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Edelman: Don’t treat opinions as if they are facts and don’t talk politics this Thanksgiving

“Same planet, different worlds” might be the best way to describe the way people on opposite sides of the political divide interpret the facts being presented in the public hearings investigating the “Ukrainian Scandal.”

The facts gathered in hearings conducted by the House Intelligence Committee present a consistent picture. Over several months, the Trump Administration applied pressure on Volodymyr Zelensky, the newly elected president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son. Several highly placed diplomats and National Security Council staff testified that the Trump Administration held back military aid to Ukraine and an invite for Zelensky to visit the White House until the Ukrainian government did “a favor” for Trump. He wanted them to publicly announcing an investigation into the Biden family. Testimony revealed that Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, ran a back-channel operation designed to short-circuit normal diplomatic and governmental operations, to the detriment of both the United States’ and Ukraine’s interests. The former ambassador to Ukraine testified that Giuliani’s operation interfered with American efforts to remove a corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor.

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Republicans and Democrats see a world of differences in those facts.

Democrats take the evidence at face value: the president in fact used the power of his office for political advantage. They say that the president put his personal benefit above the country’s. He invited foreign meddling in American elections; he demanded a bribe from Ukraine before giving that nation military aid they desperately need; he is withholding evidence and obstructing justice; his misconduct is so serious that Congress must investigate and determine if articles of impeachment are appropriate.

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Republicans see the facts differently. They maintain the president has done nothing wrong or even out of the ordinary; last month, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said of the president’s actions toward Ukraine, “We do that all the time … get over it.” The president has never tried to block investigations — he has every right to keep his staff from testifying before the investigative committees. These investigations are a witch-hunt!

The world of differences manifested itself in public hearings last week: Republicans accused Democrats of trying to railroad the process through and impeach Trump without hearing the president’s defense. Democrats called out the Republicans for trying to smear witnesses’ reputations, ignoring the facts, and throwing up parliamentary diversions to blunt the damage that testimony did to the President.

People try to make the world fit their beliefs. If you believe that vaccinations are dangerous, you will interpret evidence to the contrary as wrong, or the research that produced the evidence to be flawed. If you believe that the president is innocent, you will interpret evidence to the contrary as flawed, or perhaps you’ll see it as coming from some deep state out to destroy his presidency.

All of us, this writer included, are subject to the psychological phenomenon of motivated reasoning. If we have any hope for bridging the chasm between the political poles, we will need to deal with the facts as they are and not to treat our opinions as if they are facts.

Next week, you can check out this motivated reasoning thing. Watch a football game with the people you’re celebrating Thanksgiving with. When the team you’re rooting for gets penalized, you’ll probably say or think, “The refs really blew that call.” And when the other team gets flagged, you may react, “The refs finally got one right!”

And speaking of next week, have a happy, safe, Thanksgiving. One way to make it that way — do not talk politics at the dinner table or in front of the TV! Much more unites us than divides us. Let’s celebrate the former and leave the latter for later.

And there is still time before the holiday arrives. Please help make it a happier holiday for other donating to a local food bank. You’ll feel better for it, and so will those you help.

Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. His column appears every other Tuesday. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com.

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