The Importance of Critical Thinking in the Age of Trump

The Importance of Critical Thinking in the Age of Trump

 


The Importance of Critical Thinking in the Age of Trump

It goes without saying that we are living in a crazy, unprecedented time in America right now. Trump’s surrogates, either as a result of internal Administration chaos and confusion, or as a deliberate strategy to test ideas and keep everyone off balance, have regularly conveyed positions of Trump’s that he later denies are his actual positions. Trump himself expresses positions or versions of reality and later denies having said them. And federal employees, likely to experience dramatic changes in their duties, missions, salaries or employment, are reasonably assuming the worst and reacting accordingly –at times contacting the press to spread the word. Everyone in the country (who is paying any attention) is on pins and needles.

In such an atmosphere, it is profoundly difficult for the news media to be completely certain that they are always getting the story right. They are expected to be first with a story, and bear the weight of being the first line of defense in guarding our democracy. We all need to be very critical, now more than ever, as we take in information – through social media, in conversations with friends and family, and even when we look to long-established reputable news sources. We need to thoroughly evaluate the legitimacy of any “facts” before we take them in as actionable, and we need to be prepared to continually watch for updates or changes to those facts based on better information.

This is the America in which we live today – a country where a DC pizza joint can find itself the center of a bizarre YouTube-fueled horror story about a Hillary Clinton-run pedophile ring, where a gunman ultimately shows up on the doorstep demanding to see the underground tunnels where the children are being imprisoned.

Fake news is not just the realm of the right wing. The left will begin to see more and more of it as well, and we must be wary of what we take in. Trump is erratic and seems emotionally unstable, and the craziest news about him can seem thoroughly believable. Many of us are deeply worried about what his Administration will mean for us, those we love,our country and the world, and are ready to believe the worst.

But running with misinformation is not what we need right now. We need vigilance and a deep passion for justice paired with strong critical-mindedness and clear-eyed sobriety. I am doing my best to double- and triple-check everything that I post and run it through the best filters of logic and reason that I can, but I will be guilty of posting incorrect information from time to time too. My apologies in advance for any times that I may get the story wrong.

At the very least, Snopes can be a good (though also imperfect) preliminary resource for fact-checking some of the most outrageous online information that you may come across.

– rob rünt


Fake News

Fake News

Fake News

On December 4, 2016, 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch drove a couple hundred miles to a Washington DC pizza restaurant with an assault rifle and demanded to see the hidden underground tunnels where the children were being kept for a child sex ring with ties to Hillary Clinton and ritual Satanism. He fired three shots during the course of his attempt to “self-investigate,” but thankfully nobody was injured. The well-intentioned man had become enraged after familiarizing himself with a conspiracy theory perpetuated in numerous YouTube videos which all seemed to tell a similar story about the pizza restaurant, Comet Ping Pong.

The videos claimed that words like “pizza” and “cheese” were undeniable code words for a pedophile’s preferred kind of child. When the owners of the pizza joint wanted to hold a Clinton Campaign fundraiser, and asked Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta to prepare some of the food as a special feature for the event, Podesta’s response – revealed in leaked e-mails – was irrefutably incriminating evidence that he liked young boys: “I’ll do a pasta.”

Pizzagate was an example of “fake news” having unintended consequences. Fake news was a relatively new phenomenon that increasingly emerged during the 2016 Presidential Campaign. After the incident at Comet Ping Pong, Michael Flynn Jr., son of Trump’s disgraced National Security Advisor, tweeted his continued belief in the legitimacy of the conspiracy theory:

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Fake news originated from numerous sources during the 2016 Campaign. Some, like the “pizzagate” story, began on alt-right chat rooms and took on a life of their own as different people added to them with YouTube videos laying out their own theories or new clear connections that they were finding to unrelated facts and information. Some fake news stories came from sketchy entrepreneurs in America and abroad who saw that outrageous news about Hillary and Trump was an easy guarantee of web clicks that they could use to sell advertising and make a buck. Some fake news was created and distributed for partisan purposes. And some appears to have been generated and spread with the blessing of the Kremlin in hopes of keeping Hillary Clinton from gaining the Presidency. Many of these stories got traction through social media – particularly Facebook and Twitter, as the incendiary but false headlines generated titillation and outrage and were shared widely.

For whatever one may think of Donald Trump, he is an absolute master at powerful branding – at bluntly redefining things and making those definitions stick through constant repetition. And he has now done that by redefining the term “fake news” and co-opting it for his own use.

Many have long since forgotten what “fake news” meant a whopping four months ago. Now the term is used to constantly call into question the legitimacy of any news story – from reputable journalists – in which undesirable information about the President is brought to the surface. The new definition successfully shifts attention away from blatant fabrications that had successfully helped Trump win the election, and redirects attention to cultivate an overblown degree of skepticism toward the mainstream news media.

