As such, he is the most fully evolved creature of an insidious political development we first described in 2010 and coined “the death of truth.” In the 2016 presidential race, it has become a familiar meme, and explanatory variations on the theme now may be found everywhere from Al Jazeera and NBC to Politico and the Washington Post.
As Trump stands on the brink of building an insurmountable delegate lead in tonight’s Super Duper Tuesday primary voting – only John Kasich by winning Ohio can stem his momentum – the fundamental elements of his victory-through-lying campaign are unchanged, if monstrously magnified, from the way we reported them back in eMeg Whitman’s failed GOP bid for governor.
Perhaps it’s just a case of wishful nostalgia, but it seems to us that before the rise of Fox News, Rovian manipulation and the abnegation by certain people of fact-based reality, there was some sort of agreed-upon truth that was adjudicated daily by the mainstream media.
In that race, day in and day out, we catalogued a stream of Whitman’s transgressions against the truth, enabled in large part by the unprecedented stacks of cash she threw into her campaign, which overwhelmed efforts by the MSM (and certain plucky bloggers – we name no names) to communicate the Actual Facts to voters.
288 lies a day: So it is more than a little ironic in 2016 to find ole eMeg leading the charge against Trump’s constant spewing of falsehoods, fabrications, contradictions and exaggerations. In her defense, The Donald’s brand of perfidy does represent a quantum leap from her less staggering mendacity.
To wit, Politico just reported on over 60 Trump falsehoods in just the past week. This followed an earlier report by WashPost fact checker Glenn Kessler that 58 of 76 Trumpisms in the final weeks of 2015 were untrue. From Politico:
The result: more than five dozen statements deemed mischaracterizations, exaggerations, or simply false – the kind of stuff that would have been stripped from one of our stories, or made the whole thing worthy of the spike. It equates to roughly one misstatement every five minutes on average (emphasis ours).
From warning of the death of Christianity in America to claiming that he is taking no money from donors, the Manhattan billionaire and reality-show celebrity said something far from truthful many times over to the thousands of people packed into his raucous rallies. His remarks represent an extraordinary mix of inaccurate claims about domestic and foreign policy and personal and professional boasts that rarely measure up when checked against primary sources.
Transformation of truth: Six years ago, we cited three factors underpinning the rapidly advancing ability of politicians to transcend the traditional, and now quaint, boundaries of fudging and spin and begin to discard all notions of fact-based, objectively verifiable reality:
-The attention span of the average citizen, never very long, has been hyper-accelerated by the rise of new media, including the Internets, where something is old before it is barely new — and certainly not fully digested — and everyone is off on the next new thing. Beyond that, the rise of ideologically sated outlets like FOX and MSNBC ensures that partisans will never again have to watch something with which they disagree.
-The lugubrious mainstream media is often strangled by self-imposed, on-the-one-hand-on-the-the-hand, false-equivalency “balance,” in part intimidated by loud, if unfounded accusations of “bias” most frequently lobbed by the right-wing. Thus the MSM at times seems unable and/or unwilling to cut through the miasma and call a lie a lie or a liar a liar. (Even Jerry Brown won’t call a spade a spade, referring instead to Meg Whitman’s “intentional, terminological inexactitude.”)
-It’s now clear that a candidate with unlimited resources can and will blow off complaints, critiques and factual analyses of those who dare to speak up and will instead declare that the truth is whatever he or she says it is — in their paid advertising and the assertions of their mercenary prevaricators.
Each of these factors has metastasized since then. In the case of Trump, his base of voters not only has short attention spans, but also a shortage of education and a psychological bias towards authoritarianism, a story for another day.
And although he has not spent vast amounts on his “self-funding” campaign, Trump has more than made up for it by commanding massive amounts of largely uncritical “news” coverage, worth multiple times what broadcast and cable advertising would cost. And in this, the MSM has been horribly complicit, giving Trump constant access to the airwaves and only recently beginning to call out his lies for what they are.
We don’t need no stinking facts: In an excellent examination of post-truth politics, boston.com recently reported on new research reported in the journal “Political Behavior:
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite.
In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to correct facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters – the people making decisions about how the country runs – aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.
And so in the Year of Trump, we find that one of Thomas Jefferson’s most cherished statements — “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” – is no longer operative.
What is operative, alas, is Mark Twain’s timeless dictum: “A lie can run around the world six times while the truth is still trying to put on its pants.”