Truth In Politics: This Way Lies Madness

03/22/2017 09:38 am ET Updated Mar 22, 2017
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

I spent decades in public office and know the political vagaries of truth as well as anyone. People advocate, tweak, argue, spin and more. But there’s been little patience for lies. Truth is hard to define. It’s not opinion, and it’s not fact, and it’s almost impossible to know in a particular controversy. Is it true that global warming is caused by humans and endangers life on earth? Is it true that Putin intervened in the election? Is Darwinism true?

Whatever its’ particular limitations, there was a widely accepted desire to seek the truth in politics and to honor it as a common good and everyone’s goal. That’s no longer the case. And the consequences are disastrous.

The Trump accusations about “sick” Obama wiretapping him were always dangerous, in the same way that his birther accusations were dangerous. There is no restraining internal mechanism and once loosed upon the body politic they did measurable damage. And when first leveled, they were accusations that were heard and considered.

The wiretap allegations have now been proved “untrue” by any rational standard of discourse. The Trump response is to repeat them. Their “truth” is irrelevant, they are repeated in the face of credible evidence otherwise.

What’s lost in this process is the very American tradition of political combat based on shared realities. We can disagree about Obamacare but the CBO will provide truthful factual analysis. We can debate election fraud without making up accusations of widespread illegal voting.

No more. Nothing is what it seems to be, and there are no limits on what can be said about public issues.

This way lies madness.

Politicians are the custodians of the language, and of public discourse. The burden of protecting the goal of “truth” falls on Trump opponents to an extent. A patient and continuing correction of the record is required. But the greater burden falls on Trump supporters. It remains possible to champion policies and personalities without stripping our politics of a commitment to finding and accepting “truth”. Some Trump supporters understand this and have begun to speak out. More need to do so.

And Trump himself will have to confront “truth” sooner or later. The nation will demand it. Or so it has always done in the past.

This way lies madness.

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