You Can’t Handle The Truth

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For those who haven’t been paying attention, our President is a liar.

He isn’t just a garden variety political liar. Or an old-time used car salesman liar.

He is a liar of mammoth historically unprecedented proportions. He lies about small things (like the size of his inauguration crown). He lies about big things (nobody in this campaign had any contact with any Russians). He lies about everything in between. Very few days pass in this administration when he hasn’t lied about something.

I’ve been spending some time thinking about the impact of this level of presidential dishonesty on the country.

The challenge is that our democracy is based on a basic assumption that voters are well informed and make their decisions based on their own self-interest. One of the jobs of the president is to set the moral tone for the country and inform voters about what the government is doing and why.

But what happens to democracy when a significant number of voters are using false information to make their decision?

Turns out that I’m not the only one thinking about this problem.

Ex Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dedicated his whole graduation speech at VMI to this very topic.

I’m not a Tillerson fan, but we are both very much on the same page regarding our concerns about the impact of a dishonest President.

As I reflect upon the state of American democracy, I observe a growing crisis of ethics and integrity,

Here’s what I think that means.

Some of those who voted for Trump, did so because they wanted a change. They felt that government wasn’t working for them. They felt that the economy was rigged against them. They were anxious about their future because of industrial disruption and changing culture. They felt that their conservative and religious values were under attack. They felt disrespected by those who had more education, skills, and money. Trump ran a highly unconventional campaign which aligned itself with this deep feeling of alienation and anxiety.

To the surprise of everyone, Trump did win a narrow Electoral College victory and began the most tumultuous first year of any president in recent history.

The result is that Trump voters have either had to publically renounce their vote or double down on their support regardless of his actions. They had to choose to remain in the Trump tribe even though that might cost them friends and family, or they had to leave that tribe without some clear path to another group of like-minded people.

The challenge of remaining in the Trump tribe is that Trump is an unethical authoritarian figure who has been systematically dismantling the shared values that are at the foundation of our democracy.

That’s what Tillerson is talking about. One of those foundational values is the expectation that the President will both tell and the truth and be accountable when we discover that he didn’t.

Here’s how Tillerson described it.

When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth, even on what may seem the most trivial of matters, we go wobbly on America. If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society, and among our leaders in both the public and private sector, and regrettably at times even the nonprofit sector, then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years.

And

If our leaders seek to conceal the truth or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.

And

This is the life of nondemocratic societies, comprised of people who are not free to seek the truth. … A responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what the truth is and is not, what a fact is and is not, and begin by holding ourselves accountable to truthfulness, and demand our pursuit of America’s future be fact-based, not based on wishful thinking; not hopeful outcomes made in shallow promises; but with a clear-eyed view of the facts as they are and guided by the truth that will set us free to seek solutions to our most daunting challenges.

Here’s a quick review of some of the examples of this problem

Rigged Election
When it appeared the Trump would lose, he refused to commit to accepting the outcome of the election claiming that it was rigged for the benefit of his opponent. This in itself is a staggeringly reckless position. Then when he won the election, he blamed is loss of the popular vote on millions of fraudulent votes which artificially inflated popular vote totals of his opponent. He put together a panel to look for evidence. They couldn’t find anything even close to the scale that he claimed existed. Trump has never backed away from this claim that deeply undermines the confidence his supporters have in the election process.

Fraudulent elections are the stuff of what Tillerson called nondemocratic societies. We see them in places like Russia and just recently in Venezuela. Undermining the public trust in the reliability of the election system for the purposes of vanity is deeply troubling.

The truth is that that our election system is highly reliable because it is highly distributed. It is virtually impossible to rig a national election because thousands of independent voting boards across the country actually run them. The people on those boards are elected locally and are beyond the control of any one party or any administration.

Trump Stormy Giuliani Cohen
Facts are Stormy Daniels got paid $130K before the election in order to keep her from going public with her story about an affair with Trump. Whether or not her story regarding the affair is true, it’s the payoff that is the issue.

When that story came out, Trump and his administration denied that there was any affair or any payoff.

As more facts came out as the press dug into the details, the White House explanation changed from denying the whole thing to just denying the affair, but telling us that Cohen (Trump’s lawyer) did this all on his own using his own money and without Trump’s knowledge.

Then Giuliani (Trump’s new lawyer) said that Cohen WAS paid back in a method (retainer for services) that didn’t violate campaign laws.

