A couple weeks ago, some posted a link to the video from Shawn Spicer’s first press briefing from President Trump’s White House. Now, I thought the whole tone of the thing was pretty bizarre. I can’t imagine this is the best way to start a four year working relationship. The tone of this press conference and others has, of course, been brilliantly lampooned by SNL. I hope everyone can laugh at the sketch because… well… it’s pretty funny.
Anyway, I’m sure Mr. Spicer was just doing his job as requested. What I found so bizarre about that original press conference was the time devoted to the size of the inauguration crowd. I have never been President of the United States, so I can’t say for certain, but I can imagine a few more important things I’d need to address on January 21 besides how many people were there to see me sworn in. I was just so confused about why this was even an issue.
And to be fair, I thought it wasn’t that unlikely that NBC or CNN might use less-than-flattering images of the inauguration because, well, they probably don’t like President Trump. But what started out as confusion and amusement, changed for me to alarm as I realized that this wasn’t going to be an actual refutation of the size of the crowd. Now, remember, I think it was meaningless how many people showed up. Who cares? You’re the President! But if there was an overhead shot showing how full the National Mall was, put up on the screen and show everyone they were lying. Instead, there was a parade of facts and a shot from a different angle (that wouldn’t be able to show how many people there were) and then shouting and chastising and that’s it.
Why was this alarming?
Because, as far as I could tell (and can tell to this day- correct me if I’m wrong), the administration went out of its way to lie about something as stupid as the size of a crowd. At the very least, they didn’t feel the need to actually provide real evidence about this silly thing they wanted to argue about. This is horrifying because someone in power is aggressively lying about something stupid. I keep thinking back to that day a couple weeks ago because I’m haunted by the choice to lie compared to the stakes of it all.
If you’ll lie about this, what won’t you lie about?
Look, politicians aren’t known for their truth-telling. Liberals like to claim that “facts tend to be liberal,” but that’s a load of garbage. Liberal politicians lie. Conservative politicians lie. We’ve all kind of accepted this to varying degrees. But this administration is taking things to a whole new level. The other day, President Trump chose to pass on a familiar lie about how terrible the murder rate is compared to 50 years ago. It’s simply not true. But the administration doubles down on it and becomes belligerent about it. Andrew Sullivan wrote a post about how maddening this habit is getting.
Full disclosure: I started writing this post and saved it a day or two before I read Sullivan’s thing. Since I started my draft, more craziness has unfurled. For example, today, President Trump tweeted that the New York Times lied about him and said he hadn’t talked to China since November. Now, he could have read some version of something that failed to mention this, but the current edition (and print edition, from what I’ve seen**) of the New York Times has a story whose first line says that they spoke.
This is either a phenomenal reading mistake (accompanied by a strange Twitter-reaction) or a choice to lie about something that’s easily disproven. And this is only one example of what’s happened in the past couple days! Take as another example the whole thing with Neil Gorsuch’s comments that were reported and then publicly called fake news, even though they weren’t.
**edit: Politico explains what happened. The President read an older printed version, and then later print versions + current online version has been corrected. Now the Times should have noted this correction, whether it was through the fault of their reporting or because the events happened after publishing. Either way, the correction should be noted. But it should also have been noted by now by the President. I’m striking some of the above because of the explanation for events. Note: This is called a correction. It’s what happens when you’re wrong about something. You don’t pretend like the truth is otherwise.
Lying really bugs me. My kids know this. Part of it is that I feel like you’re telling me that I’m stupid when you lie to me, and that you don’t think I can figure it out. That’s a really stupid reason to be bothered, really prideful. But it’s true.
But lying also bugs me because I was brought up to believe that the truth matters a lot. And I don’t mean the “your truth” version of truth. When people say “I’m just speaking my truth,” I want to scream. You don’t get personal ownership of a version of truth. You can’t publicize to the world what you decide is true. What’s true is true is true is true. It does not matter if you are my child or a friend or a colleague or a professor a neighbor or the President of the United States, the truth is the truth and we are all subject to the nature of truth as an objective reality.
Call me black and white or whatever you’d like, but I absolutely hate it when the nature of the truth is impugned. It drives me crazy. And the nature of truth has somehow now become a political issue.
Let me be very clear: This public lying is not a political opinion issue. This is not something you get to vote on based on the D or R next to your name. Public lying like this should be universally condemned by Congressmen, Senators, justices, media, and by citizens everywhere along the political spectrum. This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue.
Specifically, Christians should be vocally opposing this distortion of the truth. Politicians cannot think that we approve of twisting the truth and outright distorting it to consolidate their power base to present themselves as both politician and arbiter of what is true. Media bias bothers you? Me too. The answer is not to lie to get things straight. The answer is to demand truer journalism. Don’t like politicians from your opposing party telling untruths about you? Great, me too. I’m on your side about that. But the answer is not to lob retaliatory lies on Twitter and pretend to be a truth-teller under the guise of shouted “FAKE NEWS” charges.
We have to keep telling ourselves, our communities, our kids that the truth really does matter. That no person owns it. And everyone is subject to it no matter their power and influence or what their opinions are on policy issues or anything like that. We have to speak up for the truth.
It matters. It matters a great deal. And we need to think and talk and act like it actually does.