There’s a difference.
In 2007 I was teaching some classes at a small college in Southington which then became a small college with a bigger name, but that’s not really the point. The Iraq war was grinding on, as was the fighting in Afghanistan. George W. Bush was the president, and most of us had heard of some Democrat name Obama, but the election was still some distance away. It was post-9/11, after Katrina, before the financial collapse. I taught a public speaking class that comprised primarily adults, and in that class were, among others, a mother and daughter. Although it was not a history class, dealing with speeches and presentations left us open to many discussions, some of them fairly, uh, lively.
After one of the classes I was walking to my car and the mother-daughter pair happened to be walking near me. The residue of a classroom discussion presentation followed us: someone had spoken for or against the Iraq War, WMDs, George Bush, etc. A pretty good argument ensued. Let’s call it lively.
The daughter was reticent, but the mother was pretty dug in with her support of President Bush and the status quo. I would call the next ten minutes an argument, but I’d be lying if I said I remembered the specifics. I do know that we avoided any personal attacks and we left on good terms—even though she was completely wrong-headed and my reasoning was flawless. At least that’s how I remember it.
I’m not sure if conversations like that can occur anymore, not between (for instance) Trump’s supporters and detractors. These days every debate seems to center not on informed decisions and historical fact, but on talking points, all of which are readily available (and suitable for memorization) on Fox, on MSNBC, or on any of a number of Internet sites. To make matters worse, people who should be above these talking points and concerned with policy, the president for instance, contribute to the chaos with immature tweets and random or spontaneous—and often inane— comments. Of late Trump’s insistence on attacking Hillary Clinton, for instance, makes it appear as though she won the election, and he actually keeps unintentionally reminding us that she did, in fact, win the popular vote. This evil Hillary (ooooh) that seems to haunt Trump could become a forgotten political also-ran if he were smart enough to give her the chance. But he isn’t; meanwhile, his other responsibilities and proposals go begging.
We all tend to romanticize the past, but I truly believe that my little impromptu debate ten years ago had some merit, and even though—as I may have already mentioned—my opponent’s opinions were an utter mess and mine were spot-on, I don’t think such civil debates can exist in the current political climate. For the record, I wouldn’t mind debating the significance of facts, but since nobody can agree on what a fact is anymore, I’ll accept verifiable occurrences:
Trump promoted a bogus university—does that constitute fraud?
Trump refuses to divulge his tax returns? Should he be compelled to do so?
Trump refused to rent apartments to black families? Was he acting in violation of civil rights legislation?
Trump conspired with a foreign power to abridge our voting rights. Should he be in federal prison?
That last one was a joke—obvious matters need not be debated. Of course he should be!
Sometimes I think about those apocalyptic movies that have involved an alien invasion and an earth united to repel it. It’s hard to envision that sort of unity today, even in the face of annihilation. The leveling of major metropolitan areas would be deemed fake news. Then again, why should England help the EU, or Saudi Arabia help Qatar, or Mitch McConnell help Nancy Pelosi. We’re primed and ready for a takeover by superior intelligence, especially with the bar set low enough for us to have elected Donald Trump.
Still, verifiable facts do exist, and since Trump and his family cannot stand up to their veracity, we should keep presenting them and debating their importance until he and his family finally vacate Washington.
Or the aliens arrive. Six of one…