One of the most unsettling features of the Trump administration is its contempt for truth. That’s why the president could lie about the size of his inaugural crowd when every one reading this column understands that his crowd was tiny compared to that of his predecessor.
It’s why his lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, would say that the president didn’t know about the infamous June 6, 2016 meeting of Donald Trump Jr. with the Russians at Trump Tower, then reverse himself the following day, and then reverse himself again. That meeting is spelled c-o-l-l-u-s-i-o-n.
We all know that the president’s claim that climate change is a hoax is itself a hoax.
We heard the President tell us that he knew nothing about paying hush money to Stormy Daniels, then admit he knew about it, then deny he ordered the payments. So why be surprised when Mr. Trump’s former attorney admits under oath that his client ordered the hush-money payments?
Most of us understand why the president calls a serious investigation about Russian interference in our elections a “witch hunt.” If you were guilty of collusion, you too might want to discredit the investigation.
No wonder his agents trash truth in favor of “alternative facts.” No wonder that they tell us that truth is not truth.
And this goes to the heart of this column.
Historically, democracies rely on a foundation of truth and a free press. That’s why generations of school children learn about little George Washington and his cherry tree. That’s why President Clinton was impeached after he committed perjury.
And that’s why George Orwell in his novel 1984 taught us that the essence of totalitarianism is reflected in its contempt for the truth.
In a totalitarian society, Orwell reminds us, War is called Peace. Tyranny is called Freedom. Crimes are Not Crimes.
In short, truth is subordinate to the interests of the government and its leader. If the leader is served by truth, fine. If not, then he fabricates his (really, our) reality.
We should therefore take seriously reports by the Toronto Star and the Washington Post that our own president has lied to us or made misleading statements over four thousand times since his inauguration. We’ve come to see his dishonesty as normal. We shrug it off. “That’s Trump,” we say, forgetting that dishonesty is a cancer to democratic values.
Let’s face it: Fake News mainly comes from the Oval Office today, not from CNN or the NY Times.
That the president’s favorite TV channel echoes the president’s dishonesty—“Fox and Friends” has become the 21st century version of Pravda — reinforces the problem. We all have an obligation to recognize propaganda as propaganda. The alternative is delusionary.
And we should recognize one other thing: that a former Marine and life-long Republican, Robert Mueller, is draining the real Washington swamp in his effort to restore governmental integrity. He, not the president, stands for the values of our Founding Fathers.
Orwell, an Englishman, would have understood this. He placed honesty at the top of his list of political virtues. We should honor his example.
Historian Dr. Gary B. Ostrower lives in Alfred.