Finally Trump files a financial disclosure form that lists the payment that he made Cohen last year from one of his personal accounts. This payment was not listed in the first financial disclosure form Trump filed last year.

In addition to the obvious questions regarding campaign finance reform violations, we have another question of why this payment was left of off the first financial disclosure form. Submitting false financial disclosure forms is also a crime.

Trump continues to deny that there was any affair but suggests that these sorts of payoffs are common for those with high public profiles. But neither he nor anyone in his administration including Giuliani have made any attempt to explain why the story went through so many twists and turns, why it isn’t a campaign finance violation, and why it wasn’t listed on the first financial disclosure form filled last year.

The result is that Trump appears not to hold himself or anyone else accountable for lying to the publc.

Witch hunt
Trump has yet to acknowledge that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election is legitimate. Instead they have taken the position that this whole investigation is something that the Democrats made up because they lost an election. The problem with that position is that Trump and his party have all of the power. There is NOTHING that the Democrats can do to either cause, or continue an investigation on their own. The best example of this is the House Intelligence committee report. Fortunately the Senate did a more responsible job with pretty much the same evidence.

The Congressional investigations began because Jeff Sessions lied to Congress during his confirmation hearings about his contacts with Russians. That forced him to recuse himself from any ongoing investigation, so there was little that he can do to help Trump. That is also the fault of Trump and his administration in preparing Sessions to answer the Senate hearings.

As far as Mueller’s involvement, Trump has no one to blame but himself. He is the one who fired Comey, lied about why Comey was fired, then bragged to the Russians that he fired Comey BECAUSE of the Russian investigation. There was no choice but to hire a special prosecutor. That choice was supported by a majority of his own party.

The facts are that the Russians made a deliberate attempt to manipulate the election in favor of Trump. No one has been able to answer the question of why they chose to work on behalf of Trump.

Trump has made this all about himself, but it isn’t. The public deserves to know how and why the Russians were involved in attempting to disrupt the 2016 election. Anyone who knowingly helped the Russians should be held accountable. Any vulnerabilities in our systems should be identified and corrected. But that’s not how Trump has characterized this effort. Instead he paints it as a partisan personal attack. The result is that the public’s confidence in our election system, Justice Department, the FBI, and the Courts is being deliberately eroded for the sole purpose of political gain.

Obstruction of Justice
Trump fired Comey because he didn’t like the way the FBI was handling the Russian investigation – and then bragged about it to the Russians. Trump’s defense is that he was “fighting back”.

We’ve since learned that he asked the Post Office to raise Amazon’s rates because he doesn’t like the treatment he’s getting from Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post. Is that also “fighting back”?

We give president’s immense power. In return, we have high expectations. Presidents must obey the constitution and our laws. They must tell us the truth. The must not use their power against their political enemies. They must not use their power to enrich themselves, their family, or their associates at the expense of voters. They must not tolerate corruption in Executive Branch of government. They must exhaust every other option before starting a military conflict. They must treat our military with respect. The must treat out democratic norms with respect. They must treat the other branches of government with respect.

Tillerson said,

An essential tenet of a free society, a free people, is access to the truth

A government structure and a societal understanding that freedom to seek the truth is the very essence of freedom itself. … It is only by fierce defense of the truth and a common set of facts that we create the conditions for a democratic, free society, comprised of richly diverse peoples, that those free peoples can explore and find solutions to the very challenges confronting the complex society of free people.

When you call the press an “enemy of the people”, you are reducing access to the truth.

When you call the opposition party “traitors” because they didn’t stand enough during one of your speeches, you undermine the constitutional right of people to hold dissenting views.

The choice is being in the bubble or out. You can live a life committed to seeking truth and being honest. Or you can live a life constrained by conspiracy and ideology.

We are facing an important moment in the history of our country.

The choice is between a cult of personality where tribalism and fear allow an authoritarian to dictate the truth, or a reaffirmation of trust in democracy where the truth is not biased and isn’t owned by any party or ideology.

We’ve faced these moments in the past. We fought a civil war to answer the question of whether the principles on which our democracy was based could survive if some people were allowed to own other people. We went through a deep depression and a world war which questioned whether the free market and democracy were up to the challenges of the modern world. We went through a turbulent time during the Viet Nam War when the government lied, kids died, and the anti-war movement was born. Nixon ran a divisive campaign blaming the anti-war movement for social unrest and won in a landslide. Less than two years later he resigned in disgrace because he had abused his power.

