It is time for the collective assault on the truth, particularly in the news--especially by those who demand party loyalty above all else — to end. Without the truth, healing in this country will not occur, unity will not occur, growth will not occur, normalcy will not occur.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines truth as, “The quality or state of being true,” which it defines as, “In accordance with facts or reality.” It defines a fact as, “A thing that is known or proved to be true,” and reality as, “The world or state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.” Both of us have taught students how to identify facts used to support positions taken in research writing, and we feel comfortable in addressing this issue academically.
One of the first lies of the past administration involved the size of the crowd at President Trump’s inauguration, which Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted was the largest ever, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. The last lie of that administration was denying the win, both in the popular and electoral votes, by Joe Biden (referred to as “The big lie” by traditional media outlets). That lie, repeated by so many Republicans in Congress, led directly to the assault on the U.S. Capitol directed by President Trump himself. Through it all, the majority of Republicans at the federal level supported all the lies through their words, actions, and inactions.
Many of these same Republicans now cry foul at the impeachment (again) of Mr. Trump, calling for unity instead of accountability, even as we continue to discover just how willing Mr. Trump was to use his powers to subvert the will of the people. Lindsey Graham leads the charge by questioning whether the President can be impeached now that he has left office. While this may be viewed by some as the last gasp by sycophants who have lost control of the White House and the U.S. Senate, it should be viewed as it really is, another assault on the truth.
There were others who subverted the truth to allow such an assault. Some media outlets transmitted the administration’s lies rather than reporting facts as journalists are trained to do, while taking aim at their “mainstream” competitors for accurately reporting the news.
Perhaps one of the ironic facets of the “Make America Great Again” movement that would be helpful would be a return to the belief in truth we grew up with. In our childhood, Americans began their days with the local newspaper and then turned to one of the three network news broadcasts each evening. These sources reported the facts and left opinions for the op-ed pages or the Sunday morning shows that brought in pundits to discuss events of the week. Neither the op-ed writers nor the TV pundits ever denied the facts reported by their news bureaus.
Many local newspapers, including this one, have adapted to the new online media environment while staying true to their role as journalists to report the facts. Network news organizations, while more willing to report on celebrity stories than in the past, still provide the facts of the events that impact our lives. Many online journalism organizations accurately deliver news coverage with the click of a mouse.
So the truth still exists, but it is up to us to glean it from the morass of “alternative facts,” especially those promoted through social media. While teaching, we encouraged our students to vet their sources so that their positions were credible. We also required evidence to be presented either in its original form, or to be verified through peer review. We must all practice such standards, particularly when we participate in social media. Before reposting or retweeting, look for the origin of the post. Make sure our news comes from sources that do their own reporting (primary sources) rather than those that simply provide opinions, particularly with a political bias.
We must also hold our political leaders accountable. The U.S. Senate has received the article of impeachment for Donald Trump, and Senators on both sides of the aisle will have an opportunity to show the American people they can address the truth of the attack against the Legislative Branch of our government. Should these Senators choose to ignore the truth, it is up to the electorate in their states to communicate their deep disappointment now and to vote them out during the next election. The same goes for those whose actions before and after the attack, such as Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who have been remanded to the Senate Ethics Committee.
The attack on Jan. 6 should be viewed as the inevitable outcome of a large part of our population refusing to accept the truth and aided by many people unwilling to stand up for the truth.
In order for us to unite and address the many crises facing us, we must be willing to identify and respect the truth, and then act accordingly.