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Follow Who You Want, but Always Check Your Sources

Like many, I was very shaken by the events of yesterday. On my morning dog walk I wondered what I could say that might be of value and tie to my thinking around bullshit. When I got back from my walk, I tweeted:

The idea that a lone nut can change reality is a conspiracist fantasy, even if that lone nut is president of the United States. This is a tragic example of what can happen when people follow rumors and fail to investigate where they are coming from and what they are based on.

We will get into this idea more in future blogs: almost any time you see a lone nut loudly proclaiming a message that no one else seems to agree with, you’re asking for trouble if you follow it. We feel pretty comfortable ignoring the person experiencing homelessness who is warning us about the end of the world; perhaps a little less comfortable ignoring the best-selling author who’s proud of being rejected by the medical establishment and wants to sell us supplements; and even less comfortable when it is the president of the United States. If we treat each of these people equally and with the respect they deserve, we should thank them for their concerns for the world, our health, and democracy…and then check their sources.

This morning, I did my best to check the president’s sources for his claims of election fraud. Almost all sources I could find, including the not-so-liberal Wall Street Journal and anti-liberal Fox News website, reported the same facts: Trump’s claims of election fraud were never substantiated, appeared to be baseless rumors, and were rejected by courts, even conservative courts, in Republican states. The closest I came to support for election fraud was on the Heritage Foundation’s page (leading think-tank promoting conservative policy) on voter fraud where they reported over 1,000 instances of voter fraud leading to criminal convictions. To the Heritage Foundation’s credit, they stated their opinions (voter fraud is possible) but stuck to the facts (they showed no significant fraud influencing this election’s outcomes). Looking into their database, it is noteworthy that only 15 of their reported instances of voter fraud occurred in 2020, and only one of these were in a contested state (Arizona). The majority were in California.

But, you might argue, Trump is not alone in his claims; there are many others making the same claims. I put this in italics because Trump is, to use infectious disease terminology, the super-spreader of these ideas. The same thing happens in many health fads where there are many followers and copy-cats that all point back to the same unreliable source.

I’m putting this out there not to blame or shame anyone for their actions. It is human nature to believe “the facts” of people we agree with and to dispute “the facts” of people we don’t. If we are going to heal the rifts of this nation, we’ve got to reach a common ground where, in the words of the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.” Just as we all bear some responsibility for our personal health, we also all bear some responsibility for the health of this nation and democracy. Let’s lead with compassion, dialogue, kindness, understanding and a determination to speak and seek out truth.


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