You Can Never Pay Too Much Attention To The Facts

You’ll never have to hear the word “no”
If you keep all your friends on the payroll

—Death Cab for Cutie,
“Good Help (Is So Hard To Find)”

I start with this lyric from a Death Cab for Cutie song because if you ask me, it perfectly captures the current state of politics in our country. And you don’t have to look any further than Thursday night, when I stayed up just a little past my bed time (midnight Denver time) to watch CNN rebroadcast C-SPAN, of all things. Now, while you might find this to not be a shock at all, it really isn’t something that I do on a regular basis (or that CNN does, for that matter). However, what was going on was the final vote on another attempt to fix the healthcare system in the United States. And what many considered to be the last-ditch, no-holds-barred attempt to repeal/replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) failed in what was less of a vote and more of a spectacle now commonplace in our American political system, with a party-line-ish photo finish final tally after months, nay, years of closed-door wranglings and politicking that you’d normally find in a House of Cards episode.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m very thankful for the “no” votes that the Democrats and Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) cast against a deeply unpopular and harmful bill. Yes, I agree that Sen. Murkowski’s willingness to stand up to what amounts to presidential bullying and not flinch and Sen. Collins’ continued willingness to stick to her principles are just as important, if not more so, than the dramatic vote cast by Sen. McCain. Yes, we should also not forget Sen. Mazie Hirono’s (D-HI) vote as well, cast in the midst of her battle with stage 4 kidney cancer. I’ll even say that the rebel/troublemaker in me was delighted by the way in which Sen. McCain voted, not revealing his hand and telling reporters to “watch the show,” in a way playing (and beating) Trump at his own “reality show presidency” game.

But in the past couple of days, well…here’s a sampling of the headlines that have graced CNN that a) have to do with the US government and b) are not healthcare related:

  • “US Joint Chiefs blindsided by Trump’s transgender ban”
  • “Boy Scouts official apologizes for ‘political rhetoric’ of Trump speech”
  • “Graham vows ‘holy hell to pay’ if Sessions is fired”
  • Bonus from the New Yorker: “Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon”

Let’s be real here: that is a lot. And you know what? It’s been like this for months now. Day after day, there’s something new to be upset or outraged by, coming from our politicians, our military, or other people (emphasis on other, because as we know, we’re not like other people). And while I have seen overwhelming responses against both the transgender military ban and the health care bill, both of which were backed by factual evidence and expert opinions, it becomes harder to have those responses when you’ve got about 3 or 4 of those sorts of stories happening a day, and the opinion columnists and talking heads are getting a lot of words in before the facts ever do, and we happily follow suit because we know that we’re right. Or, in other words, we never have to hear the word no, if all we have are friends “on the payroll” so to speak.

And what it boils down to is what we pay attention to. Sure, it’s great that more and more of us pay attention to the daily headlines, but it doesn’t do us any good if we decide to get those headlines from *insert low-quality left-wing news site here* or *insert low-quality right-wing news site here* (I’ll let you fill in the blanks, I’m not about to start any flame wars over that). Not only that, but sticking to one source for all of our news has an even nastier side effect: the facts stop mattering, or don’t exist, unless our “trusted” outlet reports them.

It’s that last part alone that gives rise to part of the issue that we face on a daily basis: we get mad and say “our friends are wrong! this is how it is!” or “the media is biased for/against our (president/Congress/police officers/fire department/cats/whatever)!” “Fake news” has become the standard epithet for anything that doesn’t conform to our reality, and we’ll make our own “alternative facts” to make the situation fit our worldview, thank you very much.

But guess what? The great thing about facts is that whether or not you believe them, they are true. You can choose to believe that climate change either doesn’t exist or isn’t affected by us burning fossil fuels, but NASA’s own independent research shows:

Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.

Or, to tie into current news, the incredibly “expensive” medical costs of transgendered individuals in the military? According to the RAND Corporation (one of the biggest and most prestigious names in military analysis, founded in 1948 by some of the most respected military officers of the time, including Henry H. “Hap” Arnold), in a study conducted for the Department of Defense, the estimated cost of “extending gender transition-related health care coverage to transgender personnel indicated that active-component health care costs would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually”, which would result in a “0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.” A .13% increase, at most. That’s not really “expensive” with that sort of context.

However, whatever the issue may be, the most important thing to know is this: “whether or not you believe the facts, they are true.” And sadly, it really does appear that our reluctance, avoidance, or downright rejection of the facts has created an unbridgeable divide when it comes to our ability to work together, because we can’t even agree what the basis of the issue is. But if you, whoever you may be, agree with them, regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on, I believe we can start to make some headway in tackling the issues that we face and then some. If not, well, you’re free to do so, but I hope you’re happy with the way things are.

Because they’ll continue to be that way if things don’t change.

And that’s a fact.

Jacob

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