The election of Trump has made it painfully obvious that we are living through a crisis of critical thinking. Massive segments of the electorate are utterly incapable of distinguishing between good and bad argument, reliable and unreliable data, quality and spun journalism, reality and fantasy. Droves of people are incapable of any semblance of honest self-reflection. (Are you?) Countless times I witnessed people refuse to read articles from sources they deemed “liberal” or “mainstream.” What this says is that they do not trust themselves to be able to assess the information fairly. They cannot be charitable with the views of others or do research into their reliability. They are seemingly afraid of having their minds changed. There is no doubt that a lot of it is laziness, but the echo chamber that is right-wing news is so lacking in any critical engagement that it has set up critical engagement itself as liberal. And therefore wrong and evil. It is perhaps a crisis more fundamental than anything else we face.
On the rare occasion that Trump said something resembling an argument, it was always something that appeared coherent on its face but easily crumbled after two seconds of reflection. For instance: “Hillary, you’ve been in government for 30 years. Why didn’t you stop me?” It makes some sense—assuming you don’t think about it for more than two seconds. “I am really rich, so I cannot be bought and influenced by Wall Street.” It makes some sense—assuming you don’t think about it for more than two seconds. These types of arguments won the day in our democracy. It is sobering and deeply disturbing.
Trump was true democracy in action. He was appealing to a large segment of the population that was sick and tired of evidence and argument. They didn’t want to think or be challenged. Instead, they opted for force and authoritarianism (in the spirit of the classic logical fallacies, ‘appeal to force’ and ‘argument from authority’). Arguments, so it seems, are elitist.
Whatever the future looks like, critical thinking must play a role. It must be universal. Currently, it is not.