NYT Discovers Presidents Use Anecdotes To Push Policy Ideas

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Rachel Stoltzfoos Staff Reporter
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In weirder news Wednesday, The New York Times discovered that presidents sometimes use anecdotes to push policy ideas. The paper reported that Donald Trump used an anecdote, perhaps inaccurately, to back up his view of voter fraud in a private meeting.

Although basically no one knew about the anecdote until Glenn Thrush wrote about it, he claims the story has already become a “memorable example” for “the country” of what can happen when Trump hears an unverified and off-the-cuff tale from someone he likes. One moment, Trump’s not worried about some issue. Then he hears a compelling but unverified story from a friend, and BOOM, he’s moving to implement a new national policy, is Thrush’s premise.

“Either way, the tale left its mark on Mr. Trump, who is known to act on anecdote, and on Wednesday redoubled his efforts to build a border wall and crack down on immigrants crossing the border from Mexico,” Thrush writes.

“[K]nown to act on anecdote,” is left entirely unqualified and unsupported, as if the reader is supposed to just take Thrush’s word for it. It doesn’t take but a brief Google search to find that presidents use anecdotes on an almost constant basis, usually to personify a larger issue that has plenty of evidence, the lack of which in this case is Trump’s only misstep.

Trump told the story in a private meeting with congressional leaders Monday, Glenn Thrush reports. According to several Hill staffers who were present, Trump claimed a famous German golfer had told him he wasn’t allowed to vote at his polling place in Florida, even though other people around him who appeared to be from Latin American countries were able to vote. Trump reportedly “threw out the names” of countries he thought the “illegal” voters came from. His story was met with silence, and Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus quickly got him to change the subject.

The big problem with the story, according to Thrush, aside from the bad delivery, is that the golfer isn’t a U.S. citizen and is therefore legally barred from voting in the United States. Although the White House contested the report, saying the golfer relayed the story to Trump but was not the protagonist, Thrush is undeterred in his take that Trump is basing a national policy driver on a fake story.

It’s totally believable that Trump botched the delivery of the story, whose veracity is certainly up for debate and worth looking into. But there’s nothing surprising or new about a president using an anecdote to back up a policy idea.

Barack Obama specifically stated that one person can change his mind on policy for 300 million Americans, and no one seemed to flinch at the time.

“Barack Obama electrifies crowd with anecdote,” reads a November headline in The Independent, after the former president told an anecdote about a woman who inspired his election slogan. “One voice can change a room,” he said to the crowd. “And if it can change a room, it can change a city.”

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