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By: Josiah Robinson
President Donald Trump may not strike you as a philosophic mastermind. His bold and sometimes harsh rhetoric is a far cry from the measured, discerning voice we associate with philosophy. Not to mention, that thus far, he doesn’t appear have any serious depth of knowledge in philosophy either.
However, President Trump doesn’t have to practice or even know formal philosophy to engage it.
Donald Trump’s radical approach to politics has made waves. He has unknowingly provoked philosophical discussion on primetime news, print media, and even your Facebook feed. Whether people realize it or not, their exchanges in the break room or at the dinner table have philosophical foundations. Trump’s provocative persona has moved people to speak out and debate issues like never before.
Below, I outline the three fields of philosophy Donald Trump has revived for the common man, for better or worse.
Political philosophy is the study of the state, liberty, justice, and law. It goes without saying that Trump has made the world reexamine its political philosophy. Donald Trump’s Republicanism has been questioned since he began running for president. Regardless of your opinion of Trump’s conservatism, it is drastically different from that of Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, or other great Republicans. Conservatives have had to adjust their political sails to Trump’s whirlwind of support.
Conservatives aren’t the only ones reconsidering their politics, though. President Trump’s message on defense, immigration, and economics were popular enough to get him elected. He forced liberals to evaluate their branding and platform, especially after upsetting Hillary Clinton.
Once in office, President Trump’s approach to government challenged the status quo for all parties. For instance, his active presidency has called into question the role of executive powers, an issue that has been largely ignored for the past 8 years. Trump’s desire to shake things up in Washington have kindled fiery conversations on the nature of the state.
What is the role of executive orders? How should the president regulate? What part does the president play in trade?
There’s a renewed interest in defining and restraining government, particularly from the left. Trump has sparked discourse on some fundamental principles of government. Even if we disagree with the conclusions, the fact that these dialogues are happening is a good thing. It’s a start.
Ethics is the study of systematizing, defending, and recommending right and wrong. Donald Trump’s ethical character has been questioned after some of his more adventurous statements and actions. The real gain here is that the critique of Trump’s ethics makes us evaluate our own.
Donald Trump has made thousands of Americans revisit their positions on key ethical issues. These discussions have been an intellectual battleground, forcing people to sharpen and refine their stances.
Is abortion murder? Is torture justified? How morally sound should our president be? Should we welcome immigrants?
Even if people didn’t change their stance, the revitalized conservation on these matters made people critically analyze them. Some conversations cut through the emotion to inspect the morality undergirding these conflicts. Perhaps these larger discussions will continue in the future.
Epistemology is the study of the methods, nature, and extent of human knowledge. How we know and what we know has certainly been put to the test by Donald Trump and his administration.
Since the start of Trump’s campaign, people have been eagerly fact checking nearly everything that comes out of his mouth. Some of Trump’s statements are truer than others, but the point is people are interested in verifying knowledge.
Most notably, Trump has revived the critique of knowledge by constantly speaking to counternarratives and misinformation. Fake news and media bias have taken center stage in Trump’s candidacy and presidency. Trump’s aversion to mainstream media and outright denial of their claims have made us question how and where we attain reliable information.
This is most recently seen in Kellyanne Conway‘s use of the phrase “alternative facts” in a Meet the Press interview. This phrase is just a symptom of Trump’s critical view of knowledge and fact. His position promotes a skepticism that can be healthy or destructive, depending on how far it’s taken.
What news is reliable? Who is presenting this fact? How is this fact being presented? How do I know this is true?
Trump and his administration are pushing our concept of knowledge and fact. His disposition invites us to question the basis of our own knowledge. Healthy discernment of fact and fiction is ideal. Trump’s skepticism may or may not be that ideal, but it has made people ask the right questions.
President Trump has unknowingly revived philosophical conversations for pundits, commentators, and everyday people. Controversy often breeds progress, and Trump has brought controversy for sure. His positions may not be your idea of progressive, but the philosophical critique brought by Trump is a net gain.
Let’s hope these profitable conversations continue well into the future.
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