AP reporter proclaims his ignorance on 'self-evident truths' in the age of Trump

The Associated Press has provided an "analysis" by Calvin Woodward with this headline "AP Analysis: In Trump's America, truths are not self-evident."  It is an anti-Trump diatribe, the kind of thing we have come to expect from the AP.  But it is also a perfect example of astonishing ignorance. 

Here is how Woodward's "analysis" begins:

WASHINGTON (AP) — We no longer hold these truths to be self-evident:

—A U.S. presidential election will be held every four years in November.

—The armed forces will not be involved in those elections.

—Nor in domestic protests.

—Medicine will be approved when science says it's safe and effective, not because a politician wants it approved before Election Day.

—The United States is an example to the world in managing a peaceful transfer of power.

The American idea is that we conduct our political discussions in a civil manner.  I embrace that policy with my citizen's heart, but I must confess that it is difficult for me to discuss Woodward's "analysis" with civility.  Put simply and as my mother would say, Woodward has no more understanding of "self-evident" than the man in the moon. 

It also means that the political editors at AP don't, either.

Because the idea of self-evident truth is at the core of the American Founders' thinking, understanding the meaning of self-evident is important if you are going to set out to offer an analysis of politics in America.

The phrase "self-evident truth" appears everywhere in the Founders' writings.  Because of its high position in the Founders' thinking, how well or badly an analysis of American politics handles the idea of self-evident truth matters.  It goes far in establishing the value of such an analysis.

Here is the key to understanding what a self-evident truth is: to know that a statement is self-evidently true, all that is required is that we understand this statement: to understand a self-evident truth is to know that it is true.

We make use of this understanding of self-evident truth all the time.  We constantly rely on the self-evidence of truth in our day-to-day lives, though we may not always notice it when we do.  Here is an example of the kind of thing we do all the time, selected from a book on economics entitled Cents and Sensibility:

Without Columbus someone else would have discovered America, but it defies common sense to assert that without Milton someone else would have written Paradise Lost.

Both the claim about Columbus and the claim about Milton are self-evidently true; to understand them is to know they are true.  We could restate them in this way: "it is a self-evident truth that without Columbus, someone would have discovered America, and it is a self-evident truth that without Milton, Paradise Lost would never have been written." 

A self-evident truth does not need a proof; it only needs to be understood. 

The statement that Columbus discovered America, and the statement that Milton wrote Paradise Lost, are statements of a fundamentally different kind.  If they are true, their truth depends on evidence.  When we affirm they are true, we are accepting the chain of evidence that supports them; we are not affirming that they are self-evidently true.

None of the statements Calvin Woodward offers at the outset of his "analysis," if true, is self-evidently true.  The truth of "The United States is an example to the world in managing a peaceful transfer of power" depends on evidence that supports the claim.  If America is entering a time in which power is no longer transferred peacefully, the statement will be falsified by that development — but it will still be true that without Columbus, someone else would have discovered America.

Once upon a time and not so long ago, Associated Press reporters could be counted on to understand this, and editors at the Associated Press would certainly have rejected Woodward's piece for two reasons — first, because it is blatantly ignorant and second, because it is blatantly partisan.

Today, the Associated Press is part of the Democrat Party Propaganda Directorate.  Blatant partisanship is required.  As for the ignorance, it is not so much that it is overlooked as that there is evidently no one there who knows enough to notice it.

The author regrets that because of some problem with his link to American Thinker that has developed, he is unable to access the comments section.  Consequently, he is currently unable to read or reply to your comments.

Robert Curry serves on the Board of Directors of the Claremont Institute.  He is the author of Reclaiming Common Sense: Finding Truth in a Post-Truth World and Common Sense Nation: Unlocking the Forgotten Power of the American Idea.  Both are published by Encounter Books.   

Image: Chris Dodds via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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