The hardening of even clearly erroneous opinions is among the more pressing problems of our politics. We no longer let our ideology determine our partisanship; we let our partisanship determine our ideology. Numerous studies have shown that, when confronted with evidence our beliefs are flawed, we double-down rather than reflect and adapt.
I am at a loss to describe a convincing solution to this problem. But perhaps we could start by acknowledging that all of us are, indeed, fallible. It cannot be a bad thing to reflect upon times we were wrong. I’ll go first.
My columns throughout last year unwaveringly supported the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, both in the Democratic primary and the general election. I repeatedly criticized Bernie Sanders, her intraparty opponent, as — among other barbs — someone who could not win a general election against Donald Trump.
I was wrong.
There are a lot of reasons for my change in belief; they need not be delineated in particular detail here. But opinion polls showed Sanders’s margins over Trump in polls exceeded those of Clinton, both during and after the primary. The importance of the Rust Belt swing states suggests Sanders’s emphasis on economic values would have been preferable to Clinton’s on identity politics.
In the end, I believe I was blinded by my admiration of Clinton to see, in hindsight, rather obvious drawbacks. I’m a moderate Democrat who was drawn to another moderate Democrat; and I, for one, liked the identity politics, even though the American people evidently did not. Perhaps Sanders’s aspirational promises should have been seen as valid, in stark contrast with Clinton’s apparent resignation to moderation.
Another error was believing that President Barack Obama had an overall successful foreign policy. I laughed when Obama made condescending quips at Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent in 2012, over Romney’s anxiety regarding Russia. Obama retorted that such consternation was antiquated politics from a bygone era.
While Obama’s Iran Deal — despite Trump’s meddling — remains a foreign policy victory , his successes elsewhere are limited. We are in a de facto Second Cold War with Russia, which is meddling in our elections. Obama did far too little to alert the American public when it mattered. The prospect of peace between Israel and Palestine seems as far off as ever, and Syria crossed Obama’s “red line” regarding chemical weapons with apparent impunity.
And then there’s the whole issue with North Korea now possessing hydrogen bombs and nuclear missiles that can reach the American mainland — and probably Austin. According to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, the people of that nation are seriously preparing for nuclear war.
Trump’s speak-loudly-and-carry-a-small-stick foreign policy is still insane, and the Bush era’s neoconservative let’s-invade-a-random-country doctrine still seems somewhat evil. But the Obama doctrine — “Leading from Behind” or not — was a failure. Grappling with that reality is a first step toward making a solution.
We should admit we were wrong, particularly on issues of politics, far more often. Perhaps we can finally suture the gaping, bleeding wound that is the current state of discourse in America.
Horwitz is a second-year law student from Houston. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @NoahMHorwitz.