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RANDY HUFF: Trying To See Both Sides of A Debate

The last time I heard a presidential debate was via radio in Fall 2020. I could almost take you to the place on the road where I turned off the radio, disgusted and embarrassed. No one thinks political debate will be Plato meets Shakespeare. But maybe candidates could serve the American people with an honest discussion of what matters. What a concept!

So I wasn’t going to watch this debate, much less write about it.

Full disclosure, I have never voted for a Democrat unless you count the 6th grade classroom poll in which I selected Jimmy Carter. I grew up in a salt-of-the-earth Kansas family with roots in farming, education, and church. We always leaned conservative and I never knew how to think otherwise though I’ve spent a lifetime trying to learn to listen to alternate views.

So when I finally decided to watch this debate I was reluctant. Can I stand the mudslinging, the cringe moments, the hyperbole, the truth warp? Will it be as bad as commentators are saying? Or as good? What is this surreal re-tread slate of candidates older than Reagan when he left office? Or the clear denial of fact when the emperor’s wardrobe is missing?

I waded in.

President Biden wasn’t as bad as I actually feared, though the obvious incoherence in the early going was shocking. The spans of coherence were shocking as well. And many times his rejoinders were clear and direct, as when he said, after claiming Trump would promote a law banning abortion after ten weeks: “He’ll sign that law; I’ll veto it!”

As for Trump, I’ve never known what to do with his, shall we say, hyperbole. Truth is full of nuance and most of us know how to shade it in our favor. And, as already noted, this is no academic truth inquiry. But “worst economy we’ve ever seen” and “everyone, both Democrat and Republican wanted Roe returned to the states” – you can’t take those statements seriously without contorted qualifiers.

In this way I think Trump almost trolls the fact-checkers. Folks run to check the data as if that is what is really in play here.

But this is about how one sees the world, not data points to support a political position. And this seemed to play out when President Biden rolled out the weary affront to critical thinking: “there were good people on both sides.” In that well-trampled Charlottesville story Trump clearly meant there are good people on both sides of the statue question: “Should Civil War statues of, say, General Lee be left standing or should they be torn down?” Good people have honest disagreements about that.

But, as always, Mr. Biden and others of his persuasion use the story to smear Mr. Trump as if he meant there are good people in the “cross-burning, white-supremacist-Nazi camp” or some such.

Of course all people would be right to wonder about former President Trump’s relationship to the truth. The question leaves me aghast with all of life, and especially with politics. To insist that I myself would always be truthful to the best of my knowledge requires embarrassing chutzpah. But I hope I would try.

We have to insist on a standard of truth and knowledge that “comports with reality.” And it never does any good to call people liars. I’ve been let down so often when I “knew” people were lying that I often just give up the question.

Was Trump often lying? Since I believe a lie requires intention and volition, I honestly do not know. (I’m not lying.) Do I think he said many things that are not true? Yes.

Do I think the same of President Biden? Yes.

Why don’t I provide evidence for both claims? Three reasons, or four.

One, we believe what we want to believe and it is driven by assumptions so deep we seldom are aware of them, much less able to change them. This is, of course commonly known as “confirmation bias” which is strongly related to “plan bias” and “gotta-get-there bias.” (All of which can kill you – just ask any well seasoned pilot.)

Two, the quantity of commentary is vast beyond belief, no one gives much care to what I say, and you can find “proofs” on both sides with casual searching.

Three, close behind number two is a re-configuration of number one: the “proofs provided” are easily debunked by sincere people who simply cannot accept a different perspective. The hope of being fact-or evidence-driven is just that – a hope, although it is a laudable goal, and I would be self-refuting if I said I was not seeking it as I think and write.

Four, when one approaches almost any statement with charity there is a way to contort it such that it comports with a reasonable fact base. This happens all the time with statistics. It always shocks me to see how easily opposing viewpoints can use the same statistics – or ‘fact-bases’ if you will – to reach alternate or even opposing positions.

To quote a man I never thought I’d quote (see “trying to listen to alternate perspectives” above), Bill Mahar said, “You can hate [the candidate] but you can’t hate all those who are voting for him.” Most of those doing the voting are fellow Americans of reasonable good will and hope for the future. All who disagree with me do not “hate America” or “want to destroy democracy as we know it.” Ugh!

Where does that leave us?

We need wisdom. Yes I have some strong opinions. I think one of the candidates will do great harm to our nation in the long run, and I think the other has the potential to do great good. I resort to prayer, for I believe in God. And I ask that righteousness will prevail and our nation will continue to be land of the free and home of the brave.

Thankfully, that hope is bigger than any election or any so-called debate.

Randy Huff

Randy Huff and his wife lived for 5 years in Roanoke (Hollins) where they raised 2 sons. Randy served as Dean of Students at a Christian school and then worked in construction. For the last 8 years he has served as pastor of a church in North Pole, Alaska.

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