We have had corrupt presidents in the past. We have had presidents who weren’t up to the job. We have never had a president who has used the power of his office to undermine the very system that elected him. My hope is that even as he seeks to dismantle the government in war against what Steve Bannon called the deep state, the press and the judiciary are holding firm and will ultimately uncover the truth of his actions.

What happens then?

That’s where the choice will ultimately be made. There are some whose support of Trump is part of their identity. They wear it as a rebel badge of courage. They feel all of this animosity proves that they were right all along about how the rich and powerful feel about them. They will never admit that he was wrong because that will mean they were wrong. It is a zero sum celebrity death match where only one will leave alive, and they have placed their bet on Donald Trump.

Authoritarianism in the defense of populism is NOT OK.

Our democracy works because we respect the outcomes of free and open elections.

My hope is that when the truth does come out, a majority of the country will recognize that this is not an “us versus them” conflict. This is an effort to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions. I hope a majority will appreciate that demanding decisions be made on the basis of facts is not a partisan position. It is a position that we should all support because ultimately we will all be better as a nation if we start from a shared set of facts.

In starkest terms here are a couple of warnings. The first is from Yale History Prof Tim Snyder. The second is from Hillary Clinton’s address to Yale Law School grads.

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle.

Attempting to erase the line between fact and fiction, truth and reality is a core feature of authoritarianism! The goal is to make us question logic and reason and to sow mistrust toward the people we need to rely on: our leaders, the press, experts who seek to guide public policy based on evidence, even ourselves.

I hope that the next occupant of the White House will help heal the wounds and repair the damage that Trump is doing to both our government and our society.

15 Responses to “You Can’t Handle The Truth”

  1. Keith says:

    Trump’s improved standing, energized GOP voters worry Democrats – The Washington Post

    One columnist for the NYT’s wondered if impeachment talk is helping Trump.

    I can tell you from opposing President Clinton and every bit of news as being proof he should be removed from office as having the opposite effect. Much like you, Jeff, calling Trump a liar 24/7 after a while just falls on defe ears.

    From the link I provided it appears some are seeming past the “noise” at the job he’s doing. Lots of good things happening.

    Love to hear your thoughts on our embassy now in Jerusalem…

  2. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Comey weights in on the subject

    Dangerous time when our country is led by those who will lie about anything, backed by those who will believe anything, based on information from media sources that will say anything. Americans must break out of that bubble and seek truth.

  3. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Trump’s improved standing, energized GOP voters worry Democrats – The Washington Post

    One columnist for the NYT’s wondered if impeachment talk is helping Trump.

    Please post links to the articles that you want me to comment on.

    Trump’s recent small gains in popularity (2% over the last month) are due largely to the promise of a Korean summit and the continued growth in the economy.

    https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/30/trump-roll-on-north-korea-should-boost-gop-midterm-chances-analyst.html

    Now, as I predicted, it looks like Trump has been played and the summit won’t happen. We’ll see how that affects his popularity.

    I can tell you from opposing President Clinton and every bit of news as being proof he should be removed from office as having the opposite effect. Much like you, Jeff, calling Trump a liar 24/7 after a while just falls on defe ears.

    My “calling Trump a liar” is simply stating a fact. If you believe that Trump is not a liar, you are delusional.

    Clinton was impeached for lying to a grand jury and obstruction of justice. He was also a liar, though he apologized for it. Curious that you felt that every bit of news suggested the Clinton was guilty, but that same news that documents all of Trump’s lies are somehow different.

    BTW, Clinton WAS guilty of lying to a grand jury and obstruction of justice in a civil case. The House knew when they impeached Clinton that they didn’t have the votes in the Senate to find him guilty of high crimes etc. Clinton’s popularity hit an all time high during this period (73% approval). It is possible that Trump may see a similar bump, but I doubt it. He will never see the approval ratings that Clinton had. There are very few people at this point changing their views of him.

    I have already said that I don’t think that, if impeached, Trump will be found guilty unless there is some big revelation of a heinous crime on his behalf. Just as with Clinton, there aren’t enough votes in the Senate. I’ve also said that they only way that Trump is going to get impeached is if Dems gain control of the House. I’ve also posted that REPUBLICANS plan to make the 2018 elections a referendum on Trump. Their plan is to motivate the base by telling them that if Democrats get control of the House, they will start impeachment proceedings. So even if the Democrats didn’t say another word about impeachment, Republicans plan to use impeachment as their #1 issue. Perhaps it is because they don’t have a lot of other issues. Finally, I’ve also said that Democrats need to offer more to voters this fall than a commitment to vote to remove Trump from office.

