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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 11/20/16

Humility, Anyone?

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) November 20, 2016: In the 1948 presidential election, the Chicago News Tribune went to press with the banner headline "Dewey Defeats Truman" instead of waiting for the election results to come in. In the 2016 presidential election, the press waited for the electoral results to come in, and Donald J. Trump, the Republican Party's 2016 presidential candidate, emerged with a decisive electoral victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential candidate, who had appeared to be the favorite to win in polls leading up to the election.

Always sensitive to symbolism, Hillary, who was born in raised in Chicago, scheduled her presumed victory party for a hotel ballroom in New York City that has a glass ceiling. But of course after the election results became obvious, her supporters were eventually told to go home. No doubt Hillary aspired to the noble goal of shattering the symbolic glass ceiling by being elected the first woman president of the United States. For Hillary, the goal of being the first woman president was undoubtedly a pro-social and other-centered goal, as her campaign slogan of "Stronger Together" emphasized. No doubt a woman will someday be elected president. However, Trump emerged as the President-elect in 2016.

But Hillary's major strategy in the campaign was to try to humiliate Trump publicly for his various public assaults, both real and alleged assaults, on the spirit of so-called "political correctness" that Hillary's generation of "second wave" feminists ushered in in the late 1960s and 1970s and later. Typically, the spirit of "political correctness" involves the desire to humiliate publicly. But to paraphrase a line from Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Hillary was hoisted with her own petard -- humiliated in the Electoral College.

In light of Hillary's humiliating defeat in the Electoral College to the political neophyte Trump, perhaps she also now needs to turn to cultivating humility. According to public records of campaign expenditures, Trump's campaign spent only a fraction of what Hillary's campaign spent. Nevertheless, Trump succeeded in turning certain crucial battleground states from blue to red, thereby humiliating Hillary in the Electoral College. Yes, to be sure, she can console herself by the popular vote she received.

No doubt polls and pollsters contributed to the popular vote she received and to the post-election anti-Trump protests.

But did you hear about the pollster who had claimed on CNN, based on his interpretation of the polls, that Hillary would emerge victorious in the election? After she lost, he ate a bug on CNN. The pollster who ate a bug on CNN was Sam Wang, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton University. Wouldn't it be great if all the pollsters who had predicted Hillary's victory had to eat a bug on national television? But of course all of us who followed the polls and the pollsters may also need to eat a bug on national television, eh? Weren't we gullible?

In accord with the weather-forecaster spirit that many pundits manifest, Sam Wang also published an op-ed piece about his misadventure in election prediction in the New York Times, "Why I had to Eat a Bug on CNN" (dated November 18, 2016).

However, even though Hillary lost decisively in the crucial Electoral College, she now still leads in the popular vote. So where did the polls go wrong regarding each state?

Sam Wang says, "I also reported an extremely high probability that Hillary Clinton would win, which was published by the New York Times alongside its own model. . . . In hindsight, it would have been better to express Mrs. Clinton's polling margin as equivalent to a 2.2 percentage point lead -- and that the true margin could be higher or lower by several points."

Then at the end of his review of the actual election results, Sam Wang says, "This year's election will remind me to add a heavy dose of humility to the proceedings [to his teaching in his upcoming spring "seminar on the application of statistics to public affairs"]."

Wow! I don't recall ever seeing any other writer in the New York Times say that he or she needed to add "a heavy dose of humility" to his or her way of proceeding in the future. As a matter of fact, it seems to me that humility is not a fashionable topic to discuss. In Sam Wang's case, he seems to have been sufficiently humiliated that he was willing to eat a bug on CNN as a symbolic way to express his desire to attempt to redeem himself publicly -- if that is possible for him to do.

Because Trump is not an obvious embodiment of humility, it surely is a great irony of life that Trump's unexpected election prompted Sam Wang to say that he now needs "a heavy dose of humility" in the way he proceeds to teach his spring course at Princeton.

No doubt "a heavy dose of humility" can temper our enthusiasm for over-stating our at best probable predictions. No doubt humility has other healthy aspects as well. For example, in the book The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press, 2009), Lisa Fullam in ethics at Santa Clara University, the Jesuit university in California, explores the tricky thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval Catholic theologian, regarding humility.

Following Aquinas' thought as he works out his own position in relation to Aristotle and his various other interlocutors almost always repays careful study. And Lisa Fullam's careful study does pay off handsomely, perhaps most notably in her attention to other-directness, which she prefers to refer to as other-centeredness (pages 1, 86, 120-121, 127, 134, and 172).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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