Ben finishes his exploration of critical thinking and election politics with this post-election wrap-up.
With this year’s Presidential race over, I thought I would use the forum one last time to reflect on how critical-thinking topics I studied were applied during the election.
The last subject I studied was rhetoric, how it is used, its deeper value, and why it’s a necessary critical-thinking skill. Rhetoric gives you the ability to control the tone of a conversation and can help make difficult ideas more digestible, or at least understandable.
But rhetoric can serve to oversimplify concepts, which everyone did this election. It can also fuel an attack strategy, causing news outlets to constantly call other people’s claims into question and stopping them from building their own arguments. This year, those two things combined to create more division than ever before.
Aristotle’s three Modes of Persuasion were also on display this year, especially pathos which Democrats leaned on heavily to show they cared about people suffering from COVID and from Trump. Meanwhile, Republicans made their own use of pathos to appeal to people annoyed with over-sensitivity to other people’s feelings (like protestors). With so much use of emotional reasoning (pathos), logic (logos) and connection (ethos) played less of a role this year than in any previous election.
Fallacies were also on display by both sides. Republicans used the aforementioned “sensitive liberals” narrative to appeal to masculinity, money and tradition while Democrats appealed to flattery, fear, and expertise/authority (“listen to the science!”) to push their own narratives heavily supported by mainstream media and celebrity endorsements. Fallacious or not, some of these appeals were essential to grabbing votes.
While I’ve tried to avoid getting overtly political in this forum, it is worth pointing out the role played by election-night concession-speech rhetoric. Consider John McCain’s excellent ‘08 speech after he lost the election when he encouraged unity, silenced boos, and focused on the fact that the U.S. had elected its first black president. Or Bush’s concession in ’92 when he reflected awe and his own ultimate smallness compared to history and the democratic system. Concession speeches have the power to convince voters that their choices are part of something much larger than themselves. Compare that to spending weeks listening to complaints about how elite liberals had supposedly rigged the entire thing to see what wasted opportunity looks like.
In this our most internet-driven election cycle, all of the critical-thinking skills I’ve been learning were vital to understanding what was going on. Rhetoric proved extremely powerful (and dangerous) role, as did Aristotle’s Modes of Persuasion. While logic was in short supply from the candidates, it helped voters (or at least me) understand what people were actually arguing over. And by understanding bias, including my own, I was able to better understand how we can work towards a common goal.
The world is going to remain polarized but knowing how to think clearly and communicate effectively is our key to breaking out of the spiral that gave us such a weird 2020 race. Because I had the chance to learn critical-thinking skills as the election rolled along, I felt more involved and acutely aware of the process than ever before.