    As far as the good things that he is doing, if you would like to provide a list that is different from the last list you provided, I’m happy to review it.

    Love to hear your thoughts on our embassy now in Jerusalem…

    What did it gain us in the peace process? Over 100 Palestinians have died since that move was announced. How many Israelis have died as a result of the protests?

    How can you have peace when one party is oppressed and one party is the oppressor? The oppressed have nothing to lose and the oppressor has nothing to gain. As a result, there will be no peace. There will only be more misery and death.

  4. Jeff Beamsley says:

    BTW, just follow up on the previous post regarding Jerusalem.

    We are seeing the consequences of Trump’s evisceration of the state Department. He doesn’t value the advice of those who are experts in Asia or the Middle East. He feels that negotiations are zero sum where the only way to win is for someone else to lose. The list of demands that he presented to Iran are an abject surrender to a foreign power with precious little on the table for them in return.

    China is playing him.

    NK is playing him.

    Israel is playing him.

    Russia is playing him.

    Then when push comes to shove, he caves as he did with his recent tariffs.

    This is banana republic stuff and we should be ashamed.

    I’ll post some more detail in the future.

  5. Keith says:

    https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/rubio-asserts-evidence-fbi-spying-trump-campaign-presidents/story?id=55444997

    This is an interesting parsing of fact. Rubio says the FBI was not spying on the Trump campaign only on people involved with the campaign. So remember the light I told you Trump must be viewed, if you want to understand him. To him – THATS SPYING ON HIS CAMPAIGN!!!! You call him a liar, which he does, but many times it’s for stuff like this.

  6. Keith says:

    Jeff,
    YS)Now, as I predicted, it looks like Trump has been played and the summit won’t happen. We’ll see how that affects his popularity.

    MR) for your own sanity quit guessing and predicting when it comes to Trump. When he called the meeting off I’m quite certain he took pride in doing it, all the while still negotiating. Please wait or outcomes and judge them. Stop reading the headlines and wait. It will be best for you. Remember the “carnival barker” label that was appropriately given to him well before the election. Also remember he said “I’ll never tell you what I’m doing, I want to be unpredictable.”

  7. Keith says:

    YS)Curious that you felt that every bit of news suggested the Clinton was guilty, but that same news that documents all of Trump’s lies are somehow different.

    MR) That’s my point!!!! I’m pointing that out for YOU!!! In the case of Bill Clinton it was confirmation bias on my part. You are experiencing the same thing. I would no longer view President Clinton this was. I’m suggesting you would be better off not viewing Trump this way.

    Question – what would it look like if conservatives “stopped supporting Trump” as you’ve suggested they do so as not to be hypocrites?

  8. Jeff Beamsley says:

    This is an interesting parsing of fact. Rubio says the FBI was not spying on the Trump campaign only on people involved with the campaign. So remember the light I told you Trump must be viewed, if you want to understand him. To him – THATS SPYING ON HIS CAMPAIGN!!!! You call him a liar, which he does, but many times it’s for stuff like this.

    Speaking of an interesting parsing of fact, suggesting that Trump should get a pass because you think you know what he was thinking is even worse pretzel logic.

    The FBI was (and is) DOING IT’S JOB. They learned on their own that people in Trump’s campaign had contact with Russians and other foreign nationals. At this point they needed to know whether or not those people in the Trump campaign were compromised. They used a trusted contact to find that out. This is simple law enforcement. It is NOT spying.

    Suggesting that it is spying erodes the public’s trust in even handed law enforcement. Giuliani remarkably just admitted that this was the White House strategy. Trump partisans seem willing to accept this as a reasonable action. It’s not.

    It IS deliberate dismantling of institutions of our democracy for personal political gain.

    It is also obstruction of justice. The White House is deliberately making it more difficult for the justice department to do their work BECAUSE they are afraid of what the consequences of that work are going to be. They are deliberately eroding the public’s confidence in the ability of the justice department to fairly and thoroughly investigate what we now know is a attempt by the Russians to disrupt our democratic process – an ATTACK by the Russians on our elections.

    Please tell me how in ANY world – partisan or otherwise – Trump’s actions are acceptable.

