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Trump, Clinton, and Honey Flavored Figs

In Table Talk, Plutarch tells how Democritus eating a fig was surprised and delighted to find the fig had a taste of honey. He called his servant and asked where the fig had come from. The servant named a particular orchard and Democritus demanded his servant take him to the orchard so he could investigate and discover why the fig tasted of honey. His servant told him it was not necessary because she had placed the figs in a vase that had contained honey. To this Democritus said: “Your telling me that makes me angry. I intend to pursue my idea, and I will seek the cause as if the sweetness came from the fig itself.”

Democritus was an empiricist. He believed that reality, and indeed truth, are found in empirical observation. And yet, when confronted with the truth, that is the facts of the matter, he nonetheless headed off to the orchard to investigate the source of the figs flavor. In other words, even for an old empiricist there are times when the power of imagination and belief trump evidence and facts.

Such a story can make us smile. Poor old Democritus going to the orchard on a fool’s errand. Unfortunately, in a democracy the human predilection to forget the facts when they do not adhere to our beliefs sucks big time. When it comes to politics and voting, we should all be empiricists. However, more than not, we are mostly believers. The actual facts, if they are contrary to what we already believe to be true, are simply cast aside, in much the way Democritus cast aside the honey coated vase.

My neighbor is a fascist. He would never call himself a fascist, and being a good American, for him fascism, communism, socialism, and Nazism all meld into one vague ever present evil. But trust me on this. By definition, he’s a fascist.[1] He loves Donald Trump and sees him as the savior of the United States. When I ask Bob why he thinks Trump is qualified to be president and commander and chief, he says that Trump is an amazingly successful businessman and straight talker (he is also immensely impressed that Trump is not a politician and thus has absolutely no political experience – I’ve written about this: The Three Almost Requirements for Political Office in the Unites States of America). Putting aside whether or not a businessman by default is also a good politician, the following facts are utterly irrelevant to Bob: Trump…

  • Bought Trump Plaza hotel for $400 million. It was later repossessed by the bank.
  • Bought his yacht for $29 million. It was later repossessed by the bank. Built four casinos at a cost of $3 billion. Later he filed for bankruptcy and went out of business.
  • Started Trump Airlines and never made a profit. Later his planes and helicopters were repossessed by the bank.
  • Created Trump Vodka, Trump Steaks, and Trump Mortgages. Afterwards they all went out of business.

Apparently this is the short list of the great businessman’s accomplishments in “building great structures” and creating “thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs”. The point is, however, that Trump’s actual record as a businessman, that is the facts, are completely irrelevant if you are a Trump true believer.[2]

I found myself almost instinctively thinking Clinton is dishonest and that the Clinton Foundation is a fraudulent organization that simply enriches the Clintons and their friends – and I’m going to vote for her! The actual facts were hard to accept. Let’s begin with the Clinton Foundation.

A majority of people think the Clinton Foundation is corrupt, and while I didn’t think the foundation was sponsored by Satan, I did buy in to the general impression. It is fair to raise questions concerning the integrity of the foundation given the amount of money coming and going in such a large charity. Billions of dollars always raise the possibility of conflicts of interest. To be honest, I did image that the Clintons used the “foundation as a slush fund to reward their friends, or, alternatively, Mrs. Clinton using her positions in public office to reward donors.”  

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending who you are and where you stand, CharityWatch doesn’t agree. Indeed, the independent watchdog in April 2016 gave the Clinton Foundation an A rating. The reality that people seem unable to accept that the foundation is not a hot bed of corruption does not change the facts.

The foundation’s mission statement: Works to improve global health & wellness, increase opportunity for women & girls, reduce childhood obesity, create economic opportunity & growth, and help communities address the effects of climate change. CharityWatch reported that 88% of the funds raised for the Foundation are spent on programs to realize the goals in the mission statement relative to the cash spent on fundraising, management, and general expenses. The Foundation spends $2 for every $100 raised from contributions. There is virtually no evidence of fraudulent behavior in the charity, and yet the general impression of corruption persists.

Some 68% of Americans believe Clinton is fundamentally dishonest. In fact, the majority judge Trump to be more honest than Clinton. As it turns out, Politifact, a Pulitzer Prize winning fact checking organization, judged Clinton to be the most honest candidate in the 2016 presidential contest, with Bernie Sanders a close second. Trump’s rating put him more in the category of pathological liar. But never, mind, the majority of Americans believe Trump to be more trustworty than Clinton. It might, therefore, be interesting to compare Clinton’s and Trump’s truthfulness scores. The truth is often hard to believe.

It has been a long held political philosophy in the U.S. that democracy is safe in the hands of a well-educated citizenry. Unfortunately, we often determine our vote, not based on the evidence, but on our emotions. In the face of the facts Democritus went to the orchard anyway. In the face of the facts, Americans believe Clinton to be dishonest and Trump to be a great businessman. The facts be damned. Let’s get out there and vote with our hearts.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

[1] The relationship between fascism and democracy is dangerously intimate.

[2] However, the facts can become relevant if as a true believer you conclude they are lies propagated by an evil liberal media and left wing bleeding hearts.

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