A Critical Thinking Perspective On The Election

The election is only eleven days away, and thank God for that. It’s creating unprecedented levels of anxiety and making lots of us wonder how, exactly, we all ended up in this place.

It astounds me that anyone is still actually undecided, given the wealth of information we already have about both candidates. However, as we make our final decisions, I think it’s worth examining what the pros and cons of each candidate are when viewed through a critical thinking lens.

Viewing the candidates through the perspective of critical thinking is actually – and unfortunately – a fairly radical approach. Most of us vote based on some combination of our “like” or “dislike” for the candidates, our party affiliations, and the recommendations or opinions of those around and those we trust. All these have some value, of course. But what if we tried to throw of our political affiliations and determine which candidate had the best plans to promote our goals and values, as determined through facts and critical analysis?

The first thing we want to know is, who has an understanding and respect for facts, regardless of the conclusions or proposals they put forth? Fact-checking sites like Politifact are good sources for basic information about each politician’s Pinocchio factor — and demonstrate quantitatively that this year’s Republican nominee is legendarily untetethered from the truth.

But beyond just statements of truth or fiction, it’s worth examining more deeply whether each candidate’s proposals actually would accomplish their stated goals, when placed under scrutiny. It’s not even worth wasting pixels on the nonsense talk that our conservative party’s nominee spouts, but it does give us an interesting perspective on those candidates this year who have been more closely tied to reality. For example, those on the left have been adamantly against the Trans-Pacific Pipeline and rallied around Bernie Sanders’ claim that he could provide college for all and not break the economy at the same time. But there was little actual critical analysis of either proposition. When I asked people who supported Sanders over Clinton what the evidence base for either argument was, they’d typically send me a collection of memes and talking points from the Sanders for President website.

When viewed through the pragmatic lens of critical thinking, Hillary Clinton seems to most hew the closest to policies with a strong evidence-base and empirically tested theory of action. That doesn’t mean that her policies are always correct. But she follows the rationalist tradition of Barack Obama, who ended up acquiting himself pretty well in the fact of historical opposition. Of course, this is not to say that there are other potentially important personal characteristics, such as trustworthiness or the dreaded “temperament,” that ought to be considered as well. But in terms of the consequentialist goal of who will achieve what we really want, it might be the best frame.