I hate partisan political thinking, and I hate partisan political messaging. The only reason I am even responding to this Public Square article is because it undermines our credibility as thinking Latter-day Saints. Here is my response.

Presently, American Latter-day Saints face a challenge that spans our politics and our spiritual life. That problem is politically partisan thinking.

Partisan thinking is when some, most, or even all of our questions around what is good and/or true are shaped and answered by our political team. In partisan thinking, a party or movement provides us with answers about how the world should work, how our country should operate, and even how we should feel in response to events.

Partisan thinking also determines our sources of information- partisans on the right turn predictably to Fox News and the Daily Wire; partisans on the left turn predictably to MSNBC and the New York Times. These organizations maintain their viewer loyalty by “poisoning the well”: offering commentary to the effect that their rivals cannot be trusted.

Partisan affiliation has long been part of American political life, and it has served a valuable purpose. In eras of the past, as our two major political parties planned for legislation, they did so with an understanding that they would need to account for each other’s opposition and where possible, they would need to compromise. They would need to develop and operate with some common picture of reality in order to get anything done. That spirit of cooperation is not entirely dead, as we see in the ongoing work of the Problem Solver’s Caucus in congress. But recent decades have seen a shift to winner-take-all politics where partisans feel relieved of any responsibility to seek common ground with opponents, and where rival narratives are maintained with their own sets of evidences, isolated from criticism by opponents.

Partisan thinking develops into a muscle, and when it is exercised, we experience the atrophy of another set of critical muscles: muscles of openness, truth-seeking, and bridge-building. Those muscles are really hard to develop, and they don’t offer the instant gratification that comes with exercising partisan thinking. Partisan thinking frees us from the tension of seeing our blind spots, and it offers us a community of like-minded people to constantly validate us. It’s comforting, and it can be addictive.

On June 22, Public Square Magazine published an article by Daniel Ortner, Kingmen on January 6th. In this article, the author expresses his dismay at the well-documented dishonest and dangerous behavior of members of the Trump Administration in the unrest at the U.S. capitol on January 6, 2021. He likens their behavior to the Book of Mormon account of Kingmen, people whose sense of entitlement to power led them to subvert the rightly-established government of the land.

In what may have been an attempt to present a balanced perspective, Public Square also published an anonymous account, “What Else Happened on January 6,” from someone who was in Washington DC on that day. In contrast with the claims of misbehavior made in Ortner’s piece that are backed by vast amounts of video footage, emails, texts, call recordings, and social media posts, the author of What Else Happened makes insinuations of fraud by bad actors, recalling oddly-dressed people changing into MAGA apparel, and police-escorted busloads of unmarked tactical operators.

The author provides no documentation for these claims, and no real attempt to explore anything other than the insinuations that these people may have perpetuated the January 6 unrest in some way. What is well-documented with photographic evidence is the presence during the Trump Administration of unmarked tactical operators in Portland, Oregon, deployed to quell violent riots in that city. Why did the Hypatia contributor not make that connection? Why did the author refuse to acknowledge that unmarked tactical operators are an alarming reality that has emerged in other places? The answer is that the author did not want to see this reality, and partisan thinking has that effect upon us, shutting down any instincts we may have to dig deeper and explore things that don’t fit our narrative.

The author also spends much of the article describing warm feelings of connection with numerous other peaceful visitors to Washington DC. This is a perfectly valid experience to share; when concerned citizens come together peacefully to voice their views, that is an important activity that can change minds and, ultimately, policy. But the author does not stop there; the author goes on to explain that they listened to speeches, and did not feel like Trump or other speakers were encouraging violence of any kind.

I didn’t feel is a statement of one’s personal feelings. Feelings can be accurate or misleading. Consider, for example, these statements relevant to some of our current public debates:

  • When I took my children to a drag show, I didn’t feel like the presentation was bad for them.
  • When my teenage patient came to me and asked me to refer them to surgery to remove their sex organs, I felt like that was the compassionate thing to do.
  • I feel like it’s kind to allow biological males to compete in sports against females.

If these statements sound objectionable to us, then why? Well, it’s because each of these statements is showing that the individual is using their feelings as a guide to reality, ignoring valid evidence that might contradict their views. They are in denial. In the case of January 6, If I say that I felt like Trump and others were behaving with pure intentions, and then I ignore the vast amount of evidence that they were fomenting violence in numerous venues, and I ignore the violent outcomes of their behaviors, then that is what it means to be in denial, wilfully denying reality in order to avoid the discomfort that comes with making adjustments to my narrative.

The author of What Else Happened later recounts that they were receiving news reports and messages of unrest at the capitol, but what the author was seeing did not match those reports. The author makes no attempt whatsoever to honestly state whether they were at the location where the violence was occurring, at the time it was occurring. Imagine, for example, being at L’Enfant Plaza or DuPont Circle in Washington DC, out of sight of the capitol, receiving news of unrest at the capitol, and then responding:

“That’s not what I see!”

The conversation might then proceed:

 “Well, are you there at the capitol?”


“Can you see the capitol from where you are?”


“Maybe that’s why you don’t see the horrible things that are happening at the capitol.”

In partisan thinking, though, time and space and visual evidence don’t matter. The goal is not to arrive at what is true; it is to minimize our mental and emotional discomfort. That involves going to the greatest possible lengths to minimize or deny any realities that contradict our team’s narrative.

This was what we read in What Else Happened, and I would encourage the writer of that piece to follow it up with another piece that honestly acknowledges the horrifying objective reality of what has been documented in the hearings.

It is perfectly valid and accurate to present the view that vast numbers of people in DC on january 6 had no violent intentions whatsoever, and just went to the city to share honest concerns about the election. But that is not the piece that was written. It was a piece that insinuated conspiracy and presented unreality. In this case, “I didn’t see” is not a valid expression of what did or did not happen; it’s an expression of what the author’s partisan mindset allowed them to see, which happened to be very little of what was really going on.

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