidence of misdeeds and crimes that would have greatly troubled Americans from prior generations (even Reagan’s generation!) and not be alarmed. How can a person ignore Trump’s crimes and not see that we are sliding head-long into an unprecedented era of lawlessness, government power, and horrible values such as cheating, partisanship, and hatred? Even ill-conceived decisions and policies as subtle as eroding our sense of right and wrong by seizing border lands for government use (wall-building) or putting children alone in cages (and many have died in custody!) blow my mind. For a country that fought the Nazis and sent liberals and communists to the gallows for having an actual or alleged affinity for Communist (Russian) ideals, I am flummoxed why almost half of us would think that conspiring with Russia to cheat in elections or trying to bribe and extort an ally for personal political gain (e.g., rigging an election) is in any way permissible. What is wrong with these Americans?
Unfortunately, one of the nastiest truisms I have heard – in an era when anti-Semitism and home-grown terrorism is at an alarming high – is this: “I support Donald Trump because he hates the same people I hate.” Gulp.
If you have seen one of his rallies or learned anything about his hardest-core group of supporters, that will ring hauntingly true.
But think about this: Trump may have tried to cheat or successfully cheated in 2016, he may have pulled out all the ethical stops in his quest for narcissistic glory, Fox and some wing-nut bloggers and disaffected individuals may have carried him on their backs, and he may have lost the popular vote but won that cursed Electoral College method of choosing a president. He may have spoken to the worst in Americans’ hearts – the envy, the grievances, the xenophobia, the conspiracy theories. He may have lied and manipulated in a way that is in the spirit of Hitler, McCarthy, and Nixon.
What he didn’t do was cast 48,000,000 votes for himself.
Those votes were cast by Americans who knew full-well that he was a narcissistic fool, a con-man, a person totally unequipped for government service, and voted for him anyway.
Hence my main point: by and large, the education and general level of spiritual, social, emotional, intellectual and other types of growth here is not very impressive; we may not be as war-like as the Athenians circa 400 B.C.E., and as foolish as the Germans circa 1943 A.D., but Americans desperately need truth, wisdom, and critical thinking.
Obviously, it is a given that the 51% of people who supported Bernie or Hillary or Gary (I forget his last name already) in 2016 have issues. I am not claiming that these folks are uniformly wise, superior, or the like.
The Democratic Party is no picnic; I feel like this is the party that cheated Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton. The founders of this country knew that “faction” (e.g., partisanship) is a major threat to the fledgling Republic. However, having said that, the Republicans compared Trump to Jesus, likened the impeachment to Pearl Harbor, and so on. There is no comparing the two parties when it comes to issues like moral hypocrisy, gerrymandering, the utter relativization (if you will) of hallmark and obvious concepts such as truth, wisdom, morality, and propriety.
Again, I am not saying that liberals or anyone else is above reproach; to use a Biblical analogue, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I am saying that if you know full-well that Trump is a misogynistic pig who started out life with a silver spoon in his dirty mouth, a narcissist who never quits, a smarmy and unscrupulous multi-millionaire who is willing to publically call for Russia’s help defeating his political adversary, AND YET YOU VOTED FOR HIM, you are sorely deficient in wisdom, you don’t get what truth means, and you have very little sense of how critical thinking operates. If it didn’t scare you when he uttered “I could probably shoot someone dead on 5th Avenue and not lose support,” you don’t really see what’s going on. If Trump’s relationship with Putin doesn’t alarm you, considering that your daddy loved Ronald Reagan and despised Commie “Pinkos”, you’re not firing on all cylinders. If you can grasp all the evidence clearly laid out before the public in the hearings held by the Intelligence Committee of the House of Representatives, and yet view it as a liberal cabal to unseat a great man, you are woefully ignorant.
If this describes you, you have been manipulated, you have ignored your education, and values such as truth, wisdom, and critical thinking are elusive to you.
I am sorry to put all of this so bluntly, but folks like David Leonhardt and Russ Douthat from the New York Times agree with me that we are a country in decline. Wouldn’t I be remiss if I didn’t call a spade a spade because I felt it might offend. We’re not talking about vanilla vs. chocolate, or Mets vs. Yankees, here. The values divide and the political/religious/social/tribal differences between folks is glaringly obvious – worse now perhaps than anytime since the Vietnam War, or the Civil War. When children live in poverty, when kids die from all manner of gun violence, when young immigrants are kept in cages (some dying!), it’s the death knell of a civilization. It’s not too late, but we cannot pretend that those who think Trump is a wise, trustworthy, and good man are playing with a full deck, as it were.
