People For the American Way

DNC & RNC: Facts vs. Feelings

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

As millions of Americans tuned into the national conventions of the Democrats last week and Republicans the week before, the tone and substance between the two parties could not have been more different. During his weekly satirical news show, comedian John Oliver put the contrasting frames used by the political left and right in perspective while commenting on the Republican National Convention.

“It was a four-day exercise in emphasizing feelings over facts,” said Oliver.

It doesn’t take an especially sensitive person to see that fear is a common theme in Republican messaging, particularly this election cycle. Whether it’s lies about Mexican immigrants or smears about Muslim Americans, fear is consistently used as part of the core Republican message. Donald Trump, perhaps the worst offender of this in modern history, has presented himself as the sole solution to all problems – real and perceived – faced by the United States, without explaining how he would actually solve them.      

It’s not uncommon for the fear and insecurity stoked by Republicans to conflict with facts. For instance, in his RNC commentary, Oliver included a news clip from an interview with former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The segment does an excellent job of highlighting how in the world of Republican rhetoric, feelings often get conflated with facts. In the clip Gingrich says “the average American, I bet you this morning, does not think that crime is down, does not think they are safer.” He presents his statement as a fact, which may be technically true in terms of feelings, but in reality, people are actually safer. For that matter, crime rates have been steadily dropping across the board since the 1990s, with few exceptions.   

Compared to the Democratic National Convention, the difference could not be more clear. The message of the event was largely rooted in empirical facts, citing job growth and other quantifiable factors to show the progress that has been made over the past eight years with Obama in the White House. But it was also a message of enduring hope. In her speech accepting the democratic nomination for president of the United States, Hillary Clinton quoted the famous line from Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, “the only thing to fear is fear itself,” presenting a stark contrast to the paranoid and divisive rhetoric of her opponent.

Clinton’s campaign slogan, “Stronger Together,” invokes unity, collaboration and creating common purpose in order to make a “more perfect union.” Indeed, many of our nation’s greatest advances in history have come about through people coming together to find common ground, working as one with a shared sense of optimism. When voters go to the polls in November to cast their ballots, they will be faced with a choice of historic proportions: take a radical step to the right, deepening divisions and elevating hateful rhetoric, or continue along the path exemplified by the American ideals of diversity and inclusivity.