“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.” – Albert Einstein
What do we do when neither our government nor the people tasked with holding our leaders accountable can be trusted? To a varying degree, our elected leaders have always lied and the media has always been biased. Sometimes the government spins the the truth in ways that are at least plausible and sometimes they tell us blatant, easily falsifiable lies. Sometimes the media has a bias that taints a story, and sometimes they push fake news.
When the internet first gained widespread use, it was assumed this was great for democracy. Now anyone could publish what they know to the whole world, which would make it extremely difficult to hide the truth. What was missed in this utopian vision was the simple fact that people have to want the truth and to believe it when they see it. Instead, we have a world in which everyone can find someone to confirm their biases.
Sean Spicer, the new White House Press Secretary, blatantly lied about relatively unimportant information on Saturday. On Sunday, Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway called them “alternative facts.” I’ll go over this in a minute, but first it is important to understand why some on the right were willing to accept this.
That the media is generally biased against Republicans is an accepted truth on the right. And for good reason. Obviously the media is made up of thousands of people in hundreds of different organizations and is not monolithic, but the majority of the most influential elements of the media are biased. I could point to Buzzfeed posting documents that supposedly show Trump as a Russian stooge, despite admitting they could not verify the documents, some of which could easily be proven or disproven (and were quickly disproven). I could point to the way most of the media accepted Obama’s laughable claim that under Obamacare “if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor” while it could still affect the passage of the law. At a time when everyone is talking about #FakeNews, I could point to Dan Rather’s claim that an obvious hit job on President George W Bush days before his reelection was “fake but accurate.” Instead, I want to walk through a much simpler but more pervasive example.
Examine how the Republican response to Obama was treated compared to the Democrat response to Trump. When Congressional Republicans or the Tea Party objected to an Obama policy it was called obstructionism. When is obstructionism used in a positive way? This gives the impression they were stopping noble progress. They were preventing the natural course of events, thwarting American advancement for their own nefarious ends. This was the frame of reference for eight years.
Trump has only been president for a few days, and already Democrat opposition has been characterized as “resistance.” Resistance is brave, it is standing up to tyranny. The good guys resist the more powerful bad guys, they don’t obstruct them. A resistance opposes a foreign occupation or a despotic government. It is a moral term of honor.
Maybe you think these are minor, insignificant differences. But to conservatives, this is just one example of how the media sees the world and our place in it. Democrats are the good guys and of course their policies should be enacted. Republicans are retrograde and must be prevented from ruining all the progress made under Democrats.
If this is the pervasive view of Republicans among the main stream media, why should Republicans trust the main stream media? Instead of listening to people who call them obstructionists and imply they are ignorant racists who must be resisted, they can listen to people who tell them they are right about everything. Where do you think they will go?
If you are flabbergasted that Trump and his administration will blatantly lie, understand they only think they can get away with it because the people who are supposed to keep them honest have ruined their own credibility.
But that does not justify “alternative facts,” which are more commonly known as lies. The American people need to be able to trust our government. We of course expect some spin and obfuscation. But flat out lying is on a completely different level. It’s the difference between telling us “2+2 is a math problem that does not account for the dynamic growth that will get us to 5,” and simply telling us “2+2=5 and what are you going to do about it?” Trump, throughout his campaign and now into his presidency, has routinely engaged in the latter.
The current brouhaha is over Trump and his administration’s insistence that more people attended Trump’s inauguration than any other. While this in itself is a triviality, if they are willing to lie about this when it is so easy to prove them wrong, why should we not expect them to lie about everything else when it is much harder to determine the truth? If we cannot trust them on such a minor matter of Trump’s ego, how can we trust them when it comes to much more important issues?
The simple fact is that we cannot trust the media to be unbiased or the Trump administration to be honest. Some of us will spend the time to investigate the facts, search through the details, and try to discover what the truth is. That is my plan, and hopefully it will be of some benefit to others. But some people do not have the time or inclination to do all that hard work, and will instead pick a side and accept that lie. We should expect better from our leaders and media, but it would be naive to do so. We cannot outsource our own judgement.