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Enough With the Conspiracy Theories

Updated on July 24, 2018

Either Back it Up or Shut Up

What is the greater tragedy: an innocent person being convicted of a crime or a guilty person who is never punished? I suspect that Americans, if they are honest, will give different answers to this question, and we would all like to live in a world where neither tragedy ever takes place. Officially, however, our legal system is based on the premise of "innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." The Bill of Rights clearly does more to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction than improve the odds of punishing the guilty. It is likely, therefore, that there are more criminals getting away with things than innocent people getting tossed in prison.

This raises another question. Does the "innocent until proven guilty" principle apply to people involved in politics? In theory, most Americans would answer yes, but a large percentage of them clearly don't mean it. It is remarkable how many people in this society will believe virtually any negative things that they read about political officials who do not share their political ideology or party. While there may be a relatively small number of people out there producing "news" that is deliberately misleading or just completely made up, there are millions who believe and help to spread the garbage. With all the conspiracy theories flying around the internet on a daily basis, it's like the "boy who cried wolf," on crack, a million times over.

All of this "crying wolf" does more than feed into the ideological and partisan divide that seems to get worse by the year. It also makes it far more difficult to uncover real conspiracies when they arise. The truth gets drowned out by the garbage, and a significant percentage of the population has been conditioned to believe that any criticism of their side is a bunch of crap. While Donald Trump is far more aggressive and blatant than past presidents in accusing all of his critics of producing "fake news," he is hardly the first president or politician to criticize his or her accusers as liars. And on many occasions, whether Democrat or Republican, politicians are perfectly justified in calling certain stories fake news.

Yes, I know that there are lots of real conspiracies out there, but I find it very difficult to determine how much fact or fiction there may be in these claims. Given how all of this conspiracy claiming only gets more out of hand over time, I am basically done with them. I have no interest in reading anything that comes from so-called news sources with very strong ideological slants. Because it is unavoidable, I will still read commentary from people who have their inevitable biases, but I refuse to turn to them as primary sources of facts. And as hard as it may be to do, I will try to view politicians as "innocent until proven guilty" of outright illegal behavior. They deserve the same legal treatment as everyone else. The legal system is not perfect by any means, but it beats judging people by the court of misinformed, biased, and easily manipulated public opinion.

I am not saying that we should stop criticizing politicians for their (documented) actions and words. For a bunch of reasons, I think that Donald Trump sucks as a president whether he has ever been engaged in any illegal behavior or not. But I will be accepting the conclusions of the Mueller investigation (and any other investigations or court proceedings that may or may not follow) regardless of the conclusions. If we are to continue living in a society that claims to be based on rule of law, then we must accept where the evidence leads whether we like it or not.

Let's all continue to argue vigorously online and - heaven forbid - sometimes in person about politics. Let's continue to make fun of politicians when they say or do stupid things. But if you are not going to make an honest effort to get your facts straight, it is probably best to shut the hell up (and stay home on election day). And if you are a reporter or law enforcement agent who suspects that a politician may be engaged in illegal behavior, then please, for the rest of us, pursue your conspiracy theory. We need honest and courageous people to hold these politicians accountable. Just do us all the favor of not sharing your conspiracy theory until you can back it up with some real evidence. Because if you share your theory, and it proves to be wrong, then you will just add to the chorus of people crying wolf.


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