The progress of civilization can be tracked through numerous historic movements.
In the 15th century, for example, European nations expanded their horizons during the Age of Discovery — a time of overseas exploration led by figures such as Ferdinand Magellan, Christopher Columbus and Vasco Núñez de Balboa.
During the 18th century came the Age of Enlightenment when reason set a new course of exploration, ushering in a host of advancements in science, literature and political thought. The leaders were individuals such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant, people who were influenced by others such as René Descartes and John Locke. The principles that led to the founding of this country can be attributed to the big thinkers of this time.
Now we appear to have entered a new period. Call it the Age of Emotion.
As with Enlightenment period, this is a populist movement, one accessible to a mass audience. But its byproducts can hardly be considered to advance mankind. In fact, intellectual thought appears to be antithetical to the cause of an emotional age.
In this movement, emotion is everything. It is self-evident, self-validating and, too often, self-generating.
Descartes put forward the philosophical proposition known as
“Cogito ergo sum” — “I think, therefore I am.” Under this age, the proposition is simple, “If I feel, therefore I am — and I am right.”
We have seen this surface in entertainment and talk radio. But it has manifested itself now in a major political figure: Donald Trump. The prince of superlatives has offered many examples of this thinking, from his longtime assertions that President Barack Obama is a noncitizen to his threats to jail his political opponent — based more on anger than evidence — to his promise during the GOP convention that “the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon — and I mean very soon — come to an end.” His statements come in two flavors: over the top or below the belt.
There’s probably no better example of this than Trump’s claim this past week that the election may be “rigged” and his refusal to say whether he would accept the outcome of the election — unless he wins.
Here’s the problem. People believe him. Or at least his followers do. According to Public Policy Polling, 65 percent of Trump supporters think Obama is a Muslim. And 59 percent think Obama was not born in the United States.
The myth of voter fraud has been debunked repeatedly. In a comprehensive examination of votes between 2000 and 2014, the Washington Post found only 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud out of 1 billion ballots cast across the nation. The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law concluded in one report that the incident rate for voter impersonation fraud is so small that it is more likely that an American “will be struck by lightning” than be victim of it.
Nonetheless, Trump on Wednesday claimed that there are “millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn’t be registered to vote.”
And his claims are taking its toll on the public’s trust of the election process. According to a Politico poll, four out of 10 voters say November’s election could be “stolen” from Trump due to widespread voter fraud.