Americans who view Donald Trump as fit for office are sorely mistaken, but Trump is just the manifestation of our grossly inadequate educational system.
Truth, wisdom, and critical thinking are not simple things to grasp or achieve. They result from formal education, life experience, effort, luck, a propitious genetic heritage, and proper guidance when young. If they represented challenges for Sophocles, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Montaigne, Voltaire, Ben Franklin, Will Durant, and H. L. Mencken, they are going to cause problems for folks raised in the era of all-you-can-eat buffets and Facebook.
So wisdom can be elusive, and we are not all going to become Charles Dickenses or Helen Kellers. But come on! What part of children being separated from their parents and held in cages do you not get?
How do you behold a $1,000,000,000,000-a-year deficit, while Trump and Mitch McConnell and John Roberts are roughly in charge of the government, and not see utter hypocrisy? After all, liberal governors in the past would be fought tooth and nail for “overspending”.
In what way does that fact that Trump totally disrespected John McCain when he was alive – and, astonishingly, after his death – comport with proper values? McCain was by all accounts a decent and dedicated public servant, and Trump hated and bashed him. What does that indicate?
What part of Trump saying he might not leave office, or that the FBI is full of political hacks, or that the press is the enemy of the people is lost on you?
How can you believe that a man who no doubt has narcissistic personality disorder is fit to be President? Obama may have thought a lot of himself, but Trump is a megalomaniacal, self-serving lout. It’s just patently obvious.
I am not the only one who is observing what is going on nowadays with a massive sense of dismay and disturbance. Here is Charles Blow, the New York Times columnist, talking about Trump’s reaction to the Saudi hit job on a Washington Post columnist: “I still can’t get over this: Jamal Khashoggi was a columnist for The Washington Post! That could’ve been me or any number of other columnists. Would Trump just let a rich foreign monarch chop up our bodies and do nothing as well? I don’t know how this isn’t ‘a full-stop!’ moment!”
Nothing about Trump says “Christian values” to me. It is astonishing and very revealing that the evangelical Christians of this country support this moral misfit by a rate of 7:1. These folks are against Obama because he allegedly was going to take away guns (how feasible is that, really, in a land with 300,000,000 guns and the 2nd Amendment?), or because he supported, more or less, a woman’s right to choose to abort a fetus. And yet, they knew Trump said, on tape, that if you want to molest a woman, you merely have to “grab her by the pussy.”
Though the Democrats are no angels, Americans desperately need truth, wisdom, and critical thinking when they watch Fox News to learn facts, visit Facebook for news, and seek entertainment by watching men professionally beat each other senseless because the NFL says that “helmets are now much safer.”
If you think that Mike Pence is a good and trustworthy person, go directly to jail – do not pass Go, do not collect $200. My wife astutely observed: “I wish people who are so scared of the government taking away their guns were just as interested in education and critical thinking.” Consider this double-shot of truth: Matt Lewis, a lifelong Republican who has seen the error of his ways admits, “Donald Trump is a person of bad character, does a lot of bad things, and did something that’s clearly impeachable. He did something that commonsense demonstrates is so – if you’re being intellectually honest it’s pretty obvious. So many evangelicals have bowed down to Donald Trump and have refused to tell the truth and be intellectually honest and consistent.” Here is his astonishing piece (you have to be a member of The Daily Beast to read it).
I believe that if you believe that Trump is being railroaded by a corrupt, and “deep state” bent on his destruction because he is doing good for the country, you are inept when it comes to sensing out verifiably true facts. You must have misunderstood the messages Jesus was trying to convey when he was alive. You don’t really honor the commitment the founding fathers of America made to learning, to principled and open debate, and you midjudge your ability to see a man’s heart. You have been manipulated, and you are imperiling everything from the safety of journalists, the fabric of American society, the values of your forebearers, and this very planet.
Please, for the rest of us, wake up before this country has changed irrevocably from one that is predicated on the rule of law and the need of the citizenry to be informed and critical consumers of information to something dark and frightening.
