Dear Editor: No less important than what we say is how we say it. The Roman orator Cicero wrote that rhetoric is necessary because truth by itself is seldom if ever self-evident. The challenge is to be both truthful and eloquent at the same time, and never is this so vital as in elections, when as a body politic we are called upon to choose our nation’s leadership and our shared future.
Here are some suggestions to further this goal:
• Get the most reliable set of concrete facts we can find, relying on published sources that have been checked by multiple editorial readers; be suspicious of any allegations that have not been “triangulated by multiple independent observers.” We mustn’t assume that those readiest to cry “fake news!” are not failing the two rules above but in fact bearing false witness themselves.
• Be clear on the difference between concrete realities (that the Earth circles the sun and not the other way around, that dinosaurs and human beings did not live at the same time, that human activity is causing global climate change, and so on) and imaginary ones (our deities, our beliefs about right and wrong, our visions of alabaster cities and peaceable kingdoms to come).
• To be taken seriously, we should endeavor to write at least as well as our grammar schools tried to teach us grammatically, in complete sentences, and in meaningful terms.
• Be civil, obedient to generally accepted norms of courtesy and the rules of engagement. The first presidential debate of 2020 will go down in history for the 73 interruptions made by a sitting president defending his seat against his challenger, an all time record.
• Remember your audience. We shouldn’t assume that everyone knows as much as we do on any given subject either.
The synopsis above is not exhaustive, but I would wager that if we all followed these suggestions we would maximize our chances of “getting it right” at the polls and annoy one another a good deal less in the bargain. If we can achieve this, then we stand the best chance of regaining the world’s respect as its flagship democratic republic, and our national self-respect in the bargain.
Nick Humez Trenton and Painesville, Ohio