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Testing critical thinking

As our sharply divided nation heads deeper into the potential impeachment of Donald Trump, the ability of citizens to examine and evaluate factual evidence will be severely tested. Do the president’s actions justify his removal from office, or is the attempt to impeach him, as he repeatedly claims, nothing more than a fraud and a witch hunt? Unfortunately, our tribal mindset, which urges us to blindly agree with our group, presents a serious impediment to our success in thinking critically and impartially.

Our bias becomes more evident when we compare presidential offenses. President Clinton was impeached by Republicans for having semantically lied about oral sex: “I did not have sex with that woman.” Compare that crime to Trump’s alleged misdeeds, which almost all Republicans today seem willing to tolerate. Trump has asked at least three different nations — Russia, Ukraine, and China — to interfere on his behalf in our elections. That’s a serious and illegal assault on our democracy.

In the Ukrainian example, the president withheld congressionally approved, critical military aid meant to protect an ally against Russian aggression. The conclusive evidence of several highly credible witnesses points to the fact that Trump tried to coerce newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and Hillary Clinton in order to “earn” his country’s American protection. Big deal, no problem — get over it.

Blatant hypocrisy has reached epic proportions. Some of the same Republican senators who sanctimoniously pushed to impeach President Clinton for lying about his sexual dalliance appear quite willing to accept and pardon the offenses of President Trump who, besides repeatedly asking for foreign interference in our elections, infamously admitted to enjoying the sexual assault of women: “You can grab them by the p----.” That ridiculous Republican double standard sounds like a judge who’s willing to incarcerate someone for consensual kissing while letting a serial rapist go free.

Trump and his supporters regard the effort to impeach the president as a shameful attempt to nullify the 2016 election. That’s simply not true. Trump’s been in office three years and had his chance to pursue his priorities: building walls, separating immigrant families, giving massive tax breaks to the wealthy and gutting crucial protections for our health care and our environment. His three years in power have also provided him with numerous opportunities to entangle himself with dictators and enrich himself through shady deals.

Whether President Trump deserves to remain in office should be determined by an objective evaluation of the evidence, not mindless partisan loyalties. Most Republican leaders will let their impeachment vote be guided by the opinion of their constituents, but, as the impeachment process unfolds, how open-minded or blindly supportive of Trump will those citizens be? Will their tribal mindsets overwhelm their concern for justice and the laws of our Constitution-based democracy?

In my high school classroom, where I tried my best to teach critical thinking, there was a provocative bumper sticker posted with the following question, so relevant today: “If you can’t change your mind, are you sure you still have one?”

Ron Hertz lives in Ashland.