Subscribe for 33¢ / day

Following the indictments by a Washington, D.C., grand jury of 13 Russians identified by special counsel Robert Mueller, it is now obvious the Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

The objective was to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. Operating from St. Petersburg, Russia, they used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to churn out lies. They stole the identities of Americans and enlisted unwitting U.S. citizens to their cause. The extent and deviousness of their actions are breathtaking.

Indictments are not legal findings of guilt, and it is unlikely the Russians will ever be tried in a U.S. court. Nonetheless, there is widespread belief in the accuracy of the charges. Even White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has admitted the Russians interfered and assured us the Trump campaign was not involved. At this point, there is no accusation the Trump campaign played a part, but the investigation is ongoing.

Americans are upset with the Russian actions. Many of us are old enough to remember when Russia was our sworn enemy, and are uncomfortable with the trust some of our leaders place in them. But the reality is governments have been meddling in the domestic politics of other countries for years, and our own hands are certainly not clean. Our foreign policy has many times been more about stability than justice in other countries, and we have occasionally supported anyone who would provide it.

So, while I don’t like what the Russians did, I can understand it. I am far more distressed their actions may have worked, not because they did it but because of what it says about many Americans. Lies and manipulation can only be successful if people are sucked in by them. How could the Russians’ actions be effective if people were critical thinkers and not so eager to believe any bad thing about someone they don’t like? Where is the fact checking so necessary for informed decisions?

Lying is not new whether done by foreigners or Americans. Each of us has the responsibility in our republic to cast an informed vote based on careful examination of issues and based on facts. The Russians interfering in our election would not have worked if we were a nation of citizens careful about seeking truth.

Critical thinking has become passe for many segments of the population, and its demise has been made worse by social media. I can’t be the only person who regularly receives missives that are inaccurate or in most cases outright lies. I used to spend time fact checking the junk I got and then responding with the facts. My hope was it might force the sender to stop, think and fact check. Didn’t work. The disgusting messages continued, and I confess I no longer waste my time trying to set the record straight.

Whether it starts in the schools, social media or personal conversations, critical thinking and fact checking need a resurgence. We just need to do better. A lot depends on it.

Fred Abraham is professor emeritus and former head of the Economics Department at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.


Load comments