“If Jesus Christ [got] down off the cross and told me Trump is with Russia, I would tell him, ‘Hold on a second. I need to check with the President if it’s true.’ ”
– Trump voter, CNN New Day, November 20
This is how low truth and trust have plummeted in the eyes of some voters.
Writing about the fear-mongering from right-wing conservative radio in 2013, syndicated columnist Stanley Crouch observed, “When things are especially harrowing, we hope that our leaders can lead us to the truth. If we are unlucky, they will instead feed us paranoia and lies. Only in retrospect do we usually know the difference.”
Not even Crouch could have imagined our current climate of “paranoia and lies” propagated by a U.S. president.
Attending a conference in Montreal, journalist Thomas Friedman was approached by a Canadian who asked what he feared most in America. Friedman responded, “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’ — that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites — we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans,’ but the sectarianism that has destroyed nation-states in the Middle East is now infecting us.”
Of all the chaos Trump has brought about in the first year of his presidency, his most destructive character flaw by far, is his ruthless assault on truth and trust.
From the president’s claim that former President Obama was not a U.S. citizen to his assertion that Obama “had my wires tapped,” to recently retweeting debunked, anti-Muslim videos, Trump lies so often and so perniciously, it’s obscene.
Even after Trump called a press conference to categorically state that Obama was, in fact, a U.S. citizen, “Mr. Trump,” The New York Times writes (Nov. 28), “has used closed-door conversations to question the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. He has also repeatedly claimed that he lost the popular vote last year because of widespread voter fraud, according to advisers and lawmakers.”
If Trump lies about these relatively petty things, the obvious follow-up questions are: what else has he lied about; and what else would he be willing to lie about?
In Politico magazine, Maria Konnikova writes (Jan/Feb. 2017), “All presidents lie. … But Donald Trump is in a different category. The sheer frequency, spontaneity and seeming irrelevance of his lies have no precedent. Nixon, Reagan and Clinton were protecting their reputations; Trump seems to lie for the pure joy of it.”
According to Politifact, of 472 statements made by Trump, only 4 percent (21) were rated completely True; 12 percent (22) were rated Mostly True; 15 percent (70) Half True, while 326, 69 percent are rated Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire.
By comparison, of 599 statements made by President Obama, Politifact found: 21 percent (123) were completely True; 28 percent (165) were Mostly True; 27 percent (161) Half True; and 26 percent (150) were Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire.
So, Trump lies. It’s part of his DNA, so what?
As a businessman, he could reasonably get away with it. As president, his affection for lying is dangerous for three reasons: 1) we rely on a president to give us the facts, to tell the truth MOST of the time; 2) his lies can cause us to doubt facts and information coming from government sources that we have long relied on. (i.e. Trump has never unequivocally stated that he believes 13 U.S. Intelligence agencies who all agree that Russia meddled in our last election.); and 3) why would any country trust him to reliably negotiate any agreement?
In an August 31 Fox News poll, 56 percent of voters now believe Trump is “tearing the country apart.”
Trump’s most egregious lie to date (it changes weekly) came in a tweet about one of his favorite targets, CNN.
“@FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”
CNN world reporter Christiane Amanpour, wrote:
“If President Trump knew the facts, he would never have sent that tweet. Here is my (late) camerawoman Margaret Moth, who took a bullet in the face covering the facts and truth in Bosnia. #FactsFirst”
Former four-star general Michael Hayden — who served in three administrations as director of the National Security Agency, deputy director of National Intelligence and director of the Central Intelligence Agency — was more direct:
“If this is who we are or who we are becoming, I have wasted 40 years of my life. Until now it was not possible for me to conceive of an American President capable of such an outrageous assault on truth, a free press or the first amendment.”
In his 1937 Inquiry into the Principles of The Good Society, political reporter Walter Lippmann wrote:
“When the Inquisitors summoned Galileo before them, they told him he must not find that the earth revolves around the sun. Galileo had been observing the heavens through a telescope: he had become convinced that the evidence warranted his conclusion. But the Inquisitors did not look through the telescope. They knew all about astronomy from reading the Bible.
“So, against Galileo’s telescope the Inquisitors employed another instrument: the rack. And by the rack, which could inflict pain on the astronomer’s body, they undertook to cure the astronomer of his scientific error.”
The rack that America currently suffers under comes in the form of a malicious mountain of lies spread by a man who has no sense of honesty, no sense of shame, and no sense of responsibility to the American public he serves.
We trust our government to make decisions that ensure our safety and well-being. We rely on a judicial system that is honest and fair, not one where a president expects his attorney general to launch investigations that he suggests. We expect well-informed leaders to make competent decisions based on facts, not conspiracy theories.
Are we to live in a democracy where facts are certified under a political rack? Are we to judge individuals and institutions based, not on their expertise and integrity, but their political ideology? And if we do, what does that say about us?
More importantly, how will the next generation of leaders govern, and how long can our democracy endure?