The Brutality of Lies in the Age of Trump

— See below for action alert
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At a rally in Montana this summer, the President of the United States made 98 factual claims. 76% of these claims were false or misleading. 46% were in fact falsehoods.

One might even call them lies.

This is not a controversial statement. Members of his own cabinet have referred to him as “a professional liar.” Trump’s own attorney, who is genuinely convinced of his innocence with regard to ongoing federal inquiries, nevertheless told investigators that his client was “clearly disabled” when it comes to telling the truth, recognizing Trump to be, at his very essence, “a fucking liar.”

As of today (September 14, 2018), Trump has told 5,001 lies since taking office. 621 of those lies related to immigration – typically intended to vilify and dehumanize immigrants and to boast about false achievements – and this summer has seen an acceleration, with more than 100 lies about immigration in June alone.

Trump’s attacks on truth and facts represent an insidious form of violence with global impacts; and they betray an antipathy toward the institutions and norms of modern western democracy. Madeleine Albright observes that we have never had a President “whose statements and actions are so at odds with democratic ideals,” and who “speaks harshly about the institutions and principles that make up the foundation of an open government.” She continues:

In the process, he has systematically degraded political discourse in the United States, shown an astonishing disregard for facts, libeled his predecessors, threatened to “lock up” political rivals, referred to mainstream journalists as “the enemy of the American people,” spread falsehoods about the integrity of the US electoral process, touted mindlessly nationalistic economic and trade policies, vilified immigrants and the countries from which they come, and nurtured a paranoid bigotry toward the followers of one of the world’s foremost religions. (Fascism: A Warning, p. 5)

Trump’s animosity toward democratic institutions are having chilling effects, especially among his fellow-partisans.

This summer, a Quinnipiac poll found that, within the “party of law and order,” only 28% of registered Republicans now view the FBI in a favorable light, while 60% trust Trump more than the US intelligence agencies. Meanwhile, 76% view Trump as honest and 75% believe he “provides good moral leadership.” It is this unwavering faith that leads 51% to identify the mainstream news media as “the enemy of the people” – a question Quinnipiac and other pollsters have little “trend data” on because it simply isn’t a question anyone would have thought necessary before Trump.

But Trump has gained cult-leader status among his base, more of whom now trust Trump to provide them with accurate information (91%) than their family and friends (63%) or the media (11%). Through sheer repetition, he has usurped the term “fake news” (which originally denoted false stories knowingly spread as real news but which has been distorted to mean news that is unfavorable towards himself), thereby immunizing his base to factual presentation and leaving them with only their leader as their source of reality.

The Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, frequently cited the Bible and the newspaper together as crucial for understanding the world and our place in it – each, in its own way, a source of truth. Indeed, he saw the role of journalists as so “terribly important” that he told TIME magazine, “I always pray for the sick, the poor, journalists, authorities of the state and the church – in that order.” Trump, on the other hand, admits that his attacks on the media are intended “to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.” His persistent accusations inure his base to his own falsehoods.

Therefore, if you are a Trump supporter, this is your reality:

  • Trump is “a very stable genius.”
  • He has repealed the Johnson Amendment.
  • There will be violence in the streets if Democrats win in the midterms.
  • Millions and millions” of people voted illegally in California.
  • Google is rigging search results to only show bad news about Trump.
  • Kneeling during the national anthem is not a protest but an intentional insult to military veterans.
  • Only 6 or 18 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria – reports to the contrary are a political conspiracy against the President.
  • Construction of the border wall is in full swing.
  • Democrats forced Trump to separate families at the border.
  • Terrorists from the Middle East are using children to get through the US-Mexico border.
  • MS-13 has taken control of US towns, requiring ICE to “liberate” those towns.
  • Immigrants are rapists and murderers who are invading and infesting our country by the tens of millions.

It’s a bleak view of America, an anemic view of the strength of our democracy, a distorted view of the first amendment, and a paranoid, xenophobic view of the “other.”

In a chilling “call and response” about immigrants, Trump asked thousands of attendees at a recent rally in Nashville, “what was the name?” “Animals!” the crowd roared. It is this fascist use of deceit, language, and repetition that leads to Charlottesville.

Nationalist, anti-immigrant movements around the world are following his lead – we’ve covered the rise of neo-Nazi and far-right movements in Europe and Australia in our Daily Dispatch, for example – as are dictators and autocrats who spout “fake news” as an excuse to shut down media outlets, jail reporters, and cut off access to internet and social media.

In the U.S., Trump’s verbal assaults on the media are inspiring his followers to threaten reporters with physical and sexual assault. Journalists are regularly receiving death threats from people who cite Trump and his rhetoric. Many have hired bodyguards. And security details now surround those tasked with covering his rallies, where crowds chant Lügenpresse (“lying press” – aka “fake news”) – a term used by the Nazi party to discredit the media.

As Timothy Snyder observes in On Tyranny: “Post-truth is pre-fascism.”

In addition to the inalienable rights with which we are endowed, we also have inalienable responsibilities. Just as we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we are summoned to promote peace, truth, and the pursuit of justice.

Snyder writes, “to abandon facts is to abandon freedom.”

To deprive another of facts is to deprive them of freedom – to take them hostage.

And that is a brutal act violence.

 

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Action alert:

Pace e Bene is organizing a Moment of Truth: Campaign Nonviolence National Convergence, which will take place in Washington, DC on September 21-22. They are hosting additional events around the country, which can be found on their website.

Now is the moment of truth for taking action – and for recommitting to the power of truth itself, in light of the many false or misleading statements made by the administration. On September 22, we will take action for peace, economic equality, racial justice and environmental healing – and for a new spirit of truth and nonviolence.

Now is the time. The Moment of Truth.

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