One of the things that stands out for me during the Trump presidency is the number of hypotheses or narratives relating to Trump and the news involving him, most notably the Trump-Russia story. By narratives, I mean the construction of a story outline that will help explain events, and also place the key people in roles–all of which provide a context that provides meaning and explicates the people and events. For example, one narrative has Trump as someone the Russians manipulated via blackmail, using Trump to achieve their objectives, including weakening the U.S. Another narrative places Trump as a great business man and deal-maker, who has made enemies of the elite out of resentment that Trump has proven them wrong. The Russia story is merely sour grapes.
Now, my sense is that all of these narratives are driven by some combination of the individual’s political biases as well as their ability to objectively perceive and analyze the world. (By the way, the same applies to me and the running hypotheses I have formed.) Which individuals and narratives stem primarily from the latter? Which ones do facts and logic support the most? Which ones are baseless and unreasonable, so much so that we could dismiss them? The answers aren’t clear or easy to answer. Because of that, judging these narratives and assessing the credibility of the individuals that embrace them can be really difficult. The result can be confusion and a sense of being lost in a sea of information. This is especially true for those not tracking the various stories on a regular basis, seeking a variety of sources.
In this thread, I’d like to suggest a solution to this as well as present the benefits for doing so.
A Proposed Solution
My solution involves choosing a few of the most credible narratives and advocates for them and figuratively hold them side by side to analyze. This side by side comparison is really important, so I want to provide an (admittedly bizarre) image to illustrate what I mean. Imagine a distant sci-fi future (like in an episode of Black Mirror) where holograms of three or four skeletons float in front of a group. The group contains reasonable and intelligent people, representing the political left, right and center. The skeletons represent different narratives like the Trump Russia story, for example. Now imagine a stream of digitally projected words and images floating above the group . This stream represents the flow of relevant news and information. The group analyzes and discusses the information and through consensus picks the key facts and arguments. After that, through discussion, the group identifies the narratives that the information seems to fit; they can also point out ways in which the information seems to weaken a narrative. The skeletons begin to fill out or atrophy depending on whether the information supports or weakens the narratives–the more information and the better the fit (decided by the group), the more “flesh” we see on the skeletons. This process will occur on a regular basis (e.g., daily, weekly), and we should begin to get a good idea of which narratives are the most compelling and which ones are not. Additionally, I believe the credibility of the advocates and key actors should also become more evident over time.
Why I Like This Approach
Here are some reasons this approach appeals to me:
- The process has the feel of the scientific method rather than journalism or political propaganda and punditry. The endeavor–and the group involved–seek to identify key facts, instead of pushing a political agenda. (The politically diverse group should help with that.) Like scientists, they evaluate the hypotheses based on facts and logic. By “holding up” the various hypotheses, the group, as well as onlookers, have an easier and clearer way of determining and distinguishing the hypotheses that are the most credible and compelling.
- The process can help individuals avoid getting ensnared by their own biases and narratives. Speaking for myself, I know that I can becoming enamored with a narrative I’ve constructed and as time goes on, critically scrutinizing that narrative, allowing news and information to weaken can be really difficult. The people in the narrative that I like and the people I don’t like become the good guys and the bad guys, respectfully. The story may be really appealing as well. For example, in the Trump-Russia incident, Trump and his administration are the corrupt, traitorous bad guys, and Robert Mueller, with his dream team law enforcement team, are the good guys trying to bring them to justice. That narrative may appeal to me, but what if it’s not true? The process could help people like me see this. For one thing, the process involves examining facts and a variety of narratives, versus advocating for one and attacking others. This can help people not get too attached to any one narrative. The group of ideologically diverse individuals can help each other do this as well. They need to embrace the objective and the principles behind the process, and work as a team to fulfill and achieve both. This is about finding the truth, not hoping one’s narrative comes true, or attacking narratives and information that oppose it.
- The process can serve as a public scorecard for narratives and individuals espousing them, creating greater accountability. One pet peeve of mine is that politicians and pundits can make false claims or promote dubious theories, but not really suffer meaningful consequences for that. Rep. Devin Nunues and Trump himself come to mind. I’d like the process and the “skeletons” to publicly displayed, keeping this scorecard in the public consciousness. My hope is that it will reveal and highlight the theories and individuals that are most credible from those that are not. And this should help lead to appropriate consequences for all involved.
Acknowledging that the narratives and hypotheses we construct to perceive politicians and political events can be wrong, even though we may feel utterly convinced that they are not. Indeed, an intense conviction can inhibit our ability to see and understand a situation accurately. It can lead to overreaction, hyperbole and even conspiracy thinking. I believe we could use help to avoid this, and that’s the purpose of the process above. My hope is that a process like the one above can help renew our commitment to good information, reasoned analysis, putting either ahead of our partisanship. The latter is a threat to our democracy, while the former can strengthen and preserve it.