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 3:41 AM
Updated: Jul 26, 2018 3:41 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."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 261167

Reported Deaths: 5713
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17561191
Hinds16687329
Harrison14050202
Rankin11102217
Jackson10729188
Lee9014143
Madison8495168
Jones6607114
Forrest6135122
Lauderdale6067192
Lowndes5490120
Lafayette511794
Lamar499865
Washington4904125
Bolivar4087109
Oktibbeha403581
Panola380981
Pontotoc374757
Monroe3651106
Warren3649103
Union353263
Marshall352069
Neshoba3464154
Pearl River3422105
Leflore3090109
Lincoln304287
Sunflower290373
Hancock288461
Tate279062
Alcorn270754
Pike268180
Itawamba266662
Scott256048
Yazoo253756
Prentiss251153
Copiah247649
Tippah247550
Coahoma245954
Simpson241471
Leake236167
Grenada222471
Marion220273
Covington219072
Adams212370
Wayne208432
Winston205870
George203539
Newton197346
Attala196461
Tishomingo193861
Chickasaw188444
Jasper177838
Holmes171368
Clay164237
Tallahatchie155635
Stone149525
Clarke144762
Calhoun139922
Smith127725
Yalobusha121134
Walthall114037
Greene112929
Noxubee112225
Montgomery111236
Carroll106422
Lawrence105617
Perry104031
Amite100826
Webster95424
Tunica88221
Claiborne87825
Jefferson Davis87727
Benton84823
Humphreys84224
Kemper80020
Quitman7049
Franklin69617
Choctaw62513
Wilkinson59625
Jefferson56520
Sharkey44817
Issaquena1606
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 436087

Reported Deaths: 6486
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson63969994
Mobile31211565
Madison27851208
Tuscaloosa21233271
Montgomery19698326
Shelby19093130
Baldwin16981188
Lee13036105
Morgan12526134
Etowah11987179
Calhoun11441206
Marshall10357123
Houston8886158
Limestone827876
Cullman8203108
Elmore8120104
DeKalb7828103
Lauderdale7798103
St. Clair7763125
Talladega6394111
Walker6002177
Jackson594644
Colbert545276
Blount543986
Autauga532761
Coffee456762
Dale406883
Franklin372448
Russell349212
Chilton342873
Covington336068
Escambia330144
Dallas312096
Tallapoosa3120107
Chambers301170
Clarke293336
Pike261131
Marion251558
Lawrence250752
Winston232742
Bibb221248
Geneva208746
Marengo206529
Pickens199031
Hale182742
Barbour179337
Fayette177029
Butler172459
Cherokee164330
Henry158224
Monroe151320
Randolph144336
Washington140127
Clay129146
Crenshaw122944
Macon120937
Cleburne120724
Lamar119721
Lowndes113736
Wilcox106622
Bullock102228
Perry99118
Conecuh96821
Sumter90026
Greene76823
Coosa63215
Choctaw51724
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