Tuesday, January 16, 2024

#16 / Both/And

On December 20, 2023, The New York Times ran a front page story titled (in the hard copy version of the newspaper), "Many Voters See Criminality But Support Trump Anyway." Clifford McRoberts, of Bay Point, California, who is pictured above, was featured in the article. He indicated to the reporters writing the story that he didn't see Trump's violation of the laws related to the handling of classified documents as any kind of a "big deal." 

The Times' article to which I refer is all about the polls, and that seems to be true of a lot of the political reporting we get these days. Based on the polls, predictions are being made about what will happen when the nation votes for president this coming November. I, personally, while not denying the importance of knowing how people feel about important topics (like who they currently favor in the next presidential election), am not too much preoccupied with what "the polls" say. Those polls, and what happened in Iowa yesterday - another kind of poll - is not, in my mind, very predictive of what might happen in November.

One reason that I don't spend a lot of time agonizing over the polls is that what people "think," or say they think, isn't nearly as important as what they "do," and what we "do" is never determined until we actually "do" it. This is the essence of human freedom. Doing what is expected, or predicted, sometimes does occur, but not always, and you can never rely on "predictions," as an extrapolation of what has happened in the past, or as those predictions are based on what people say they think, since people are free, at all times, to take actions that are unexpected and precedent-shattering. 

I have another thought, too. The fact is, most of us (I am basing my statement about others on what I know to be true for myself) tend to have a "Both/And" relationship to what we think, and that is because what is "true," what "exists," is usually not any one thing alone. The Republican voters polled about Donald Trump think he violated the law AND they think he might be a good choice for president. Both thoughts. Simultaneously. Aren't we all like that, really? Maybe not about Donald Trump, but in general. We not only can have two opposing thoughts at the same time, this is, in fact, normal. 

Let's go back to the conclusion with which I began. What actually counts is not what people say they think. It's what they do. Political persuasion is the essence of "politics," as practiced in the real world, and so studying "the polls," and presuming that what people "think" is going to be determinative of what they "do," reflects what I have sometimes called the "is" fallacy. What exists, right now, oftentimes seems to us to be a "reality," to which we must defer (because we must, in the end, defer to reality). However, the "reality" of the political world we most immediately inhabit is that we can do "anything." Right up until the moment we do it, we can do "anything." 

That "political despair" that Jamelle Bouie, and Michelle Goldberg have warned us about will lead us, in error, into a "self-fulfilling prophecy." 

When we think about our politics, let's not succumb to that!

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