Remember, everything Hitler did in the beginning was legal. He was legally placed in power, and he was popular among his countrymen, for a time. Eventually, they couldn’t stop him. Germans who felt that Hitler was a righteous and courageous savior of Germany when they were so exasperated and desperate lived to regret their complacency. Some did; many perished in death camps and at the fiery end of a Luger.
Remember, no matter what you hear in elementary school or church, America is not God’s special creation; we have no promise from a supreme diety that we will always be here. This is my point of view, but it is likelier than the alternative, if you really think about it. Put your “These Colors Don’t Run” t-shirt away and think: Do you believe that the Romans thought they were invincible, wise, and a favorite of the gods? Sure they did. What happened? The civilization collapsed. The founders of America had a very difficult time working together to beat England and form a stable country. It’s virtually a miracle it has lasted this long. But a gold-encrusted, eagle-emblazoned, red/white/blue beacon of hope for the world’s tired and poor, best and brightest, we are not. Franklin noted that the men who sweated day after day after day in that hot Philadelphia room, trying to create something great, noted “We give you a Republic – if you can keep it.”
We’re losing it, my fellow Americans. We need to wake up and wise up while there is still a ghost of a chance of surviving these perilous times, saving the planet from destruction, and root out the corruption and naked partisanship that has plagued us egregiously since the 1980s.
I will end with a statement about truth, wisdom, and critical thinking by Christopher Wray, the Trump-appointed FBI Director: “I think it’s important for the American people to be thoughtful consumers of information; to think about the sources of information, and the support and predication for what they hear. And I think that part of us being well-protected against malign foreign influence is to build, together, an American public that is resilient and has appropriate media literacy and that takes its information with a grain of salt.” Ω
Allow me to share a couple dozen quotes that fall squarely into the category of politics, media literacy, truth, wisdom, and critical thinking:
“What Trump is accused of is no piddling transgression, and it’s the culmination of so much bad behavior — and such rank dishonesty — that you can’t turn away from it. That’s an abdication of responsible citizenship. That’s an insult to the democracy that we’re privileged to live in.” ~ Frank Bruni
“If you think authoritarianism cannot happen here in America, I lived through a time when it already did: to 120,000 Japanese Americans, most of us citizens. It starts by dehumanizing a group, then spreads through fear, ignorance and hate. Recognize the patterns. Remember history.”
“Educators believe it is up to them to teach critical thinking and drum into students certain habits that will offer some protection against being scammed by fake news themselves. They were alarmed by a 2016 study by Stanford University that found even bright, well-educated, tech-savvy students had great difficulty separating news from advertising or figuring out where a piece of information came from. …This means that the burden on citizens to sift fact from fiction is getting heavier; they can no longer just assume that the gatekeepers of credible news outlets still have the power to punish the disreputable and reward accuracy and truthfulness with honors like the Pulitzer Prize.”
“In accusing the intelligence community whistle-blower of partisanship and treason, President Trump has redefined whistle-blowing to serve his private interests rather than the rule of law. In the American tradition, whistle-blowers expose illegal or unconstitutional acts that the powerful want to keep secret.”
“There is a whole series of witnesses [in the impeachment investigation] who are in the position to do the President great damage because they are telling the truth about what appears to be a conspiracy. A conspiracy involving the President of the United States to undermine the very basis of free elections by engaging a foreign power to interfere with the opposition candidate facing the President. We have never had a situation where a foreign power has been called upon by the POTUS to do such a thing, and this is clear from his own words.…” ~ Carl Bernstein
“[Here] is a plea to those Republican senators [who look fondly upon America, and great Americans such as President Lincoln]: Please, listen to your own words about the distinctive greatness of this country. America is better than President Trump and his grubby attempts to put his own interests before the national interest. You — and only you, the Republican members of the Senate — have the ability to end this nightmare. Now is the time to begin distancing yourself from Trump, for the country’s sake and, in the end, your own.”
