Opinion: The American people are being fed misinformation, half-truths, and outright lies

By Kevin Hartung

Today’s political polarization has stolen the knowledge base that eventually leads to our wisdom and without which we cannot make definitive and relevant decisions.

We are facing a division in our country that recalls the contentious arguments between the North and South just before the Civil War. It is certainly demoralizing that today’s politicians lack even one courageous voice for saving the union. 

As Henry Clay, keenly aware of the controversial nature of his proposals, urged his colleagues “to beware, to pause, to reflect before they lend themselves to any purposes which shall destroy that Union.” Or as Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts declared: “I wish to speak today, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American . . . I speak today for the preservation of the Union.” Where are our audacious men of virtue today?

Few Americans today consider the truism of ‘united we stand, divided we fall.’ Therefore, many voting on November 3 will do so with the speechmaking of politicians ringing in their ears. Even fewer will have enough wisdom to see that we are standing on a precipice that, if we leap, will be the end of the America on which we all depend and from which we have all drawn our strength. It will be the end of the only haven against oppression that we know. 

Voters today lack the truth. It cannot be otherwise given the falsehoods of our politicians, our biased media, fake news, and the trolling dissenters on social media. 

Our educational system does not encourage students to seek out and search for the truth and draw their own conclusions. The system does not encourage conflict resolution through respectful and intellectual discourse. Our education system instead restricts political stances by student bodies because of the fear of offending. They do not require nor encourage students to search for the facts that are true, and which would support their viewpoints. 

We are lost without critical thinking skills: the ability to have the facts and construct the truth. Constituents display an inability to formulate a definitive truth and base their ballot choice upon those formulations. They appear to lack sufficient knowledge about logic and deductions, about civilized debate procedures, the importance of listening to all opinions, and making judgments based on the truth. What is missing today is the wisdom necessary to prevent the devastation that lies ahead for America if we fail to unite as a nation of healing and preservation.

The result of the election is of secondary importance when you consider what is really at stake. Can we expect our politicians will act as honorable men and women with a desire to preserve our nation?  Can we hope they will lay aside differences and stand as one against the volatility that has been and will continue to be our destiny? Unless we have leaders, who understand the contempt and ostracizing mentality that their contentious oratory and actions have engendered, we will lose the battle.

Neither side is blameless, and it is foolish that they continue to hold themselves above the guilt that falls on their shoulders. Here is a lesson we need to heed and learn. This lesson comes from Brecklynn, an eighth-grade student from Springville, Utah, who posed a question to Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic nominee Sen. Kamala Harris in Wednesday’s debate.  

Brecklynn’s full essay follows, as published by her school district.

“When I watch the news, all I see is arguing between Democrats and Republicans. When I watch the news, all I see is citizen fighting against citizen. When I watch the news, all I see are two candidates from opposing parties trying to tear each other down. If our leaders can’t get along, how are the citizens supposed to get along?

Our nation’s capital is setting a poor example of unity and respect. No matter who we are and what we stand for, we all want to be heard and we all want to be acknowledged, but no one wants to listen or understand the person on the other side of the line.

Nothing is going to change until someone breaks this trend of arguments and anger. Each citizen is accountable, and each citizen has their agency to not allow our country to be divided by differing opinions. Your examples could make all the difference to bring us together. How is your presidency going to unite and heal our country (Brecklynn)?”

It is clear Brecklynn understands the futility of trying to unite a nation whose leaders are divisive and disruptive. We have the right to expect our elected officials to see the fear, contempt and separation they have created. Brecklynn said on the Good Morning America show the next day, “I realized the importance of listening and respecting each other. I hope we can all try a little harder to understand one another and that we can all do our part to unite our country.”  It is encouraging that young students like Brecklynn are not blind to the split in our nation and the cause of it and that they will express their views when given the chance.

Kudos to you, Brecklynn. Yes, let us all try harder.

We must expect our elected officials to pull together and to encourage all of us to do the same. To put aside differences, lay down their armor, and bridge the gap that divides us. It remains true that the ignorant speak loudly and get heard while the informed speak volumes with their silence. If unification is to happen, it must begin where it started, with our elected officials.

While we have among us those with wisdom, it is entirely on us to seek them out, to find the truth, to share it, and to lift each other out of the hysteria and discontent. We need to overcome the political rhetoric being thrust upon us by ill-advised, office-seeking politicians, the partiality of the media, and the emotional masses on social platforms. We all share the blame for the division and destruction. The fallout from the discord of our officials will only worsen if we do not learn to listen and respect and try harder to understand one another as an eighth grader admonished us.

If you have not been worn down by ongoing antagonistic behavior, you must seek, speak and stand for the truth. Do so in a respectful and empathetic manner that invites deliberations and alternative opinions. Give your maturity a chance to shine through. Put an end to the explosions and separations. Chaos will continue to grow without a willingness to listen, understand and act rationally. We can make better decisions!