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."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Confirmed Cases: 22464

Reported Deaths: 942
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin7540565
Ramsey2610103
Stearns198412
Nobles14883
Anoka126259
Dakota118244
Olmsted57510
Washington56230
Kandiyohi4751
Rice4112
Clay40625
Scott3792
Todd2960
Wright2691
Sherburne2192
Mower2161
Carver1852
Benton1692
Steele1480
Martin1265
Blue Earth1221
St. Louis11513
Freeborn970
Pine850
Winona7815
Nicollet747
Carlton730
Cottonwood650
Otter Tail620
Unassigned6110
Goodhue603
Watonwan590
Polk592
Crow Wing571
Itasca537
Chisago501
Dodge460
Chippewa441
Meeker440
Le Sueur431
Morrison400
Douglas390
Jackson390
Becker370
Murray360
Lyon360
Isanti330
McLeod290
Waseca240
Rock210
Swift170
Pennington170
Mille Lacs171
Fillmore171
Wabasha170
Brown142
Faribault130
Beltrami130
Sibley130
Cass122
Norman110
Wilkin113
Kanabec111
Pipestone100
Marshall90
Pope80
Wadena80
Aitkin70
Koochiching70
Yellow Medicine60
Lincoln50
Renville50
Mahnomen51
Red Lake40
Traverse30
Big Stone30
Clearwater30
Redwood30
Grant30
Lac qui Parle30
Houston20
Lake10
Hubbard10
Roseau10
Kittson10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 18342

Reported Deaths: 496
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk3876115
Woodbury265831
Black Hawk171343
Linn93876
Marshall87815
Dallas87317
Buena Vista6820
Johnson6058
Muscatine54741
Wapello5384
Crawford4882
Tama40026
Scott34610
Louisa33610
Dubuque33016
Jasper25716
Pottawattamie2277
Sioux2100
Washington1858
Wright1240
Allamakee1194
Plymouth1191
Warren1140
Story961
Poweshiek888
Mahaska888
Bremer676
Henry671
Clinton601
Des Moines581
Boone560
Taylor480
Cedar461
Guthrie443
Clarke400
Benton391
Jones360
Iowa360
Monroe354
Shelby350
Clayton313
Buchanan310
Osceola310
Marion300
Webster291
Hamilton280
Madison261
Fayette260
Monona240
Lee230
Cherokee230
Winneshiek230
Cerro Gordo221
Davis200
Jefferson190
Harrison190
Lyon190
Grundy190
Floyd181
Sac170
Mills160
Hardin150
Butler150
Delaware150
Humboldt140
Ida140
Keokuk140
Hancock140
Appanoose133
Jackson130
Dickinson130
Clay130
Greene130
Howard120
Audubon121
Winnebago110
Cass110
Page100
Van Buren90
Franklin90
Carroll90
Pocahontas90
Chickasaw80
Emmet80
Unassigned80
Kossuth80
Adair70
Adams70
Lucas70
Union60
Montgomery60
Mitchell50
Ringgold40
Fremont40
Palo Alto30
Worth30
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Decatur10
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