Without the discomfort of thought
February 20, 2018
"The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought," President John F. Kennedy, June 11, 1962
Most of us understand the difference between fact and opinion. A fact can be proven with evidence, regardless of someone's biases or beliefs. An opinion is an interpretation which may or may not be based on facts. People can look at the same facts and reach different opinions, and that's fine. What's not fine is insisting that your opinion is actually a fact when it clearly is not.
President Donald Trump and some of his followers seem to be caught in this trap. Trump will make a statement that is clearly untrue, or that contradicts something he previously said, and his followers accept it without question. They seem incapable of admitting he lies.
In reality, Trump lies all the time; here are a few examples. He claimed he had the biggest inaugural crowd ever; President Barack Obama's was much larger. Trump claimed his State of the Union Address had the highest ratings in history; it wasn't even close.
He claimed his tax cut was the biggest ever. In terms of percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it was the eighth largest. Adjusted for inflation, it was fourth. Both of President Obama's tax cuts (yes, he passed two tax cuts) were bigger than Trump's. There are far too many lies to list here, but one of Trump's worst lies is that he inherited a mess from Obama and has turned everything around himself.
When Obama was elected, he got to work on the problems he inherited, including the worst recession since the Great Depression. When Trump was elected, he just jumped on the wave started under Obama and has continued to ride it.
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In fact, some things such as job creation have slowed down a bit since Trump was inaugurated. Obama created 15 million new jobs overall. In 2016, 2.2 million new jobs were added. In 2017, that dropped to 2.1 million, the slowest growth since 2010. (Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2018).
Trump brags about declining unemployment rates. Black unemployment hit a high of 16.8 percent in March 2010. It dropped to 7.8 percent by January 2017, and hit a record low of 6.8 percent in December 2017. It then rose back to 7.7 percent in January 2018. Unemployment as a whole fell from 9.6 percent in 2010 to 4.9 percent in 2016 and has continued dropping under Trump.
The stock market grew 18 percent in Trump's first year. That's good. Under Obama, the stock market went from a low of 6,594.44 on March 5, 2009, to 19,804.72 on Jan. 19, 2017, tripling in value. The stock market is continuing the growth it started in 2009.
Another example is GDP, a measure of an economy's growth or decline. Some recent writers claimed that under Obama, GDP never reached 3 percent. In fact, Obama had eight quarters of GDP over 3 percent; a few were over 4 percent. We need this kind of factual information to make educated decisions about policy. Spreading misinformation isn't helpful.
Almost everything Trump has bragged about fixing has followed the same pattern – Obama got things moving in the right direction and Trump reaped the rewards. We just have to pray that Trump doesn't mess up the economy and that the growth trends of the last eight years continue.
Differences of opinion are one thing — tax policy, immigration, etc. — but facts are facts. By replacing facts with opinions, the right-wing is making consensus difficult and pushing us backward, not forward or greater. As Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts."
We all need to look at our preconceptions and beliefs and make sure they line up with reality. The world is too serious for us to just accept opinions without subjecting ourselves to the "discomfort of thought." We can disagree about some things but still work together to help our city, county, state and country grow stronger and better and become the America we know we can be.
Even if we have to change some of our ideas because we find they are faulty, that makes us stronger, not weaker. We don't have to be afraid of the truth.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org