Verbum Ultimum: Feelings and Facts

by THE DARTMOUTH SUMMER EDITORIAL BOARD | 7/28/16 6:00pm

The 2016 Republican National Convention saw the formal nomination of Donald Trump and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as the Republican presidential and vice presidential candidates, respectively. From Texas Sen. Ted Cruz being booed off the stage for not endorsing Trump to accusations that Melania Trump’s speech was plagarized, the convention was more reminiscent of reality television than a political event. Critics point to the dark tone of Trump’s nomination acceptance speech and lack of concrete policy recommendations as a major flaw in the overarching message of the convention. The convention, as John Oliver’s July 24 episode of “Last Week Tonight” addressed quite poignantly, showed that for the Trump-led Republican Party, “believing something to be true is the same as it being true.” In short, feelings are as important as facts.

Oliver claims that the Republican National Convention was a “four-day exercise in emphasizing feelings over facts.” We live in a democracy, and everyone’s opinions get to be heard. But is policymaking and governing based on intuition and emotions not backed up by facts wise? Is influencing public opinion by preaching how you “feel” a responsible action? At the Republican National Convention, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito asserted that “people around the country feel the Obama administration has kicked them to the curb.” Actor Scott Baio said “our country right now is in a very bad spot... you can feel it.” Rudy Giuliani proclaimed that “the vast majority of Americans today do not feel safe.” Actor Antonio Sabato Jr., without any evidence, stated that he does not feel that President Obama is a Christian, but rather a Muslim. Finally, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan bewilderingly stated “the whole economy feels stuck.” Are any of these statements made by prominent policymakers and public figures based on reality? If not, what role, if any, should feelings and intuition play in governing?

Take the United States crime rate for example. According to FBI statistics, nationwide violent crime and murder rates overall are down since President Obama took office and have been falling for over two decades. When discussing this topic with CNN during the Republican National Convention, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich asserted that “the average American, I will bet you this morning, does not think crime is down [and] does not think they are safer.” When repeatedly presented with the statistics that demonstrate crime has indeed declined, Gingrich responded by saying “that’s your view” and “what I said is also a fact.” After playing this exchange on his weekly program, Oliver quipped that “it’s only a fact that [feeling less safe] is a feeling people have!”

To Gingrich and many prominent Republican policymakers in Cleveland last week, feelings are just as valid as facts. When CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota continuously pointed out to Gingrich that the overall violent crime rate in America has undeniably dropped considerably — and relatively consistently — over the last 25 years, he replied, “the current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics that theoretically may be right, but it’s not where human beings are.” What is most frightening about Gingrich’s view that feelings are equally or more significant than “liberal-biased” facts is that it implies political candidates can create facts from feelings — an idea “which is terrifying because essentially someone like Donald Trump can create his own reality,” as Oliver said.

There are plenty of Republican criticisms of Democratic policies based on facts and statistics, but the fact that feelings, intuition and shallow perceptions formed the basis of the Republican National Convention and its speeches is significant. A good portion of America agrees with the Republican interpretation of current affairs based simply on feelings . Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention offered little substance, logic or policy recommendations, but was intensely evocative emotionally. Trump’s message attracts plenty of voters, but in the end we should want a presidential administration that focuses on reality when making policy, instead of simply relying on sentiment and dismissing facts unless they further one’s political goals.

The Dartmouth Summer Editorial Board is comprised of the Editor-in-Chief, the Executive Editor and the Opinion section of The Dartmouth.