The United States has been struggling with something for a long while now. It is not the pursuit of a goal for the betterment of the people, nor is it the worry of a tangible threat to national security. It is the decaying of an ideal that was once held close to our chests, an ideal whose pursuit guided humankind into the Enlightenment and beyond: truth.
Certainly, it can be argued that the exact nature of truth is debatable; there are things that are true for some that are not true for others. But there are objective truths in this world that apply to everyone; for example, two plus two equals four; Earth’s gravity exacts a pull on us that keeps us on its surface; everyone will eventually die. These can be denied, even for one’s entire life, but they can never be escaped. The denial of objective truth does not make it false.
Unfortunately, truth has been under attack. Never has this been more true than in the last four years. Donald Trump’s pathological lying, aided and abetted by staffers, politicians and social media platforms, has sent the United States into a backsliding of truth that threatens massive implications moving forward. He is not solely responsible for laying the foundation in American society for the embracing of misinformation and alternate realities, but he certainly capitalized on it in his run for president and his time in office.
With the elimination of the FCC’s fairness doctrine under Ronald Reagan in 1987, media outlets were no longer required to present both sides of an issue in an honest and equitable manner. It is no coincidence that Rush Limbaugh founded his national radio talk show in 1988, an outlet that, for decades now, has flooded the airwaves with lies, misinformation and hatred. Fox News was founded in 1996 and today is the one of the leading sources of misinformation on television, shelling out lies and conspiracies about the coronavirus to its millions of viewers. All of that from a network that is just a few years removed from spreading the racist, untrue birther story against Barack Obama. The spread of these types of sources has poisoned the American public to such a degree that millions of people now live in a completely different reality.
It is that reality that Donald Trump took advantage of and then blew up. It is a reality in which millions of Americans live, one in which Trump can deny things he said on live television or people witnessed with their own eyes; one in which he did not attempt to solicit foreign interference in a U.S. election; one in which the deadliest pandemic in a century, that has killed a quarter of a million Americans, is under control in this country; and one in which widespread fraud lost him the election. All of these are objectively false to anyone who lives outside the bubble that right-wing media has created and that Donald Trump has capitalized on. So effective is this indoctrination, and so impenetrable is the media bubble, that 52% of Republicans said that Trump “rightfully won” the 2020 election, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. Every piece of evidence out there proves that is false, and so far, every judge that the Trump campaign has brought a case to has agreed.
To have such a vast swath of the American public living in an alternate reality in which they only become more entrenched poses a real danger to our progress as a country. This outlandish, warped version of the truth, such as the claim of election fraud, threatens our democracy by eroding public trust in institutions.
America needs a renewed invigoration of truth. To quote Thomas Friedman’s November 10 op-ed in The New York Times, “we need to restore the stigma to lying and liars before it is too late. We need to hunt for truth, fight for truth and mercilessly discredit the forces of disinformation. It is the freedom battle of our generation.”