Donald Trump is waging a global war on truth. He is the anti-truth president. From Trump steaks to his “university” to his support of the “birther” movement against Barack Obama, he’s perpetually selling lies. Now he’s selling lies on a global stage. By making everything potentially a lie, e.g. climate change as a “Chinese hoax,” Trump is doing his best to demolish facts, paving the way to do whatever he pleases.
Trump believes he can have his own facts and tweet them too. We can blame Trump for being the vain, venal, and vile man that he is, but America elected him (yes, not all Americans, but enough to carry the Electoral College). He’s a con man, a crafty one, and the media can’t look away, nor can the rest of us.
How did we end up with Trump and his assault on truth? I’d like to focus on two reasons. The first was noted by Bernie Sanders back in September of 1998. Then a congressman, Sanders noted how the Democratic Party under the Clinton regime, with its corporate-friendly pursuit of “free” trade and feel-good globalization, was screwing the working classes. Sanders then issued the following warning (in an editorial in The Nation entitled, “Globalization’s the Issue”):
Right-wing populists like Pat Buchanan are lining up to ride to power on public fear and anger about globalization. If corporate globalism continues to result in deteriorating conditions of life for ordinary Americans, we’re likely to see a rise of scapegoating demagogy and virulent right-wing economic nationalism.
Scapegoating demagogy? Trump and Mexicans, Trump and Muslims, Trump and immigrants in general. Right-wing economic nationalism? Trump and “making America great again” through massive military spending and weapons exports combined with tax cuts that are sold as helping the poor even as they reward the rich.
By betraying the working classes and becoming yet another business party, the Clinton Democrats helped pave the way for right-wing populists and unprincipled opportunists like Trump. Indeed, by running the corporate-friendly Hillary Clinton against Trump in 2016, the Democratic Party turned its back on their own populist, Bernie Sanders, who genuinely was (and is) concerned with helping the working classes.
The second reason for Trump’s assault on truth has been all around us for decades, but it was exacerbated by the 9/11 attacks. Think back to the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers, and Watergate. If there’s one thing we learned from these debacles, it’s how much our government lies to us. Now fast-forward to 9/11. In the aftermath of those attacks, the Bush/Cheney administration did its level best to deflect all responsibility, and especially their responsibility, for the attack. Al Qaeda inflicted a major defeat on the U.S., yet no one took the blame. The buck stopped nowhere. Instead, Bush/Cheney drove a climate of fear and revenge, attacking Afghanistan followed by a disastrous war in Iraq.
By turning so quickly to war on a massive scale, Bush/Cheney knew that most Americans would rally around the flag. They further cynically used the moment to pass the PATRIOT Act to extend their power and that of the government. Choosing not to rally Americans, they instead made them fearful, obedient, and passive (Go to Disney! Go shopping!).
The leaders and the government that so badly let us down on 9/11 worked to convince us that only those same leaders and government could keep us safe after 9/11. Bush/Cheney and Crew, in essence, told a Big Lie that led, I think directly, to a Big Liar being elected as president in 2016. But I don’t just blame Bush/Cheney. The Obama administration refused to call these men to account, e.g. no prosecution for torture and other war crimes. Furthermore, Obama expanded the legacy of illegal surveillance, excessive secrecy, and incessant warfare that has characterized the manic opportunism of a government that refuses accountability, whether for the defeat of 9/11 or for the ongoing disasters of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, et al.
Long in the making, Trump’s victory march of 2016 quickened its pace in the aftermath of 9/11 and all the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-anything-I-don’t-like, hysteria stirred up by Bush/Cheney and Crew. But its impetus goes back further: to the lies and deceptions revealed by the Pentagon Papers, to the sordid lies and cover-ups of Watergate, and to the abandonment of the working classes by Democrats, the latter of which provided fertile soil for right-wing populist demagogy to take root and grow.
Whether led by democrats or republicans, our government has been telling us so many lies for so long that it’s not surprising we now have a president whose chief skill is as a con man and a liar. His global war on truth is the culmination of too much governmental lying and too little attention paid to the real needs of ordinary Americans.
William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He has taught at the Air Force Academy, the Naval Postgraduate School, and the Pennsylvania College of Technology. His personal blog is BracingViews.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.