Questioning the information we are getting right now is legitimate. The mainstream press see the wellbeing of the nation in general and the sanctity of the First Amendment in particular – their bread and butter – to be under threat, and many are accordingly a bit concerned. They are operating in a crazy-making new landscape in which different supposedly credible representatives of the Trump Administration give them conflicting information, the President is openly hostile toward the press and changes his firmly stated positions on issues sometimes in the course of a week, and rumors and hysteria are flying throughout the government and the nation in general. In such an atmosphere – combined with the already existing 24-hour news cycle where it is important to be first with a story – getting the story right is not always easy, but I believe that journalists are generally doing their best, and are not intentionally trying to present anything “fake.”

What is dangerous about the term “fake news” is the inherent subtext that comes with it: do not trust facts, do not trust your own eyes and ears, do not trust traditional news sources. The only source of information upon whom you can confidently and consistently rely is the President himself.

Demonization of the news media has been used successfully in the past by other authoritarian leaders to help achieve their ends: Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Vladimir Putin, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler. The latter branded the media the “lügenpresse,” or “lying press.”

“We must challenge this statement and this sentiment that the news media is the enemy of the American people. This sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”

William H. McRaven
Retired Four-Star Admiral/former Navy SEAL who organized and oversaw the operation that killed Osama bin Laden
Washington Post – 2/24/17

Is the press “the enemy of the American people,” as President Trump asserted last week? Absolutely not. At a time like this, it is essential that we support the news outlets that we consider the most credible and accurate, so that they can continue steadfastly doing their work that is so vital to our democracy, without the threat of being hamstrung or worse by a President who does not always like what the facts reveal about him.

– rob rünt

February 20-26, 2017

February 20-26, 2017

 


Articles & Editorials:


Main Stories:


Russia

FBI Refused White House Request to Knock Down Recent Trump-Russia Stories
(CNN – 2/23/17)

Can the White House Discuss Open Investigations with the FBI?
(CNN – 2/24/17)

Trump Administration Sought to Enlist Intelligence Officials, Key Lawmakers to Counter Russia Stories
(Washington Post – 2/24/17)


Other Stories That You Should Know About:


Anti-Semitism

Anne Frank Center Slams Trump: “Do Not Make Us Jews Settle for Crumbs of Condescension”
Chicago Tribune – 2/21/17


Steve Bannon

Bannon Vows a Daily Fight for “Deconstruction of the Administrative State”
(Washington Post – 2/23/17)


More Russia News

Republicans Tricked into Waving Russian Flags at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)
(Independent UK – 2/24/17)

Meet the Protesters Who Tricked Conference Attendees into Waving Russian Flags
(The Atlantic – 2/24/17)

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Trump and the Press

Trump Intensifies His Attacks of Journalists and Condemns FBI “Leakers”
(New York Times – 2/24/17)

White House Selectively Blocks Media Outlets from Briefing With Sean Spicer
(Politico – 2/24/17)

Trump Says He Will Not Attend White House Correspondents’ Dinner
(Politico – 2/25/17)

“We must challenge this statement and this sentiment that the news media is the enemy of the American people. This sentiment may be the greatest threat to democracy in my lifetime.”

William H. McRaven
Retired Four-Star Admiral/former Navy SEAL who organized and oversaw the operation that killed Osama bin Laden
Washington Post – 2/24/17

 


National Security

Department to Homeland Security Memo Contradicts Threats Cited by Trump’s Travel Ban
(USA Today – 2/24/17)

Trump Rejects DHS Intelligence Report on Homeland Security
(Fox News – 2/25/17)

Trump’s National Security Adviser Reportedly Says Label “Radical Islamic Terrorism” Not Helpful
(Fox News – 2/25/17)


Keeping Track of the Basics:


Editorials


Trump’s Attacks on the Media Sound Eerily Familiar to Germany’s Journalists

Washington Post – 2/25/17


Alternative Facts from an Alternative Universe


Self-selecting our news sources, a reluctance to hear opposing ideas, and the choice by many of us to surround ourselves only with like-minded individuals has resulted in many Americans becoming oblivious to the beliefs of those with whom they disagree. This bubble helped create the world of “alternative facts” in which Donald Trump could become President.

To counter this, each week I will present a little of what Trump’s supporters are thinking. Their reality may be very different from yours. Please listen/read to the end, and consider what respectful questions you could ask to better understand and have a conversation, rather than seeking to prove them wrong as quickly as possible and shut them down. We can’t change minds if we can’t talk to each other.


Recorded the day after the 2016 Presidential Election:


Cartoons, Images & Videos


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Tweet by Caitlyn Jenner, with response:

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Events & Actions

Two major nationwide protests coming up:

  • Saturday, April 15, 2017: Trump Tax Day Marches across the country to let him know that it’s not just reporters who care about his undisclosed tax returns – find your nearest rally here!
  • Saturday, April 22, 2017: Science Marches across the country to let Trump know that science and facts matter – find your nearest rally here!

Resources & Organizations