Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Fuzzy Truth

While interviewing high school age refugees, I sat next to a man who was visiting from Canada. After he shared his family story with me, the conversation took an unexpected turn, "I feel so sorry for you Americans!"

He was referring to this year's election.

I was left speechless, which was fine because he'd said it all. From his objective Canadian viewpoint, he couldn't believe that we Americans were sitting ringside to such a political circus.

Last year, when Supreme Court judge Scalia unexpectedly passed away, and consequently left a huge gap in the court, and a divisive response from Congress, I asked a law professor to come and explain the importance of, the balance of, and the controversy of the empty chair.

His presentation was excellent as his specialty was constitutional law. With passion, he drew an x and a y axis and placed each judge on the chart that helped us visualize their liberal or conservative leanings. We learned that Scalia was a strong advocate of voting by the constitution; we learned other judges were swayed by current social trends and beliefs of the people. We learned that liberal judges tended to vote together, whereas conservatives tended to split according to what they considered as constitutional.

So when the craziness of this year's election was swinging from branch to branch, I called upon our esteemed law professor to help explain and to sort out the rhetoric of the day. He gladly agreed to come on November 2, less than a week from the presidential circus of 2016, or as a pundit on NPR called it, "The election that would be remembered as the election when people only voted for a candidate because they didn't want the other candidate. Or in other words, they had to choose the lesser of two evils."

I happened to run into him a month before he would visit our class. After setting definitive times, our conversation went something like this:

"Thanks again for your willingness to speak to the students."

"I'm looking forward to it."

Expecting him to be on top of all things election, I asked, "What did you think of last night's debate?"

He shakes his head. He's still shaking his head when he admits, "I can't even watch it. I can't stomach what's going on."

There was nothing further to discuss. We parted with the promise of an email reminder.

With this in mind, I was part of a text thread from one of my daughters to the rest of the family. She sent a Buzzfeed link that purported a movement to repeal the 19th amendment allowing women to vote. One daughter responded that it had to be a joke, to which the text originator said she didn't think so.

I dutifully checked the source and found it to be a ridiculous claim attributed to one party. The other party members threw gasoline on the unfounded claim and lit a match. The tweet fire burned. And my child thinks it's true.

To this I responded: This is an example of the ridiculous propaganda coming from both sides of the campaigns to incite fear through the extreme rhetoric that is so easy to perpetuate through social media. Sad. It's also a sign of deep cynicism springing from this unprecedented election.

We live in a time of unprecedented trust--a distrust of government, religion, and the political environments. We've seen presidents lie outright, only later admitting to the truth when they are backed into a corner. In the presidential debate, one candidate will speak and the other will say, "That's a lie."

When did truth become so fuzzy?

Imagine if Joseph McCarthy had had access to social media?