Guest columnist Jeffrey Fishman: Less than informed, in denial of facts
|Published: 02-08-2024 8:43 PM
As someone who has struggled continuously to find understanding and respect for those Republican voters who ardently support the ex-president, being informed and educated about scientific evidence and widely accepted facts is critical to garnering credibility and respect in civil debate. Spouting misinformation and ignoring facts is the very definition of ignore-ance.
So when the writer of the letter “Trump backers aren’t somehow ‘less than’” [Gazette, Feb. 1] attributes being “less than” to being less educated or less informed (which he insists they are not) we are somehow to believe that misinformed ideas or denial of scientific facts are simply disagreements with someone’s politics or how they see things.
When you see repeated surveys that show that nearly 70% of Republicans (30% who do not support the ex-president) falsely believe that the 2020 election was rigged and that Joe Biden is not a legitimately elected president, that is less informed. When 70% of Republicans (significantly higher for Trump supporters) believe that climate change is a minor threat or no threat to the environment, that is an uneducated position. When two-thirds of Trump supporters say they will vote for a candidate who is charged with one or more felony crimes and dismisses the judicial process and rule of law, that is a denial of incriminating evidence that judges and juries weigh heavily.
Sarah Longwell conducted numerous focus groups of Trump supporters for her research for an analysis published by The Atlantic magazine on April 18, 2022, and concluded that beliefs in the “Big Lie” are not “fully formed thoughts. It’s more of an attitude or a tribal position.”
Whereas I agree with the letter writer that every human being deserves empathy and compassion for being human and that we should treat every human being with basic respect and dignity, we may concurrently believe (discern or judge) that some human beings are misinformed, uneducated on some issues, and in denial of blatant truths. These human beings, in the practice of debate and political discourse, become diminished in our eyes and we discredit their social or political points of view.
So I will continue to hold these people with empathy as fellow humans, but I cannot hold them in the same regard I would hold any person who holds differing views from my own, who is also willing to acknowledge scientific evidence, settled law, widely held facts, and some minimum standards of respectable character and decency. Without those basic common denominators, we have lost the basic foundation of reasoned debate and thus they become lessened in our eyes.
This happens with family and friends who deny facts and truths that are self-evident (e.g addictions, defensiveness, volatility, repeated lying, promoting conspiracy theories, etc.), and it happens with less informed, less educated voters. Empathy is universal. Respect is earned.
Jeffrey Fishman lives in Amherst.