“Russians massively intervened in 2016 and they are prepared to do so again in voting that is set to begin a mere eight months from now. (The) President seems to welcome the help again, and so we must make all efforts to harden our elections infrastructure, to ensure there is a paper trail for all voting, to deter the Russians from meddling, to discover it when they do, to disrupt it and make them pay.” ~ Adam Schiff
“Just recently, a friend who didn’t get a job he applied for told me that as a white male, he was absorbing the problems of the world. He meant he was being punished for the sins of his forefathers. He wanted me to know he understood it was his burden to bear. I wanted to tell him that he needed to take a long view of the history of the workplace, given the imbalances that generations of hiring practices before him had created. But would that really make my friend feel any better? Did he understand that today, 65 percent of elected officials are white men, though they make up only 31 percent of the American population? White men have held almost all the power in this country for 400 years.” ~ Claudia Rankine
“I’ve been saying for a very long time now that I don’t think [Trump is] leaving [office]. I mean, he wasn’t going to leave the first time. It’s all about ‘It’s rigged!’; he could lose by a landslide in 2020 and I still think he would say, ‘It’s rigged, fake news, deep state!'” ~ Bill Maher
“It’s starting to look like two possible outcomes: Trump and a number of others end up in jail, or thousands of journalists end up in prison camps.”
“Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.”
“A vast universe of academic research suggests the real sources of the far right’s appeal on both sides of the Atlantic are anger over immigration and a toxic mix of racial and religious intolerance. That conclusion is supported by an extraordinary amount of social science, from statistical analyses that examine data on how hundreds of thousands of Europeans to books on how, when, and why ethnic conflicts erupt.” ~ Zack Beauchamp
“The aforementioned Donald John Trump has, by his statements, brought the high office of president of the United States in contempt, ridicule, disgrace and disrepute. Therefore, Donald John Trump, by causing such harm to the society of the United States, is unfit to be president and warrants an impeachment trial and removal from office.” ~ Al Green
“I’m experiencing ‘democracy grief’. For anyone who was, like me, born after the civil rights movement finally made democracy in America real, liberal democracy has always been part of the climate, as easy to take for granted as clean air or the changing of the seasons. When I contemplate the sort of illiberal oligarchy that would await my children should Donald Trump win another term, the scale of the loss feels so vast that I can barely process it.” ~ Michelle Goldberg
“Most individuals do not examine every possible alternative or collect mountains of information and data when making choices. Instead, most of us draw on our experience, apply rules of thumb, and use other heuristics when making decisions. Sometimes, that leads us into trouble. As it turns out, most individuals are susceptible to what psychologists call cognitive biases – decision traps that cause us to make certain systematic mistakes when making choices.”
“At the risk of sounding a bit repetitive, Democratic leaders must come to grips with who and what Donald Trump is—and the nature of the Republican Party he leads—before this crew tramples what’s left of the republic. One of our two major political parties is now an authentic authoritarian outfit, where the political playbook at both the state and federal levels consists of using the mechanisms of democracy to strangle the popular will and entrench minority rule. Anything is acceptable if it helps you maintain your grip on power.”
“I really think that if we don’t start caring about whether people tell the truth or not, it’s going to be literally impossible to restore anything approaching a reasonable political discourse. Politicians have always shaded the truth. But if you can say something that is provably false, and no one cares, then you can’t have a real debate about anything.”
“[Seeking dirt on a political opponent by bribing or extorting an ally on behalf of Russia] is unconstitutional, and because it’s unconstitutional, it’s almost by nature immoral – because the President is forsaking something he promised to uphold. But my argument that Trump is of grossly immoral character is larger than that: about his behavior on Twitter, about people he has around him, about his attitude toward women and other things he has done. [Trump’s behavior has amounted to] a cumulative effect over months and years….” ~ Mark Galli
“‘When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another.’ With those words, our founders courageously began our Declaration of Independence from an oppressive monarch, for among other grievances the king’s refusal to follow rightfully passed laws. In the course of today’s events, it becomes necessary for us to address, among other grievances, the president’s failure to faithfully execute the law. When crafting the Constitution, the founders feared the return of a monarchy in America. And having just fought a war of independence, they specifically feared the prospect of a king-president corrupted by foreign influence.” ~ Nancy Pelosi
“News stories that run in a newspaper carry a pretty strong, built-in, two-fold anti-fake news protection: Namely, the paper can be sued for knowingly disseminating false and damaging information, and reporters know we will be fired for knowingly writing up false news. Do we print stories that are negative? Yes. Do we print stories that may damage someone’s reputation, say a former county manager who bilked the county out of millions? Yes. That’s part of our job, protected under the First Amendment, to be a watchdog on public corruption and keep citizens informed. These stories are carefully vetted, discussed with editors and judged for potential libel. It is not a slapdash enterprise. I’ve worked with hundreds of reporters and editors over the years, and I’ve never known one who has intentionally put out ‘fake news.’ In fact, it’s a ridiculous notion, and one that would have put us out of business years ago.” ~ John Boyle
“Trump has found — or has always had — a winning populism perfectly suited for this moment in our history, when the anxious, scared, hateful and callous desire an unapologetic voice that has the backing of actual power. Trump’s magical mixture is to make being afraid feel like fun. His rallies are a hybrid of concert revelry and combat prep.”
