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‘Opinions’ is one of the hot-button topics of today due in large measure to the impact of President Trump’s behaviour as presidential candidate and president of the United States.The combination of Mr Trump and social media has created the ‘perfect opinion storm’ which continuously engulfs the news media and claims attention from all of us. There has been no U.S. president like Mr Trump for the daily impact he has had on us in the way he has changed the ‘climate of opinion’ about opinions.
A major effect of ‘Storm Trump’ is that his behaviour has single-handily legitimated the expression of any ‘opinion’ and his example has validated the sense of entitlement to ‘my opinion’ no matter how outrageous, discriminatory, or ill-founded. He has brought confusion to political discourse and provoked the normally restrained news media into calling him a liar, describing his statements as lies, and characterising his behaviour in the strongest personality terms.
Trump-as-role-model challenges us to think about how we form, hold and use opinions – an unintended benefit perhaps, but one we should not (cannot?) forego. The crisis he has unleashed has also gifted us an opportunity (or forced the necessity?) to bring some clarity to the confusing field of opinion-making.
A Case Example
We can use Mr Trump himself as a case study for us to think about shaping our opinions and, specifically, whether we form the opinion that he lies.
Keeping a grip on truth in the midst of ‘Storm Trump’ demands much effort and diligence, more than most of us can sustain. In time, we can expect that even the rolling audits which various news media and political websites are compiling on the truthfulness of his words and deeds will become demanding.
Many people will have an opinion about Mr Trump’s behaviour such is his impact worldwide and this poses the question as to how this opinion was formed or acquired. And, if we do not have an opinion already about the status of his endless flow of claims we decide, one way or another, where we stand on Mr Trump relationship to truth in a way that we have not had to do about most U.S. presidents.
We have two options: opt out or engage our minds.
For many, even at this early stage of Mr Trump’s presidency, his behaviour is too much and it is already a question of ‘tuning it out’ to preserve peace of mind. Alternatively, his opinions behaviour requires economizing on our attention – coming to a sustainable assessment of it so that we need not think about his every turn.