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Donald Trump and the Ministry of Truth

Nine hours on Tuesday provided a useful snapshot of America's headlong rush into moral relativism.At noon, Pre...

Posted: Jul 26, 2018 4:41 AM
Updated: Jul 26, 2018 4:41 AM

Nine hours on Tuesday provided a useful snapshot of America's headlong rush into moral relativism.

At noon, President Trump spoke to a VFW convention in Kansas City and told the crowd: "Just remember, what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening."

Even for a president who tweeted "any negative polls are fake news," three weeks into his administration, this flat-out appeal for people to ignore what they see with their own eyes was jarring. Observers quickly pointed out that the American president's syntax was uncomfortably close to an infamous line from George Orwell's "1984:" "The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."

In "1984," the Ministry of Truth is dedicated to teaching citizens to accept sinister nonsense, like 2+2=5 and War is Peace. The test of a loyal party member is "a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary."

In other words, the test of loyalty is not only to lie for the regime but to convince oneself to believe the lies, or at least to dismiss any meaningful difference between truth and lies. And that's where the real danger with the hyper-partisan defense of Trump is emerging.

Increasingly, you hear a normalization of the idea that President Trump's lies are merely matters of style and not substance. This is accompanied by the exhausted excuse that Americans shouldn't worry about what Trump says but instead watch what he (or his administration) does. This requires buying into the moral relativism at the heart of Trump's deny, distract, deflect and divide rhetorical strategy. The last and laziest defense is a shot of whatabout-ism accompanied with the chaser that says a fact-based debate is itself is divisive.

It is a fact universally acknowledged that Donald Trump is not really into reading books and so I would never suggest that he was consciously borrowing from Orwell's script. But the unconscious parallels are undeniable; in the dystopia of "1984," the Ministry of Truth devoted itself ruthlessly to revising the historical record to back up Big Brother's pronouncements.

Which is a reasonable segue to Trump's adjacent attempt at reality distortion on Tuesday, when he tweeted, "Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don't want Trump!"

This tweet, of course, contradicts everything we know about Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election on Donald Trump's behalf and runs counter to virtually all of Trump's previous statements (or lack thereof) about Russia. But it does muddy the otherwise clear facts of this ongoing national security threat. If, like the President, you're disinclined to take the US intelligence community's word, then you might actually have been persuaded by Vladimir Putin's answer at the Helsinki press conference, when the Russian president was asked, "Did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?" Putin's response? "Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.--Russia relationship back to normal."

But you would not know that infamous exchange occurred if you were looking for it on the official White House transcript -- because it was literally absent from the record and the accompanying video. As of Wednesday morning, the White House still had not corrected or explained the omission.

A few hours after Trump's about-face on Twitter, his administration compounded this impulse to erase or obscure inconvenient facts. CNN reported that the White House has suspended the practice of publishing "readouts," public summaries of President Donald Trump's phone calls with world leaders. This move brings "an end to a common exercise from Republican and Democratic administrations" of providing what in some cases is the only public record of conversations between the President and other leaders.

This move is not just another hit by the Trump administration to bipartisan presidential norms that aim to ensure transparency, like regularly publishing White House visitor logs or releasing the President's tax returns. Because tone comes from the top, we've seen a similar approach taken by administration agencies, from the EPA's attempt to ban employees use of the phrase "climate change" to efforts to hide former EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt's meeting with industry lobbyists to the Interior Department's issuing a factually false report about the economic impact of national monuments.

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, the Trump administration doubled down Tuesday on its abandonment of free trade in favor of trade war tariffs to enact subsidies for suffering farmers to offset political pain. Some usually compliant conservative senators cried foul, with Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson sputtering, "This is becoming more and more like a Soviet type of economy here: Commissars deciding who's going to be granted waivers, commissars in the administration figuring out how they're going to sprinkle around benefits."

When conservatives accuse a Republican president of pushing policies that create a "Soviet type of economy" you know we're through the looking glass.

But Tuesday's litany of lies and obfuscation reached a new peak with the release on CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time" of a 2016 tape between Trump and his consigliere Michael Cohen, discussing a $150,000, possibly "cash" payment to the owner of the National Enquirer to quiet Karen McDougal, who'd alleged an affair with Trump. The Trump campaign and later the White House had outright denied this affair and the alleged payoff. Perhaps President Trump's earlier admonition for his VFW crowd was meant as anticipatory defense: "Just remember, what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening."

This desperate search for an alternate reality is not a hallmark of democracy or past Republican presidents. But it is evident in another news story that quietly dropped Tuesday night: The President has banned the viewing of any cable news station on Air Force One other than Fox News, after he allegedly caught the First Lady watching CNN.

