What is a Fact?

There are political positions I take issue with because I don’t agree with them politically. There are then political positions I take issue with because they are grounded on misrepresentation of the facts. If I were to say, for example, that I think Canadian Geese are a plague on society because they breathe fire and scorch the local flora, you would be right to say, “Canadian Geese are a plague, but not because they share dragon-like fire breathing qualities, rather Canada has imbued their total hate into a singular bird species, in order to bring aggressive nonsense into the world. The distinction here is important because the former case was published by a news organization who profits on the fantastic and extreme, while the latter case is empirically true.

To place a more serious example in front of the reader, I bring the issue of Presidential legitimacy. Fox News, namely Tucker Carlson, recently claimed that no major Republican figure questioned the legitimacy of President Obama in the same way Democrats questioned the legitimacy of President Trump. There are two points I would like to make here:

  1. Republican leadership actively challenged whether candidate Obama was actually American. In fact, future President Trump actively campaigned on this fact. After providing his birth certificate, the GOP balked and continued a campaign of doubt and rallied their base around this issue.
  2. Democrats did not challenge whether Trump was elected president in 2016. In fact, Hillary Clinton conceded the election within 24 hours of the electoral results, when they mathematically declared Trump the victor. Democrats did challenge whether a foreign country interfered with the free and fair election which all Americans deserve. This is an important distinction. It means that Hillary Clinton, and by extension Democrats, accepted the results of American votes – they did however question whether a foreign country attempted to sway those votes by a coordinated campaign to sow chaos in our electoral process.

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that political discourse in this country has taken an absurd downward velocity. The causes of which are myriad, but it is important to identify who the primary actors are, and why they benefit from dragging intelligent debate through the mud.

There are issues which democrats and republicans will disagree on. This is a healthy political system where issues are mediated by the governing bodies available to the public, e.g. the legislature and if necessary the judicial system. What our governing system did not predict is a scenario where each political faction and their associated media would create their own universe of facts, independent of reality. To be clear, there are instances where the left succumbs to echo chambers and insular reasoning, but the threat of “alternative facts” is clearly far greater on the right. Republicans can now not only disagree with democrats on a policy issue, but also on the facts which support the position on both sides. This stems further back than Trump, but a symbolic moment was during the 2016 inauguration of President Trump, where apparently the crowd size was important enough for the Trump campaign to subscribe to “alternative facts”.

If we are to have intelligence political debate in this country, we have to agree on a set of facts, which if proven, allow each side to take a stance. What is happening is that the conservative group is deciding what the facts are on a case-by-case basis. Facts then become malleable, interchangeable, and amorphous. Facts can be changed to suit a particular point, and then be disregarded if that point is challenged. What necessarily follows is that when facts are not absolute, no position can either be defended or proposed. No constructive policy discussion or debate can occur. Let’s have a debate about whether solar energy will benefit the U.S. in the long term. Let’s not obfuscate the discussion with whether solar is an invention of the Chinese to destroy American oil production.

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