One of the many things that upsets non-Trump-supporters is the new president’s unconcern for the truth – or, in my book, the fact that he outright lies multiple times a day. In a letter to the editor in my local paper today, a woman responded to an earlier letter claiming “It’s no lie without intent to deceive,” and demanding proof that Trump is “consciously trying to deceive us.” She said, “Leaving aside what might constitute ‘proof’ of intent – I don’t think anyone knows what Trump’s intent is – let’s say he doesn’t intend to deceive when he utters easily disproved falsehoods. Two possibilities then come to mind: 1) He believes them himself, or 2) he knows they’re not true, but doesn’t expect others to believe them, since he’s not trying to deceive.” There would be no point she says to the latter, and “a sane person in a position of power wouldn’t act so irresponsibly. If it’s the former, he’s mentally detached from reality, and should be removed from office under the 25th Amendment.” Or at least, woefully uninformed, and thus unqualified for political office.
Charles J. Sykes addressed the problem on 2-4-17 in a New York Times opinion piece entitled “Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying.” He believes “the real threat isn’t merely that a large number of Americans have become accustomed to rejecting factual information, or even that they’ve become habituated to believing hoaxes. The real danger is that, inundated with ‘alternative facts,’ many voters will shrug, ask, ‘What’s truth?’ – and not wait for an answer. In that world, the leader becomes the only reliable source of truth; a familiar phenomenon in an authoritarian state.
This may explain one of the more revealing moments from after the election, when one of Trump’s campaign surrogates, Scottie Nell Hughes, was asked to defend the clearly false statement that millions of votes had been cast illegally. She answered by explaining that everybody now had their own way of interpreting whether a fact was true or not. ‘There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.’ Among ‘a large part of the population’ what Mr. Trump said was the truth. ‘When he says that millions of people illegally voted,’ his supporters believe him, and ‘people believe there are facts to back that up.’
Or as George Orwell said: ‘The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.’ But Ms. Hughes’s comment was perhaps unintentionally insightful. Mr. Trump and company seem to be betting that much of the electorate won’t care if the president tells demonstrable lies, and will pick and choose whatever ‘alternative facts’ confirm their views. We must recognize the magnitude of this challenge. If we want to restore respect for facts, the mainstream media will have to be aggressive without being hysterical and adversarial without being unduly oppositional.” Sounds like a pretty subjective tightrope.
Sykes, a former conservative talk-show host and the author of a forthcoming book, How the Right Lost Its Mind, advises “legitimate conservative media outlets” to stick to the facts as well. “There may be short-term advantages to running headlines about millions of illegal immigrants voting or secret United Nations plots to steal your guns, but the longer the right enables such fabrications, the weaker it will be in the long run.”