Cause and effect

So in this story you're the principal of an elementary school.

Mikey, one of your students, comes running into your office, visibly upset. You ask him what's the matter.

Mikey tells you that one of the other students, George, beat up his little sister as part of a racket in which he's been stealing lunch money from the first graders.

"I hate that guy," Mikey says, looking like he means it. "He oughtta be expelled."

So you send Mikey back to class and you call George into your office to confront him point blank about the accusations.

"Who told you that?" George asks, "Mikey? You can't trust what he says about me. He hates me. He thinks I oughtta be expelled."

"So you're denying these accusations?" you say.

"Mikey's just full of bitterness and anger," George says. "Anger is not an agenda for the future."

Now it's your job, as principal, to sort out what's going on. Both students' stories are plausible. It could be, as George says, that Mikey just harbors this pathological anger towards him, leading Mikey to make baseless accusations. Or it could be that George really did the things Mikey has accused him of, in which case Mikey's anger is perfectly justified.

If you're a good principal, you'll realize that you can't sort this out sitting at your desk pondering abstractions and getting "balanced" quotes from both sides to ensure fairness. The issue is not who said what, but the substance of the charges.

Is there a legitimate reason for Mikey's anger? Did George really beat up the first graders and steal their lunch money? Did he really rewrite the tax code to favor the wealthy while guaranteeing our grandchildren will face insurmountable debt? Did he really try to rollback even the most basic environmental protections, endangering the health of the public and the land? Did he really weaken the nation's national security by politicizing homeland security while bogging down the military in a war of choice without even a rudimentary plan for the ensuing occupation? Has he really overseen the evaporation of more than 2 million jobs, and does he really have the audacity to suggest that even more redistributive tax cuts for the wealthy are therefore needed?

If so, then Mikey's anger isn't pathological. It's an expression of patriotism. And that George kid oughtta be expelled.

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