Today feels different: the gloves are off, the Id runs free.
Dishonesty is the chief characteristic of our uncivil society – the rhetoric of our leaders, the press and almost everyone else who discusses politics.
Ironically, dishonesty is so rampant because we are ever more insistent on the truth.
In this age of unbound narcissism, the death of humility – Facebook: where hubris meets infallibility – and Darwinian politics, we have no patience for messy reality. We have no time or interest in honestly admitting that there are facts and counter-facts, nuances and gray areas; that in public policy, there are no solutions, only trade-offs.
Instead, we proclaim there is a single answer to every question.
Our truth. The truth that others refuse to see.
The great and glorious truth that can only be realized through fudged facts and false narratives.
Our facts, our truths, which cannot be disputed – so shut up.
Donald Trump embraces this troubling phenomenon. He makes false claims on a range of issues – the carnage in our cities, the threats posed by illegal immigrants and voter fraud – because he believes they suggest larger truths about the challenges we face.
This is beyond troubling. It is also par for the course.
The same gold-plated press outlets – especially the New York Times, the Washington Post and the New Yorker – that routinely call Trump a liar, smear and defame him on a daily basis as a white supremacist, a homophobe and anti-Semite. Their ugly party line – that he’s a brutal authoritarian, the second coming of Hitler – is so unhinged that I would like to believe they know better (Volker Ullrich’s new biography, “Hitler: Ascent , 1889-1939,” lays waste to any comparison).
But, I fear, they are so consumed by hatred toward the president – they have truly convinced themselves he is a monster – that they see facts to the contrary as enemies of their larger truth.
I am not here to defend Trump, although I am very happy with his cabinet picks and most of his executive actions.
But, he must be held accountable for his words and actions. If, however, we are to help heal our society, we must acknowledge that he is not an outlier, but a symptom of a pervasive problem.
Indeed, recent history provides numerous examples of lies advanced by Trump’s progressive enemies that are so profound and consequential they make his prevarications look like small beer.
Start with President Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act. This massive program was sold through a lie: If you like your doctor or your plan, you can keep them. No doubt Obama believed this as necessary – the duplicitous sine qua non that would allow him to deliver what he saw as life-saving benefits to millions of Americans. That doesn’t excuse his massive deception.
Now consider the recent front-page stories repeating the Obama administration’s claim that 2016 was the “hottest year on record.” The New York Times told readers it “trounce[ed] a record set only a year earlier.” In fact, US researchers reported a temperature increase of 0.04 degrees Celsius last year (the British Met Office pegged it at an even lower 0.01 degrees). Both figures are well within the margin of error of roughly 0.1 degrees. No fact-based researcher could say the planet warmed at all. I understand why those alarmed by climate change would fudge this fact – we must act now! – but it is rank dishonesty.
This progressive tendency to make dishonest claims in the name of larger truths can be seen in the assertion that African-Americans detained by the police are more likely than whites to be shot by police (they are not) and that one in four female college students will be the victims of sexual assault during their time on campus (only if your tendentiously redefine assault to include behaviors such as perceptions of “unwanted touching”).
African-Americans and women face real issues – creating false narratives will not, in the long run, help anybody. They have, however, contributed to dangerous outcomes including less aggressive policing, the so-called Ferguson effect detailed by Heather Mac Donald in “The War on Cops,” and efforts to strip male students of their constitutional rights, as KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr. document in their new book, “The Campus Rape Frenzy.”
Let’s be honest. Two wrongs do not make a right. Progressive prevarications do not excuse Trump’s lies. But we will only continue our descent into the rabbit hole of hateful division if we only see the speck in our brother’s eye while ignoring the log in our own.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.