By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
As this year's presidential election campaigns move into their final stretch, each side is settling in to its own story. Even as the polls shift from week to week, mostly due to a minority of late undecideds reacting to current events, the positions remain remarkably dug in for Republicans and Democrats. One reason for that, and it affects both sides, is that the stories that provide a foundation for these political leanings tend to be driven more by beliefs than by facts. A recent piece in The Atlantic, for example, takes a look at Trump supporters noting what it calls a "rift between belief and truth" among pro-Trump voters and commentators alike. The piece takes aim at Wall Street Journal commentator Peggy Noonan for blurring the lines between perception and reality when analyzing what Trump supporters believe and how the GOP establishment should be responding. For example, she notes “What Trump supporters believe, what they perceive as they watch him, is that he is on America’s side,” contrasting that with previous Presidents -- both Obama and Bush -- who, she suggests, were not on America's side. She also describes Trump's base as being disadvantaged in the current economy and unprotected by the government. However, as the piece in The Atlantic notes, the facts do not bear that out. Pointing to FiverThirtyEight's Nate Silver, for example, it turns out that Trump supporters actually earn more than supporters of Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, and pointing to Gallup's Jonathan Rothwell, it turns out despite claims from Trump supporters of “suffering because of globalization, …suffering because of immigration and a diversifying country, …I can’t find any evidence of that.”
Of course perceptions matter. But when it comes to forming opinions, the line is crossed though when perceptions become a personal truth. Peggy Noonan may be crossing that line when she reports the Trump supporters' beliefs, not just as beliefs, but as blueprints for what the Republican establishment should be adapting as its theme and policy direction. Arguably, those who are convinced of a victimhood that the facts don't support are lost in their own narrative, judging reality based on whether it fits the story, instead of judging the story based on whether it fits reality. This risk of putting the story first and the facts second can occur in any field which is driven by communication. And that means every field, including litigation. In this post, I'll comment on a few ways those who are crafting and following narratives in court risk becoming lost in their own stories as well.