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Politics without fact checking threatens democracy
Public Forum.jpg

To the editor:

As is obvious by now (or should be), the impeachment hearings are a tragicomedy that is being written right before our very eyes. But I doubt if even Shakespeare could bring any nobility or higher purpose to this ongoing play, except to highlight that a partisan feud of such lowly dialogue and sloppy stagecraft are a threat to humankind, not just to Americans or their democracy.

I can only imagine what George Washington might think or say today, if allowed to revisit America in spirit and witness the proceedings between the Republicans and Democrats, regarding a president unlike any other in our history. In his Sept. 17, 1796, Farewell Address (ideas and words framed by Madison), Washington said, “(The spirit of the party) serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”

Every day the man in the oval office unleashes on the world tweetstorms that highlight a shallow, petty, cold, calculating and unethical person, intent on the most bizarre, rambling, haphazard and egotistical “art of the deal,” unlike anything one has seen or even read about in a biography of any president.

I appeal to people in America and anywhere in the world to declare a political climate emergency. Surely we can acknowledge that these raging partisan tweetstorms, which start in the minds of people inundated by a bewildering array of sources, are often not researched carefully for accuracy because too many persons either don’t know how to fact-check or they only want their biases to be validated by what they believe fervently to be true.

In short, America is flooded with so many tempestuous crosscurrents of social media outbursts that polite, not to mention, fact-based discourse is exceedingly difficult without fierce emotions being stirred up.

Tyrants throughout history – B.C. to present – have expressed a similar sentiment as Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821): “In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.”

Sadly, it’s not a handicap in a democracy either, not if voters are somehow persuaded to cast their ballots, based on promises that will likely not be kept or acted upon by corporate-sponsored partisan suck-ups and legally supported by a judicial system that should be anything but partisan.

Never mind the seeking officeholders, even one wanting to be president. Case in point: Donald Trump.

Too many Americans are constricted in both delusional and partisan straitjackets. The paradox is this: Too many politicians on both sides of the aisle (presently, more egregious on the right) are deluded too, which often results in ideological bullying.

My major concern is that there is something menacing and even dreadful about the hyper-connected age we live in. With so many words – with or without context – available in an instant, we have become speedily judgmental about human beings and, of course, politicians, based on fragments of data, confirmed or not, that sear into brains, bypass hearts and put mouths on autopilot, resulting in a startling viciousness that would embarrass the devil himself.

We need the public voices of such principled journalists as Edward R. Murrow, who foresaw decades ago a political climate that is indeed an emergency now: “The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.”

And back to George Washington: “In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”

How right you were, George ... and still are.

Richard Joel Holmes