Use facts to form opinions

In a recent column, Carolina Journal editor John Trump addressed the political divide in America today, calling it a “new Cold War” and even referring to it as a civil war. Mr. Trump did a great job of describing the factors that contribute to the problem, citing news shows like FOX and MSNBC as well as social media for the misinformation they often provide. He urged each of us to look at issues from many points of view and to educate ourselves by using a variety of resources.

Trump also identified the real problem in our country today as the “pervasive ignorance” that exists among a majority of our citizens. This kind of ignorance is not caused by a lack of formal education, but by the conscious choice to adopt a chosen set of opinions and beliefs and claim them as fact. Any dissent or evidence to the contrary is dismissed as fake and blamed on the main stream media or liberals.

Being informed and well educated used to be an asset to be admired and respected, but in the current political climate it is likely to draw insults and accusations that you are an “educated elite” out of touch with real Americans. Apparently some people believe that conservative Christian Republicans are the only “real Americans.” If you don’t fit that description, be prepared to face a torrent of angry insults for every opinion or opposing fact you express.

As a politically active woman I deal with partisanship every day, and neither side has a monopoly on it. In past years I would occasionally receive unsigned insulting comments and threats in the mail or online for my political views. In the current political climate these come regularly, and are often not anonymous.

I have not always behaved perfectly in the political arena. My husband says my temper can go from zero to 60 in nothing flat. When I see or hear false and biased remarks I am quick to respond and describe the comment as bigoted or untrue. I try to challenge the veracity of the comments and not the commenter, but if someone calls me a “libtard” or “dirtbag” you can bet I am going to call them out for it. I have absolutely no respect for someone who hides behind a keyboard and a fake name to make insulting comments.

My pet peeve is people who insist on harping on an issue they actually know little about. I couldn’t count the times I have responded to “Benghazi” comments by someone who could not even identify where or what Benghazi is, much less know what really happened there. Factual information is easily available in this age of technology, so why do so few people take advantage of it?

As early as elementary school I was taught the difference between opinion and fact. Research had to be based completely on evidence and facts from reliably documented sources. When called upon, we were expected to be prepared to factually discuss and debate the subject. Only after demonstrating the required knowledge of a topic were we allowed to express an opinion on the matter. Anybody who turned in a paper that stated opinions as facts was in for a bad day in Mrs. Carol Lewis’ classroom at my high school.

Most people are not prepared for discussion and debate. They spout things like “everybody knows” and “the fact is” when everybody does not know and the “fact” is just their opinion. They repeat rubbish they get from sources that pretend to be news or, even worse, they literally say “I saw it on Facebook.” When asked for proof to support their claims they cannot provide it because it usually doesn’t exist. They rely on gossip, bullying, and deflection instead of truth. This is the kind of pervasive ignorance Trump wrote about.

When the leader of our country governs by tweets that deny the truth and insults those who oppose him in any way it sets the tone for other people who choose to emulate him. But if we insult another person because of their gender, race, religion or political view we stoke the fires of anger and hate that are dividing our country to the point that we are no longer truly united in our states. Every time we tolerate or participate in this kind of behavior we contribute to the toxic political atmosphere overtaking our country. Many years ago Osama Bin Laden said that the USA could not be defeated by an enemy from the outside, but he declared that we would be destroyed by division from within. It seems his prediction might be coming true.

John Trump gave some great advice in his column about how we can improve the current political climate. Look at both sides of an issue. Don’t be disagreeable when you disagree. Actually listen to opposing viewpoints. Educate yourself before you argue and do it respectfully. Realize that an opinion is a belief, but beliefs are not the same as facts.

Everyone should be allowed to express their opinions without being bullied and personally attacked. Even those of us real Americans who are not conservative and not Republican.

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Patsy Sheppard, a St. Pauls resident, is a retired educator and active locally in the Democratic Party.

Patsy Sheppard, a St. Pauls resident, is a retired educator and active locally in the Democratic Party.