I often use a song to put my readers in the mindset most conducive to reading that day’s article. Today I’m going to use a movie; the 1982 hit Sophie’s Choice. More specifically I’m going to use a line of dialog Meryl Streep used while portraying the lead character for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. It deals with the truth: “Ah, the truth, ah, the truth, I don’t even know what is the truth – after all the lies I have told.” With that in mind, let’s explore.
About a year ago I had a conversation with a former state level public office holder when he pondered if the truth even matter in American politics anymore, especially post Trump. Earlier this year the Washington Post reported that Donald Trump had told his 10,000th documented lie since his inauguration. Communication is a two way street and it is questionable whether certain senders (i.e. President Trump) even know – much less care – if they are lying. Also, with the polarization of political news can the receivers of the messages discern truth from lies?
A recent example is a town hall that Representative Justin Amash (no hero in this column) held after which a questioner told a reporter that she did not know that the Mueller Report had not specifically and explicitly exonerated Trump until attending the meeting. Trump has an entire echo chamber amplifying his lies led by Fox News.
Yesterday’s Washington Post has an op-ed by Hugh Hewitt entitled Trump’s big win leaves critics sputtering. Intrigued by the title I started to read the piece wondering what big win I had missed. After a few sentences I realize Mr. Hewitt was referring to the “deal” with Mexico avoiding tariffs. Here is the reality. Trump is again taking credit for solving a problem he created. As to the “deal” it appears the Mexican government may have given Trump a “wiggle” they were already in the process of implementing. It’s a shame that an Ivy League education was wasted on someone as gullible as Hewitt.
That “big win” is similar to the USMCA which is really NAFTA 2.0 and only a slight improvement on the existing NAFTA which Trump repeatedly calls one of the worst deals ever. Oh, by the way, where is the replacement deal for the Iran Nuclear Agreement? How about the much better and cheaper replacement for Obamacare? While we are at it, how close is the wall to completion? I could go on, but you get the idea.
Despite all the lies and failures Trump remains incredibly popular among Republicans. So popular in fact that at this point a serious challenger for the 2020 Republican nomination has yet to appear. (Sorry Governor Weld but your sell by date has long past.) In the last two weeks both John Kasich and Larry Hogan have declared they would not run mostly because they did not see a path to victory. From a personal viewpoint I can understand their decisions. From a patriotic or party loyalty standpoint they lost any respect I had for them.
Years ago Bill Maher put it best when he succinctly described Trump as, “A bullshit artist”. Just listen to Trump’s word salads; he used the same dozen or so superlatives to describe anyone or anything he decides he wants to flatter at that moment. He sounds like a kid whose reply to everything is, “Awesome”. (A generation or so ago it was, “Excellent”, so I guess that is an improvement of sorts.)
Especially since the Tea Party takeover one of the mantras of the GOP has been: Never let truth interfere with reinforcing your argument. To this point I have concentrated on lies of commission; I’d like to say a bit about lies of omission.
All politicians conveniently omit mentioning factors that don’t reinforce the point they are trying to make. The principle of caveat emptor (buyer beware) certainly applies to consuming political speech and advertising. However, Republicans have gone a huge step further in suppressing the truth. In the last few days it was reported that the Trump administration is preventing State Department people from testifying that human-caused climate change could be catastrophic. Several Republican controlled states (North Carolina and Florida quickly come to mind) have made mentioning certain words and phrases contrary to the GOP denial policy unmentionable. To “reduce” the longer term effects of climate change North Carolina shortened the time period it would monitor.
Most Americans are too busy with their lives to expect them to research everything they hear. In fact many Americans are simply disgusted with politics and believe all politicians lie. (A desired outcome if you are Vladimir Putin. There is no surer way to defeat democracy than to have it self-destruct.)
You can tell an abundance of lies in a thirty second commercial; it will certainly take much longer to refute them. Add to that challenge that most Americans political attention span doesn’t reach the one minute mark. Does anyone of a certain age remember the data on Ross Perot’s flip charts? However we remember the line, “I’m Ross and you’re the boss.”
The election is going to be much closer than it should be. If you are allocating precious and finite campaign resources it is better to use them on getting out the vote than on trying to convert Trump voters. It appears we are in a “post-Daniel Patrick Moynihan world” where too many voters do in fact have their own truths; that is both terrible and dangerous!
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