The problems with speculating and pontificating

Donald Trump evidently earned enough delegates this week to become the nominee  of the Republican Party for president. This means that nearly 100% of the experts and pundits were wrong with their months-long variations of “Trump definitely will flame out .” I was one of them.

Which makes me reflect on how much time and energy we waste on participating in the sport of speculation and predictions. Making bold predictions, disguised as expertise, is easier than thinking, easier than deliberating thoughtfully, easier than solving real problems.

Much of talk television, formerly called news programs, is given to faces of people speculating and pontificating about what today’s news bits mean. This is Fox News. This is CNN. This is MSNBC. Two or four expert faces on the screen, often interrupting one another. It’s embarrassing; it’s irritating; it is also contributing to a polarized citizenry. This is also the “Comments” section on news websites and Facebook. The problem with so much speculation, euphamized as “analysis,” is that there is no accountability and there is no penalty for being wrong. It allows “experts,” defined as anyone on the screen, as well as any citizen who wants to complain about anything or anybody, to be pompous and speak with self-righteous certainty, with no filter. So the speculation enters the public discourse unchecked. These people confirm what my dad often said: “You don’t have to know anything to talk.”

The goal seems to be the appearance of brilliance, sometimes seasoned with outrage or faux outrage. What we are exposed to, unfortunately, is not brilliance, but serial inanities, show after show, Facebook comment after Facebook comment. The power of words remains — “if somebody wants to say it, we’ll give them a voice” — even though the value of those words has diminished significantly.

The great lesson here is that too many people vigorously insist they know what they’re talking about, but they’re often less informed and less on the mark than they purport to be.

That’s a takeoff of Peter Drucker’s famous comment that most people think they know what they’re good at, but they are usually wrong.



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Ed Wojcicki

Ed is executive director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. He is the author of two books, the former publisher of Illinois Issues magazine and taught public affairs writing at the University of Illinois Springfield.

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