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How to Roll Back Fanaticism (@nytdavidbrooks)

David Brooks:

Donald Trump is the perfect snake oil salesman for this moment…. He took a nation beset by uncertainty and he gave it a series of “explanations” that were simple, crude, affirming and wrong… Everything could be blamed on foreigners, the idiotic elites… The true link between the Trump administration and those pathetic loons in Charlottesville is not just bigotry, but also conspiracy mongering.


I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment — the Trump presidency and beyond — is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths. The intellectual virtues may seem elitist, but once a country tolerates dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness, then everything else falls apart.

Dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness. It is epidemic.

We are blasted by information on social media, good/bad, true/false, real/fake, witty memes… Birthers, Pizzagate, Sandy Hook a false flag operation, record turnout for the inauguration, and on and on. There are those on both sides who propagate incendiary information with others, but the political right has simply gone nuts pushing pure mythology over the past decade.

“Fake news,” information created to look like a real story with the intent to deceive, is a term Trump and others, especially (though not exclusively) on the right, have co-opted to mean something they just don’t like. Yet they, and Trump especially, promote ideas that have been thoroughly debunked all the time. They weaponize bullshit for their political aims.

If some politician or point of view that one disagrees with is so bad, there is usually plenty to criticize that is actually true. Unless you’re dishonest, why not stick with that?

Very few people take the time to vet information before sharing or believing it. Yet a lot of stories are easy to verify. If we each took the couple minutes necessary to debunk some of the outrageous things that pop up on our screens every week, we would not be susceptible to being fooled. I was amazed recently when someone I know well told me about a news item she had just read on Facebook. I asked her how she knew that it was true. Blank stare, followed by, “Huh?” She didn’t search for corroborating reports or any confirmation, just took what she read as being valid.

It’s especially despicable when the people promoting fake stories put themselves on the moral high ground. If you claim to have some belief in morality, especially if it’s through your faith, then why would you share stories that might be or that you know are lies? How can you convince yourself that you’re of sound character? Don’t answer. Just look in the mirror. Don’t be another person who deals in falsehoods, intentionally or otherwise. Make the buck stop at your own keyboard. Make an effort at honesty.

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