Getting past preconceived notions

Most Americans, if they know anything about our tenth president, John Tyler, would say that he was our first president to achieve that office not by having been elected to it, but rather because he was the first Vice President to rise to the presidency because the sitting president died.   

There is another interesting first about Tyler, though.  Since he was born on March 29, 1790, he was also our first president who could actually fill in the blank in the sentence, “When I was born, _________ was president of the United States” with an actual name.  (Zachary Taylor, our twelfth president, was the last who couldn’t…)

I mention this because it’s an interesting trivia question: if you were to poll Tyler and all of his successors, which name would be the most common response?  The answer might surprise you.  

Even amateur students of American history know that Franklin Roosevelt was our longest serving president, having held the office from 1933 when he took the oath of office, until 1945 when he died.  (And at that, he was actually starting his fourth term as president…)  So logic might suggest that we look at him first to answer that trivia question.  

Not only is the answer not FDR, there hasn’t been a single president who was born during his time in office.   If you look at major party nominees who lost the presidency, only two were born in that time period (Michael Dukakis and John McCain).  And considering that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were born during Harry Truman’s presidency, it’s looking an awful lot like we’re not going to have any future presidents born under FDR.  (Yes, Bernie Sanders was also born when FDR was president but he’s not going to be the nominee…)

Of course, looking closer at history — FDR’s presidency was marked by the Great Depression and World War II — that’s not really that much of a surprise.   Between the economic crisis and the fact that so many of our young men were away fighting the good fight, the opportunity and inspiration to make babies was, shall we say, limited.  

I say this because I have an interesting mea culpa to make, and it speaks to making assumptions that on the surface don’t seem unreasonable, but if you don’t properly look into them, they’re clearly wrong.   So it also serves as a warning about looking at your own beliefs when you don’t research them properly.  

Yesterday, while out running errands with my girlfriend, I observed something that’s quite common, at least in this area: a Toyota Prius with a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker.  In the hypothetical Venn diagram of Prius (or any environmentally friendly car) owners and Sanders voters, there is much more overlap than there would be of Prius owners and Donald Trump voters.  So we started talking about whether any Prius owners might have reason to vote for Trump.  

Apart from the argument that Prius owners save more money on gasoline (which they do) than drivers of less environmentally friendly cars, we are still at the stage in the development of the technology where the reason for buying it is more driven by environmental concerns than by actual cost saving measures.  So although I can’t rule out the possibility of someone going to a Trump rally in a Prius, it’s by far the the exception and not the rule.  

So I posted on Facebook that I’m starting a scavenger hunt for some things that are really hard to find.  The first being a Prius with a Trump bumper sticker.   

After I did that, I started thinking of more hard-to-find items.   Earlier today, I posted two more items that, to my surprise, aren’t anywhere near as hard-to-find as my preconceived notions might otherwise dictate.  When I was shown them, the humor of the postings was lost, so I deleted them.   Not out of embarrassment but rather because of the loss of the humor in the statement.   

First was an LGBTQ friendly tourism advertisement for Salt Lake City.  Utah does have a reputation for being conservative and so, I rationalized, that the LGBTQ community might not be, as a whole, inclined to visit the capital of Utah and the location of the Mormon church.   Individual members of the community, sure, but I didn’t think that the home of the Jazz basketball team would do much outreach to promote tourism, at least by targeting the LGBTQ community.  I was wrong.  I’m not about to retry it with Mobile, Alabama.  

Then next came a label from a bottle of beer imported from Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.   I felt safer with this one since the Islamic faith prohibits alcohol consumption and, although I occasionally go out drinking with a Muslim friend or two, I figured I could rely on the theocratic regime of the House of Saud to prohibit such a brewery.   Wrong again.  And again, I’m not about to try it with Tehran or Kabul.   

I’ve written before about my own skepticism.  And I’d like to think I’m not bad at it.   It just goes to show how hard it is to get past your own preconceived notions.   And how we have to be exceptionally vigilant about it, even on topics that are otherwise benign.  

So I’m almost considering not posting about my next scavenger hunt item, an invitation to an orgy at a nursing home.   After all, what would president Andrew Jackson or any of the four subsequent presidents (Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison) who were born during his term say?


One response to “Getting past preconceived notions

  1. Pingback: Extending Skepticism Even Further | Ramblings and Rumblings

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