Who is responsible for Trump?

It has recently come to light that Russia purchased ads on both Google and Facebook in order to influence our presidential election. So does that make our current POTUS illegitimate?

The legitimacy of Trump’s presidency is a tricky issue for me. On the one hand, I do sympathize with the view that people are sometimes (often?) misled into making a decision, whether through inaccurate or incomplete information or false advertising or grandiose promises etc. But Russian endorsement through advertising is not the same thing as rigging voting machines. It pains me to say it, but Trump got the votes to win the electoral college. Does it make his win illegitimate just because Russia helped people choose who to vote for?

I hold voters accountable for the catastrophe that this presidency has become because they (we – I didn’t vote for Trump, but maybe I could have done more to campaign against him) are ultimately responsible for his win. I also want to blame Russia for pushing their agenda on our electorate. I also want to blame conservative news for focusing on straw-man targets instead of addressing issues via evidence (looking at you, @Fox News). I also want to blame Hillary and the DNC, the spineless Republican leadership, gerrymandering, even social democrats who have been loathe to carry their banner into the fray.
But most of all, it’s still our fault. We had all the proof in the world that Trump is an incompetent, misogynist, ethically bankrupt individual who would tell any lie necessary to win. We overlooked every bit of it and let him win anyway. As much as I want to blame everything else, in the end, we are still responsible for the fate of those millions who will remain and who will become uninsured, of those millions who continue to be impoverished by the asinine claims of trickle-down economics, of those millions, billions, who in the generations to come have to suffer the consequences of climate change, not to mention the victims of whatever war we might be headed toward. If we’d stop pretending that politics doesn’t matter, if we’d educate ourselves about the issues and the candidates, then we could have prevented the disgrace that is Trump. But right now, the best we can hope for is replacing him next time, and that rests more on our maturity as citizens than all the interference.
Not saying we shouldn’t focus on all of these things together. But we have to address the plague of willful, gleeful ignorance, most importantly. Trust expert consensus, not anecdotal hate-bait. And elect the good students, not the blustery know-it-alls.
Yeah, I know, people are gonna believe what they want regardless. I feel defeated even as I try to offer solutions. But the message needs to get out there. We need to learn how to learn, and stop being afraid of everything we read. We can do better. Demand better.

The Adolescent Age of Information

the brain with a matrix-style overlayIt might seem like the Information Age has been fatally corrupted with the election of our current POTUS, but I’m here to say that even though we have taken a few (okay, several) steps back, the work is far from over, and the future remains bright. What we as a culture suffer from now is the inability to deal rationally with the trove of data that is released upon us at every moment of our waking lives. Like children struggling to navigate the new responsibilities of independence, we have not yet figured out how to regulate our impulses in favor of deliberation and sound judgment. We give in to spontaneous reactions to “breaking” news without having all the facts, then vehemently defend our ill-conceived opinions due to the devastating effect admitting a mistake would have on our pride and self-perceived identity. Plus, it’s just easier to lump every headline under umbrella categories for which we’ve already formed opinions. And while there is no stopping the information (short of self-quarantine, which I do endorse in regular doses), we will get better at processing and evaluating what we hear. We will adapt. Reading and learning is hard. As adults, we are (will be) more willing to take on the challenge.

If this sounds like a problem we have faced all throughout history, it is. We humans have always been a gullible folk, and we believe whatever is easiest to believe. The difference today is the pace at which we encounter new information. Instantaneous global communication has created such an anxiety that careful consideration seems antiquated. Pause is no longer efficient, there’s just too much to take in. And, by the way, this is a problem for people at both ends of the spectrum of impressionability – those who don’t believe anything, and those who too willingly believe everything. Neither group has a healthy relationship with truth, although at least they are easy to spot, each often castigating the other for their polarity. We would do well to avoid both.

What you know best becomes what you know to be the best. Maturity has never been easy and won’t be now. Beliefs and opinions are often dependent upon incidence by default, and this bias is extremely difficult to overcome. You are very likely to identify with the political party and the religious denomination of your parents because you’ve had more exposure to those ideas than any others. This is already well-known to be true in the general terms of politics and religion, but what about more nuanced categories, such as science, media, education? Your level of exposure to an issue has enormous bearing on your ability to decipher the news and filter the fake from the real. If you have limited knowledge about a topic, your natural inclination is to find some association with knowledge you do have, basing your judgment on a larger theme of discourse. This coping mechanism is not without merit, for our understanding of one realm does and should inform our understanding of another. However, we should be sure to appreciate complexity and the consequence of unique variables. And now more than ever, we have access to the tools necessary for objective judgment. Listen to those who spend their lives working on an issue, look for consensus, and be willing to admit ignorance.

The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. This brings me to a primary lesson I keep coming back to in my studies: humility.  It takes far more courage to admit when knowledge is lacking than to scream in protest when your stance is contested. We just haven’t yet found the courage to learn rather than scream. This makes our present situation all the more difficult, but we’ll get there. Slowly, perhaps painfully, knowledge will eventually win out. It always does.