Truth and politics have always had a bit of a tumultuous relationship. Truth is preachy and controlling. It tells you that 30 minutes of exercise a day will make you healthier, that loosened gun control leads to unnecessary deaths of innocent people, that torture doesn’t actually work and that all vaccines actually do is prevent long-cured diseases from re-emerging and leaving a generation in miniature coffins in their wake because their neglectful parents trust grocery store magazines more than scientific experts. Truth is ridiculously stubborn and actually gets somewhat mad when you disagree with it.
Politics has a semi-monogomous relationship with truth. It’ll have consistent affairs but ultimately fall back on truth, at least if voter turnout is high enough. Unfortunately, a certain tanning-bed-orange-skinned reality TV star is playing homewrecker and things aren’t looking good. Truth is near dead, and Donald Trump is killing it.
Lying politicians are not a new breed, but there used to be certain limits. When George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, he made economic promises he couldn’t – and didn’t – keep. This is typical. It is the kind of untruth that a politician can later plead occured out of a sense of hopefulness or misguided optimism. Voters may respect optimism and forgive the lie, butTrump outright disregards reality.
Trump’s sell to the American public is that he, unlike most politicians, gives them what they want: a fast food, reality-TV candidate that doesn’t ask them to think about him or his policies, just to hate his opponent. He has a tagline and that is it. He doesn’t “tell it like it is” and he isn’t a powerful speaker who questions the established order.
Rhetorically, Trump is an incredibly passive and weak speaker, communicating almost exclusively in brief clusters of words and qualifying an embarrassing number of statements with “I don’t know” or claiming it is something “he heard.” His speeches lack authority because he hesitates to make permanent statements regarding his own beliefs. He throws tantrums and whines when criticized and offers petty, grade-school nicknames for his opponents. He mocks the disabled and vilifies entire racial groups, and then softens and essentially retracts his offensive statements once he is around an audience he knows does not support him. His appeal is not strength or defiance and it certainly isn’t consistency. His appeal is that he is easy to talk about and easy to remember.
I would imagine those who support Trump walk a hard road, but really all they have to do is defer any comments made about him to someone else. He is an incredibly bright shadow without any actual substance. You don’t have to mire through policy, read a newspaper or watch the news to know that Trump claims to support you.
Trump’s system of lies has been propped up by a media system that assumes different opinions on any issue are of equal value, or at least should be reported that way. Trump has revealed the inherent flaws of this system. Dean Baquet, an executive editor for the New York Times, discussed this particular phenomenon and how Trump prompted the publication to use the word “lie” to call out a politician for the first time.
The specific lie was regarding the never-ending absurdity of the birth place conspiracy surrounding President Obama, which is nothing but a gross political ploy built and sustained by racism, xenophobia and a notion that region of birth as a determinant of character. It’s as outdated and ludicrous as skull shape defining a person. Beyond the simple lie of perpetuating this unfounded and baseless argument, Trump went so far as to outright lie about facts. He claimed Obama hadn’t released his birth certificate after he had.
The particularly depressing thing about this lie is that it doesn’t even feel like it matters. So long has the media been offering credence to political lies – untruths or half-truths that politicians play ignorant towards – that now people feel that it is worth considering outright lies. The lies that Donald Trump spreads every day. Politics is about perspective and for too long large-scale media has taught the narrative of two equal stances on every issue. Trump is just the disgusting sore that alerted us to the pervasive sickness eating away at us from the inside.
So what can we do? More and more sources are calling out Trump’s lies, showing them as rightly unequal, but supporters just play it off as partisan propaganda. There are enough articles published daily that anyone can find kinship in supporting their candidate, even if that support is not grounded in evidence or fact. Once enough people believe a lie, it doesn’t matter much that it isn’t true. But in this case, it may be too late to stop publishing Trump’s lies as if they are fact. The only real solution is to continue calling out lies and hopefully the sources that uphold truth will gain a more reputable position for doing so. Regardless of the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, Trump has made a clear mark on the American consciousness and the best we can do is try to harness that energy for positive change.
Conlan Campbell ’18 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Burnsville, Minn. He majors in English with a concentration in media