How do we know what is true and how do we make sensible decisions? We are inundated with almost unlimited amounts of information, opinions and claims of fact. And it’s even worse during election years. Our democracy depends on a well-informed public who can make rational decisions based on accurate information, verifiable evidence and logical reasoning. Citizens need to be skilled in critical thinking and be skeptical but not cynical.
Authority alone, no matter how revered that authority is considered to be nor how many followers that authority has, cannot establish truth. Any claim of truth and any authority must be open to being questioned, challenged and criticized. We know much more about our world than ever before because we developed a method of testing, challenging, verifying, and revising our ideas – the scientific method. The fact that scientific knowledge continues to change is a strength not a weakness. Innumerable false beliefs and superstitions continue to be refuted by science as our knowledge grows.
While we can never know anything with absolute certainty, we can still make reasonable decisions with the best knowledge we have while being aware of our vulnerability to misperception and error. We must learn to recognize the outlandish claims of ignorant people and charlatans. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and should elicit strong skepticism. Claims and promises are easy to make and are the hallmark of political campaigns.
It can be difficult to distinguish reasonable political intentions and ideals from bravado, boasting and deceit. Exaggerated claims are often vague, ambiguous and filled with repetitive buzzwords, superlatives and emotional appeals. For example, when Donald Trump proposes building a 2,000 mile wall, he describes it with superlatives (greatest, biggest, best, most beautiful, etc.), and he claims it will be paid for by Mexico in some vague, unspecified way. The fact that those claims are based on little or no evidence and have emotional appeal to chauvinists and bigots are signs of demagoguery. Other warning signs of a hustler are his willingness to change his persona to accommodate his political ambitions and the fact that he has spent his entire adult life enriching himself. His reaction to even the slightest threat or opposition is belligerence, excessive aggressiveness, and ridicule of his opponent. Our national leader should be a wise person, not a wiseguy.
To make a rational decision about a political candidate, it is also essential to know what that person would do once elected. That is almost impossible to know with Donald Trump because he’s so unpredictable and self serving. Ted Cruz presented the opposite problem. He made it clear he would put his brand of radical conservative Christianity before anything else in governing. In fact, he believes in Dominionism, which is Christianity taking dominion over all aspects of society – family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government. It’s the fundamentalist Christian version of sharia.
Our national founders were ingenious in rejecting all forms of absolute authority – dictators, monarchs, and theocrats. They created a revolutionary government independent of religion because they saw the tyrannical results when government and religion form a theocracy. Our constitution protects individual beliefs by requiring government and its officials to remain neutral regarding religious actions. Our laws and regulations are based on the logical reasoning of citizens rather than anyone’s opinion about divine dictates. When a political candidate advocates faith-based policies, it’s a sign of danger.
People can have very different opinions on who they want for president, but those opinions need to be based on accurate information and solid reasoning. Be informed, demand evidence and use critical thinking.