Editorial: Trump’s lies destroy freedom; one antidote is ‘digital civics’
“The war for truth is now the war to preserve our democracy,” is how New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman summed up the state of the union in the wake of Trump’s defeat and his willingness to fabricate falsehoods about fraudulent votes and rigged elections.
Friedman’s fraught warning has been five years in the making, ever since Trump stepped onto the political stage with a particular aversion to truth, honesty and reality.
Here are the honest facts of this election: Biden is poised to win 306 electoral college votes leaving Trump with 232 — the same margin of victory that Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016 and claimed a national mandate with his overwhelming “landslide”, even though Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton by over 3 million. Biden is nearing 5 million popular votes more than Trump, and if that number grows as expected (after California finishes its count) Biden will have beaten Trump by more popular votes than President Obama had over Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. Romney lost to Obama by about 4.9 million votes, or 47.1 % to Obama’s 50.9%. In other words, the popular vote for Joe Biden was a outright rejection of Trump.
And yet, Trump refuses to concede the election, as most Republican Party leaders are cowering on the sidelines or pandering to his claims that the election was rigged to keep in Trump’s good graces.
Shameful? Yes, but it’s also destructive to the nation’s democratic traditions. Here’s why in the words of Friedman:
“Lying has been normalized (by Trump and the Republican Party) at a scale we’ve never seen before… People who do not share truths can’t defeat a pandemic, can’t defend the Constitution and can’t turn the page after a bad leader… It is impossible to maintain a free society when leaders and news purveyors feel at liberty to spread lies without sanction. Without truth there is no agreed-upon path forward, and without trust there is no way to go down that path together.”
It’s bad enough that Trump has fostered a political party that is so willing to disavow the truth, but at least in the early years of Trump’s presidency, some in his party worried about getting caught and facing public scorn. That’s no longer the case, Friedman says.
“They don’t seem to care about being caught. They know, as the saying goes, that their lies are already halfway around the world before the truth has laced up its shoes. That’s all they care about. Just pollute the world with falsehoods and then no one will know what is true.
“And it nearly worked. Trump proved over five years that you could lie multiple times a day — multiple times a minute — and not just win election but almost win re-election.”
Trump’s lies spread beyond himself to contaminate much of the Republican Party, Friedman wrote, and they did so because Republican voters were so easily duped.
“Because Trump not only liberated himself from truth, he liberated others to tell their lies or spread his — and reap the benefits,” Friedman continues. “His party’s elders did not care, as long as he kept the base energized and voting red. Fox News didn’t care, as long as he kept its viewers glued to the channel and its ratings high. Major social networks only barely cared, as long he kept their users online and their numbers growing. Many of his voters — even evangelicals — did not care, as long as he appointed anti-abortion judges. They are ‘pro-life,’ but not always pro-truth.”
Insightfully, Friedman traces the start of Trump’s realization he could spread lies to his benefit with the fiction of “birtherism.”
“When Trump was allowed to spread the “birther” lie for years — that Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii, was actually born in Kenya and was therefore ineligible to be president — he realized he could get away with anything. Sure, Trump eventually gave that one up, but once he saw how easily he could steal … the truth — he just kept doing it, until he stole the soul of the Republican Party. And, had he been re-elected, he would have stolen the soul of this nation.
“He and his collaborators are now making one last bid to use the Big Lie to destroy our democracy by delegitimizing one of its greatest moments ever — when a record number of citizens came out to vote, and their votes were legitimately counted, amid a deadly and growing pandemic.
“It is so corrupt what Trump and his allies are doing, so dangerous to our constitutional system, but you weep even more for how many of their followers have bought into it….
“That is why it’s vital that every reputable news organization — especially television, Facebook and Twitter — adopt what I call the Trump Rule. If any official utters an obvious falsehood or fact-free allegation, the interview should be immediately terminated, just as many networks did with Trump’s lie-infested, postelection news conference last week. If critics scream ‘censorship,’ just shout back ‘truth.’
“This must become the new normal. Politicians need to be terrified every time they go on TV that the plug will be pulled on them if they lie.”
Friedman takes the fight against Trump’s corrosive presidency one step further by suggesting that if the nation is to preserve its democracy, we need to educate all Americans about the pros and cons of the digital information era we live in.
“We need to require every K-12 school in America to include digital civics — how to determine and crosscheck if something you read on the Internet is true — in their curriculum. You should not be able to graduate without it. 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.”
We couldn’t agree more.
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