America is in the midst of a crisis centered primarily on our current president, Donald Trump. The crisis itself is that Trump’s harsh, untruthful rhetoric has further divided Americans into opposing hostile camps with very different views of reality. This polarization makes solving any of our problems very difficult, especially issues concerning Trump himself.
I want to focus on the danger of “perceptual bias”, the innate capacity of humans to go through mental gymnastics to make new information fit into our pre-existing opinions, best summed up in the quote “What you see is what you believe before you look”, or as my father was fond of saying “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I’ve already made up my mind.”
Trump’s election was in part due to American’s justifiable grievances with legitimate unresolved injustices and problems. Not one greedy banker was held responsible for the banking crisis while millions of working people lost their homes and their jobs!
Congress has been unable to resolve numerous pressing issues, including immigration, healthcare, criminal justice, wage stagnation, etc. Instead, our government persists in putting the interests of big corporations and the wealthy ahead of average Americans. However, setting these aside for the moment, we are left with the issue of Trump and his current position as our president. He and his supporters would have us believe that he is a sincere, smart businessman who can solve America’s problems and make America great again but is being unfairly attacked and undermined by “fake news” and the “deep state.” There are others who believe he is a selfish, narcissistic, uninformed individual who cares nothing for his supporters beyond what they can do for him and is guilty of one or all of the following: serious financial misdeeds and conflicts of interest, salacious behavior for which he can be blackmailed and/or conspiring with Russians to get elected. Regardless, he is certainly behaving like he is guilty of something. To quote Shakespeare, “Methinks he doth protest too much.” All Americans should be dismayed by his pathologic lying and relentless attacks on the free press and our judicial system. Ask yourself, “Why is he doing that? What has he got to hide? What does he not want us to know?” There are surely some very crucial facts that are yet to be disclosed and will answer these questions.
The reality at present is that none of us has enough information to know the truth. At some point, hopefully sooner than later, the facts will emerge, and we will all be in a much better position to sort this out. If, in fact, Donald Trump is not guilty of any misdeeds, then those of us who are unhappy with him will have to focus on our policy differences and his many character flaws. On the other hand, if he is guilty of any of these misdeeds, his supporters will need to accept that reality and its consequences. Either way, America and our own mental health will be best served if we can all remain mindful that we all have perceptual biases.
We don’t and can’t yet know what is actually going on. Let us all, therefore, remain prepared to change our minds when new information comes forward. We are all free to believe whatever we choose, but that doesn’t change the facts or the truth. Americans are a strong and resilient people and if we can keep our wits about us, we will emerge from this stronger than ever. Let us all remain open to the truth and reality so that Americans can focus on solving our many pressing problems.
Nat Kirkland is a resident of Edinburg.