  9. Jeff Beamsley says:

    MR) for your own sanity quit guessing and predicting when it comes to Trump. When he called the meeting off I’m quite certain he took pride in doing it, all the while still negotiating. Please wait or outcomes and judge them. Stop reading the headlines and wait. It will be best for you. Remember the “carnival barker” label that was appropriately given to him well before the election. Also remember he said “I’ll never tell you what I’m doing, I want to be unpredictable.”

    I may post something more on this in the future, but at the time that I posted this response, Trump had announced that he was canceling the summit. So the observation (looks like) was accurate.

    What is accurate is that Trump is doing this ENTIRELY on his own. He didn’t consult anyone on his staff. He didn’t call his allies. He didn’t talk about it with the South Koreans who are singlehandedly trying to drag Trump in the right direction.

    This is just another test of whether ONE GUY is smarter than the rest of the world.

    The test is whether the world will end up being better or worse as a result of his actions. So far the middle east is worse. There is no peaceful resolution to Israel and Palestine. The alliance that made the Iranian nuke deal possible has collapsed. The Russians are working closely with the Saudi’s to re-establish control of the world’s oil supply.

    My opinion is that one guy IS NOT smarter than the rest of world. The real danger is that it won’t change his attitude.

  10. Jeff Beamsley says:

    That’s my point!!!! I’m pointing that out for YOU!!! In the case of Bill Clinton it was confirmation bias on my part. You are experiencing the same thing. I would no longer view President Clinton this was. I’m suggesting you would be better off not viewing Trump this way.

    Sorry but that wasn’t your point. Your point was that Clinton should have been impeached because based on all of the news that you read, you came to the conclusion that he was guilty.

    Clinton was guilty of lying about an affair. The vast majority of voters recognized that this particular “sin” which Clinton did eventually apologize for, did not rise to the level which justified impeachment. So in fact, he was innocent of “high crimes etc.”

    If it were Trump just lying about an affair, your argument would have some basis of comparison.

    But that’s not the main issue. Trump fired the FBI director because he ref used to suspend his investigation into Michael Flynn.

    If Clinton had begun firing people in an effort to get Kenneth Starr fired, I would have agreed with you that he had overstepped the bounds of his executive power, and should be impeached.

    Trump on the other hand is using his executive power to undermine the justice department, the judiciary, the press, and even the concept of truth itself. That’s MY point.

    The REST of my point is the political reality. If Clinton hadn’t had such high popularity ratings, AND if Republicans had a sufficient majority in the Senate, he may have actually become the first President to be convicted of a claim of impeachment. But he wasn’t.

    Trump isn’t nearly as popular, but he is sufficiently popular among his base, that he will likely not be impeached on the current evidence because he still has support in the Senate.

    It’s also the reason why no President has ever been found guilty of a claim of impeachment.

    People have to win a national election in order to hold that office. Those wins also bring with them support in Congress. That support can change quickly in the House, but it takes up to six years for any substantial change to occur in the Senate. So almost by definition, the Senate is not going to convict a sitting president with a 60% vote without convincing proof that they are unfit for office.

    So let’s wait until the Mueller investigation concludes before we can decide whether or not there is something there that would flip enough Senate Republicans to put Trump in jeopardy.

    That fact won’t prevent Trump and Republicans from continuing their campaign to paint Trump as falsely accused because that’s really the only issue that they have at this point to drive their base to the polls.

  11. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Question – what would it look like if conservatives “stopped supporting Trump” as you’ve suggested they do so as not to be hypocrites?

    We’re already seeing what it would look like. Republicans like Flake, Kasich, and Rubio are positioning themselves for 2020. When was the last time that sitting president had credible opposition in their run for a second term? Last one I can recall was LBJ and he eventually stepped out the of the race.

    All these Republicans are betting that a majority of Republicans will choose not to support Trump for a second term if they have a choice.

    We’ll see.

  12. Keith says:

    Ted Kennedy challenged unsuccessfully Jimmy Carter.

  13. Keith says:

    And…. the scene from A Few Good Men above is an all time favorite.

    “You want me on that wall, you need me on that wall……………I have neither the time nor inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I’d be just as happy if you said ‘thank you’ and be on your way……………..either way I don’t give a dam what you think you are entitled to.”

  14. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Has Jack Nicholson ever under played a character?

    Maybe About Schmidt, but not many people saw that movie.

  15. Keith says:

    Nicholson plays Nicholson regardless the role. Lol

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