You are reading quotes about politics, media literacy, truth, wisdom, and critical thinking on Values of the Wise.com
“One of the biggest fears of the founding fathers was that the new nation might fall under the sway of foreign powers. That’s what had happened in Europe over the years, where one nation or another had fallen prey to bribes, treaties and ill-advised royal marriages from other nations. So those who gathered in Philadelphia to write the Constitution included a number of provisions to guard against foreign intrusion in American democracy. One was the emoluments clause, barring international payments or gifts to a president or other federal elected official. The framers of the Constitution worried that without this provision, a president might be bribed by a foreign power to betray America.” ~ Robert Reich
“Dear GOP Senators: You’ll soon face a choice. Will you accept the evidence of your eyes and ears, and the findings of the US intelligence community—and Mueller? Or will you stand with Trump let him do whatever he pleases? You won’t be able to do both.”
“The big questions [about Trump’s election] now are: Why this? And why now? One answer you’ll hear is economic: that those white-working class voters were angry in the wake of the Great Recession and the ongoing job losses due to globalization, and were looking for someone to blame. This may end up being part of the general election story; we don’t have enough data to say for sure. But preliminary data suggests it is hardly all of it. An analysis from USA Today’s Brad Heath found that Hillary Clinton got crushed in counties where unemployment had fallen in the late Obama years….” ~ Zack Beauchamp
“Russia is an important actor in this universe; President Vladimir Putin’s actions are slowly eroding factuality in favor of totalitarian control. To stave off authoritarianism in their countries, Snyder argues, people must resist the temptation to believe what they’d like to believe and turn instead toward truth. In America, that’s difficult to do when paranoia about the media permeates political talk.”
“I recently read about a poll that showed that the more an American thinks and talks about politics, the angrier he or she is likely to be. Is it any wonder, then, that many Americans try not to think or talk about politics and do their best to purge their consciousness of Donald Trump? I often wish I could join them.” ~ Frank Bruni
“Truthfully calling out Trump as a pathological liar and narcissist is futile if one thinks that this will move his die-hard supporters towards the truth. They are dug in, and inflexible, finding one excuse after another to absolve themselves from their moral breach. A moral breach here is defined as a conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge. It is supposed that Trump supporters know right from wrong, but they clearly have refused to know, and have dug their foxholes, isolating and consoling themselves with the likes of FOX News.” ~ Joseph J. Ohnstad
“The GOP is now the evil party; it’s viscerally repellant.” ~ Matt Lewis
“The nemeses of the Trumpist movement are liberals — in both the classical and American sense of the world — not America’s traditional geopolitical foes. This is something new in our lifetime. Despite right-wing persecution fantasies about Barack Obama, we’ve never before had a president who treats half the country like enemies, subjecting them to an unending barrage of dehumanization and hostile propaganda. Opponents in a liberal political system share at least some overlapping language. They have some shared values to orient debates. With those things gone, words lose their meaning and political exchange becomes impossible and irrelevant.” ~ Michelle Goldberg
“Rather than working to spread, deepen, or augment [America’s founding] ideals, the Trump administration is regressing away from them. This is not because they are reversing the actions of the Obama administration––some reversals are warranted, others not––but because Trump himself values conformity, order, and a perversion of strength more than he values freedom or liberty; and because he values men more than he does women, Anglos more than Hispanics, and Christians more than Muslims, values that manifest respectively in his personal life, his ugliest rhetoric, and the policies he has pursued through executive action.”
“You don’t have to be a so-called ‘originalist,’ interpreting the Constitution according to what the founders were trying to do at the time, in order to see how dangerous it is to allow a president to seek help in an election from a foreign power. If a president can invite a foreign power to influence the outcome of an election, there’s no limit to how far foreign powers might go to curry favor with a president by helping to take down his rivals. That would be the end of democracy as we know it.” ~ Robert Reich