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OPINION

A new year’s nudge toward political reasonableness

There’s still plenty of room for national improvement.

President Biden handed the pen he used to sign the Democrats' landmark climate change and health care bill to Senator Joe Manchin as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer watched, at the White House in August.Susan Walsh/Associated Press

The start of the year is a time for resolutions of improvement and, as Mark Twain noted, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”

Mind you, that need isn’t as dramatic as it’s been in recent years. In some ways, 2022 saw important steps toward the restoration of political reason in America.

Still, results that should have been easily arrived at seemed like near things indeed.

That was the case with the passage of a big package to address climate change, of the defeat of election deniers in the midterms, and of voters’ collective decision not to hand unified control of Congress to a conservative party consumed with cultural warfare but bereft of a real governing agenda.

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Good things all — but what a struggle it took.

Take climate change. This nation has been procrastinating on the matter for decades, even as the science has grown stronger and the effects of global warming have become more apparent. But the package that finally passed in August did so without a single Republican vote.

Or the belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. There was never any persuasive reason to think that Joe Biden’s victory wasn’t legitimate, so that delusion really should have died once the last of the Trump team’s many court challenges came up empty.

On the good news front, the highest profile of the election deniers running in 2022 suffered well-deserved defeats. Yet even though prominent spreaders of the Big Lie have now admitted that they had no factual evidence for their lurid claims; even though we now know that Donald Trump’s top Department of Justice appointees and campaign officials had told him the election was free of results-altering fraud; even though Fox News has, at legal sword point, run segments debunking the wild claims various Fox hosts promoted or enabled, some 60 percent of Republican voters still cling to the stolen-election nonsense. That goes to prove another of Twain’s observations: “How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!”

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So if, in this season of evanescent resolutions, voters were interested in promoting more rational politics — and I realize that’s a very big if — what would they do?

Recognize and reject conspiracy theories.

If a purported alternative explanation for how a much-scrutinized event — whether the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade or presidential vote tallies that change as mail-in ballots are counted — depends on believing it was actually brought about by a clandestine cabal of ruthlessly efficient rogue operatives (or mysterious technologies) that go undetected, Americans should be skeptical indeed. The real world doesn’t work that way.

Keep perspective while others are losing theirs.

The intelligent navigation of modern politics also depends on discounting patently silly claims. Take the resurgent Republican canard that Democrats are in thrall to communism. That charge is a favorite of US Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who specializes in belligerent stupidity, but she is far from the only one to offer up a big bowl of Coco Pops calumny for electoral consumption.

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In that light, it’s important to realize that the hard-right has been saying the same at least since FDR. But during the post-World War II period, our system has not lurched into Marxism during times of Democratic control. In fact, our capitalist economy has actually performed significantly better under the Democrats than during periods of Republican governance. Which leads to this irony: If one credits their justifications, Chicken Little fears of a supposed red menace prompted some conservatives to back a man who actually tried to subvert our democracy.

Raise your gaze.

Sometimes the easiest way to evaluate a claim about US domestic politics is to look beyond our borders. If, as some US conservatives contend, climate change is a myth liberals have fabricated in order to expand governmental control over American life, why does almost every other conservative party in the Western world accept the science? And why did Exxon’s own scientists conclude decades ago that human-caused climate change was real?

Check the facts.

The Internet has helped lies race around the world, but it has also given conscientious citizens the tools to refute them, in the form of excellent fact-checking sites like PolitiFact.com and FactCheck.org, among others.

In conclusion …

One obvious problem with a column aimed at helping readers reject falsehoods and hyperbole is that those who are politically literate and who aren’t hyperpartisans don’t need the assistance. Yet we all know someone who does, which means a column like this is a perfect click-and-send.

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After all, who among us doesn’t welcome some constructive advice for self-improvement?

Kidding, kidding. Perhaps it would be a better snail-mail clip-and-send.

An anonymous one, that is.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.