By now, you’ve probably heard about how NPR tweeted the Declaration of Independence in its entirety yesterday, and a bunch of Trump supporters got all up in arms about it (hopefully not literally), after failing to realize what the tweets were. It feels like every major news outlet has mentioned it already today.
Guess what? You should not give the slightest shit about this story. Here’s why …
You see, the cool thing about the internet is that everyone gets a voice. As long as you have access to a computer and an internet connection, you can be heard on the internet.
And while that sounds great, it also comes with a giant downside. Yes, everyone now gets a voice on the internet. But … everyone now gets a voice on the internet. It doesn’t matter how clueless a person is. As long as they know how to type out 140 semi-coherent characters and hit the little blue button that says “tweet” on it, they can make themselves heard on the internet.
But let’s face it. The world is full of ignorant people. (Seriously, did you need me to tell that?) And no matter how you carve up the demographics of a society, no matter how you split up our nation into “this” type of person or “that” type of person, every group you can conceivably put together and slap a label on is going to have its share of 1) thoughtful, rational people on one end of the intelligence spectrum, 2) all the average yokels in the middle, and then 3) a handful of complete dumbasses on the other end.
That means that, for any issue you can think of that you’re trying to discuss, you can undoubtedly find some idiot on the other side that allows you to point to them and say, “See? Look how dumb my opponents are. That’s why I’m right.”
The problem is, that doesn’t make you right in the least bit. All it does is allow you to be lazy and evade any rational arguments your opponent might actually be presenting. That’s how we all end up talking past each other in as polarized a nation as we have today.
There’s even a term for this, you know. It’s called a straw man fallacy. That’s where, instead of responding to a rational, well-researched argument by your opponent, you push said opponent’s argument to its most ridiculous extreme, and you argue against that. Because obviously, that’s a much easier position to destroy.
That’s why abortion always boils down to “baby killers” versus “Bible thumpers,” rather than debating the nuances of when a life actually begins.
That’s why freedom of speech always boils down to “racist bigots” versus “triggered snowflakes,” rather than debating the nuances of what is or isn’t appropriate speech.
That’s why immigration always boils down to “letting terrorists into our country,” versus “wrapping ourselves in a 50-foot wall,” instead of debating the specific criteria for how someone can be allowed into the United States.
In the stuffy, insular world of speech and debate, a straw man argument is pretty easy to pick out. Unfortunately, in the “real world” of the internet, there will inevitably be someone dumb enough to be that scarecrow. You know that saying about how a small number of idiots always ruin it for everyone, whatever “it” may represent? That’s the internet and rational debate.
That’s what this handful of Trump supporters who didn’t recognize the Declaration of Independence represent. They’re the straw men that liberals are now latching onto.
When you vilify your opponent by presenting the most extreme, most irrational position from the other side, it’s easy to feel smug and believe that your position is the obvious one.
The problem is, doing so only diverts our collective attention from the issues that actually matter. Think about it this way: If you truly hate our current president, and you oppose every policy he has and every inch of his very being, how does this little anecdote help you advance your cause?
It doesn’t. Hell, I don’t even know what your cause would be in this case, if all you’re doing is pointing out that some Trump supporters can’t recognize the Declaration of Independence.
And that’s why you shouldn’t give a shit about this whole NPR Declaration of Independence debacle. In the grand state of our society, it is ultimately meaningless. So move on along. There really is nothing to see here.