These actions, a snapshot of less than 24 hours in the Trump presidency, and the increasingly absurd defense of the indefensible, leads someplace far more dangerous. It ends up endorsing the idea that truth doesn't matter and that a president's litany of lies should not be over-indexed or seen as destructive to our democracy. In sum, "get over it -- our guy won." In this world view, power and nationalism provide their own imperatives -- an idea more commonly advanced by the Chinese government, which also on Tuesday imposed their final deadline on US airlines to change the name of Taiwan on their maps and websites -- a move which the Trump administration had previously (and accurately) described as "Orwellian nonsense."

Reality Check: Truth does matter. History shows that the honesty of the president matters. Clear-eyed confrontation of any attempt by a modern day "ministry of truth" to blur the distinction between fact and fiction is a core responsibility of citizens and journalists alike. Democracy depends on facts made available to citizens in a self-governing society. That's the gospel of truth at the heart of what Abraham Lincoln once called our "political religion."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 749097

Reported Deaths: 13745
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1030271775
Lake554211006
Allen41613691
St. Joseph36933564
Hamilton36505416
Elkhart29347459
Tippecanoe22849225
Vanderburgh22540400
Porter19313325
Johnson18386387
Hendricks17583317
Clark13190193
Madison13111344
Vigo12602253
LaPorte12385221
Monroe12152175
Delaware10947197
Howard10250225
Kosciusko9609119
Hancock8541144
Bartholomew8158157
Warrick7854156
Floyd7763180
Grant7227179
Wayne7154201
Boone6911103
Morgan6735141
Dubois6211118
Marshall6205116
Cass5989108
Henry5893108
Dearborn588878
Noble579786
Jackson508374
Shelby500697
Lawrence4727121
Gibson444093
Harrison440473
Clinton439855
DeKalb438585
Montgomery433890
Whitley405642
Huntington402181
Steuben398659
Miami392568
Jasper386254
Knox375690
Putnam371860
Wabash360583
Ripley346470
Adams344955
Jefferson335685
White329753
Daviess3028100
Wells294881
Decatur289992
Greene286385
Fayette284664
Posey273735
LaGrange272872
Scott269855
Clay265448
Randolph244683
Washington244534
Jennings235149
Spencer234131
Starke227558
Fountain218347
Sullivan213943
Owen210858
Fulton201542
Jay200832
Carroll193420
Orange188055
Perry186937
Rush175626
Vermillion173544
Franklin170135
Tipton165746
Parke148916
Pike137934
Blackford136032
Pulaski120047
Newton112636
Brown103943
Crawford102316
Benton100814
Martin91415
Warren83515
Switzerland8098
Union72810
Ohio57811
Unassigned0421

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1107047

Reported Deaths: 20091
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1284921459
Cuyahoga1155972204
Hamilton812991245
Montgomery524821040
Summit48339999
Lucas43303817
Butler38901603
Stark33286929
Lorain25641502
Warren24557303
Mahoning22330601
Lake21135385
Clermont20097252
Delaware18817135
Licking16645222
Fairfield16561204
Trumbull16522479
Medina15593270
Greene15252246
Clark14219306
Wood13280197
Portage13226214
Allen11905239
Richland11598211
Miami10835223
Wayne9116222
Columbiana9020230
Muskingum8889135
Pickaway8649122
Marion8635138
Tuscarawas8633247
Erie8052164
Ashtabula7137179
Hancock6996131
Ross6933161
Geauga6832150
Scioto6528104
Belmont6149174
Union583849
Lawrence5722102
Jefferson5669158
Huron5539122
Sandusky5436125
Darke5415129
Seneca5343126
Washington5308109
Athens523360
Auglaize501587
Mercer487385
Shelby476195
Knox4567112
Madison443765
Ashland435197
Putnam4333103
Fulton431871
Defiance431798
Crawford4033110
Brown401961
Logan387277
Preble3847103
Clinton378466
Ottawa372681
Highland359265
Williams347578
Champaign343658
Guernsey324153
Jackson317354
Perry297150
Morrow291340
Fayette285450
Hardin274865
Henry273267
Holmes2698101
Coshocton268359
Van Wert247264
Adams242856
Pike242735
Gallia240450
Wyandot234556
Hocking220162
Carroll196748
Paulding176342
Meigs148240
Monroe136144
Noble135839
Harrison113638
Morgan109624
Vinton85417
Unassigned03
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Tuesday is another mostly sunny and comfortable day with a small chance of a stray afternoon shower or sprinkle.
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