Listen to other countries on consequential issues

By David Carlson

When I came to Franklin College in the late 1970s, I had a wonderful colleague who taught me an important lesson. One day, I shared that I’d spent some of my grade school years up in Springfield, Illinois, and that my years there had given me a lifelong interest in Abraham Lincoln.

I recalled looking out of my school window to see where Honest Abe first practiced law. I laughingly said that as a youngster I struggled with understanding the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but had finally concluded that the Trinity must be God, Jesus and Abraham Lincoln.

My friend listened quietly, without saying a word, before gently sharing that he’d grown up in South Carolina where Lincoln was remembered as no hero. In fact, when he was a boy, they didn’t celebrate Lincoln’s birthday.

I was reminded of this difference of perception on a recent trip to visit our son in Atlanta. In a restaurant, I read on the menu that the recipe for one of the house specialties was older than “the Northern Aggression.”

It took me a moment before I realized that this was one Georgia restaurant’s way of referencing the Civil War. How people understand the Civil War still depends somewhat on where they live — North or South.

There have been other times in our nation’s more recent history when we have struggled with news vs. fake news, truth vs. alternative facts. During the Vietnam War, our nation was divided on how to view the war — was this conflict a fight to defend democracy, or was the war a quagmire, a tragic waste of lives, both American and Vietnamese? How people answered that question depended a great deal on what news sources they listened to or read at the time.

Currently, we are in another time when our nation, our state and even our local communities are divided over the issue of truth. For some, Trump hasn’t been given a chance as president by the media and liberals.

For them, Trump is a qualified person for the most-exalted political position in the world, a person who speaks and acts forcefully, even a great world leader. Given the support of the country, his supporters believe, Trump will make America great again.

For others, the truth lies elsewhere. Trump is a dangerous and unstable person, someone whose word cannot be trusted. His relationship with Russia is muddied; what he asks of his children and son-in-law is possibly illegal.

To those with this view, Trump’s radio show defenders and far-right Christian supporters are backing a very dangerous horse. For those fearful of what Trump may tweet or decide overnight, the president’s only interest is in making Trump great again.

With each side accusing the other of fake news and deliberate distortion, it may seem that the American people have nowhere to turn to find the truth. There is, however, a less-biased source that we all have access to but rarely call upon, and that is the world press.

When MSNBC and FoxNews present totally contradictory interpretations of events in Washington, we Americans don’t have to throw up our hands and wonder where truth lies.

Any American with an internet connection can view within seconds how analysts and everyday people in Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Israel, Canada, Mexico, London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Jerusalem, Ottawa, Mexico City, Seoul and elsewhere view events in Washington. To make this task easier, many of the major newspapers from these cities have English editions.

If friends of mine from both the right or the left were to respond to this invitation by replying, “I don’t have to read what others in the world think about Trump; I know what I believe,” my response would be a simple one: “What are you afraid of learning?”

Climate change, the Syrian civil war, immigration, relations with Russia and health care — all positions the Trump administration wants to reverse from previous policy. Doesn’t it make sense to read and listen to what thoughtful observers from other countries, those with more distance from the fray and less bias, have to say about these issues?

Let’s remember that our national symbol is the eagle, the bird with far-ranging sight, not the ostrich that hides its head in the sand.

David Carlson is a professor of philosophy and religion and a Franklin resident. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.