On November 14, 2017 President Donald Trump had broken 1,600 lies, according to the Washington Post. By Jan 11, 2018 he surpassed 2,000 documented misstatements. As Rachel Madow, on the Rachel Madow Show, inferred, last week the lies come at you with such rapidity there’s no time to check on one before the next one lands. Nor is the president the only purveyor of “alternate facts” in his administration. Everyone seemingly does it. A press secretary looks in the camera and tells us the Trump inauguration is the biggest in history and says it in the face of a picture that shows wide swaths of the mall with no people on it. Cabinet members lie, administrators lie. It’s like a party game. The is the question, “Why is America taking this assault on the truth sitting down?” (Ed. Note: readers you should refer to the articles of February 11 and 18 as precursors to this one.)
A popular expression for the past 150 years, often uttered in America by Mark Twain is, “There are lies, damned lied, and statistics.” We can take that to mean that our lives are cushioned by untruths; we live in a box packed with lies. Turn on the radio, the TV, the lies abound.
Take the concept of the half hour show. It’s actually only about 22 minutes. The rest of the time is pitch time. One of my least favorite is this. The pitch that even though the IRS has a free program to help people who are in tax trouble, you ought to hire this firm or that “who know the program better than anyone.” Better than the IRS knows its own program? I mean, c’mon now!
Mostly polls don’t lie, the people who interpret them do or the people who pay for them do by using this number and that tidbit. When taken from the whole, this monkeying around changes the meaning of the results. Change the context, change the meaning.
In her article “Cutting down the Dissonance: The Psychology of Gullibility” Christina Valhouli talks of “how quickly people embrace some kinds of ideas without subjecting them to critical scrutiny. The human propensity to accept ideas at face value–no matter how illogical–is the fertile soil in which pseudo-science grows.” Valhouli points out that it is easy to dismiss this as…eccentric,” but the propensity “can pose concrete dangers to individuals; they occasionally even affect society.” Nancy Reagan’s psychic and Hillary Clinton’s “talks” with Eleanor Roosevelt are cited.
Scot Lilienfed, at Emory University points to “the information explosion” as one reason people tend to believe what’s tossed at them. On her show, As noted Rachel Madow said of the White House news cycles and scandals that they come so fast that when she tries to sit down and dig into one more and more of them hit her desk. So it seems when Hope Hicks, former White House Senior Adviser to President Trump says before a Congressional committee that she has told, “white lies” for the president, America hardly blinked. The Congress and Special Council did, but the rest of us took it for granted because like Rachel, we can’t keep up. Or we expect it. Or both.
“Once you have a belief,” Dr. Tory Higgins, chair of the Psychology department at Columbia University told Christina Valouli, “it changes the way you look at evidence. One is more likely to support evidence that favors what one already believes and avoid what contradicts it, according to Higgins. Dr. Robert Glick, also of Columbia, calls doing this, “societal pain relievers.” After all who wants to look at a picture of a broken ice flow that has trapped a mother polar bear and cub. It’s painful. And if you accept the science behind the picture, it is even more painful–and this is psychology. It gets even more difficult when you add political beliefs.
Therefore I postulate that the same holds for the political realm. Democrat or Republican, no American wants to believe the Washington Post when it tells the reader that the President of our United States by their count has told over 2,000 falsehoods in just one year of governing. Who wants to believe that young, beautiful, doe-eyed Hope Hicks’ even though the white lies were on occasion real whoppers with grave policy implications? Or believe it when Interior Secretary Zinke, sitting on a horse overlooking a national park vista that makes one’s heart swell with patriotic pride, tells us that this area is an unlikely choice for oil and gas exploration so we are shocked when in fact he announces leases for just such drilling will be approved and that he is removing about 2/3 of the whole park from Federal protection. Another example? It is so silly that Secretary Menuchin would request a federal plane at tax-payer expense for his honeymoon that we laugh it off, or when another numb skull tries to pass off a family vacation to Europe as a policy trip and “charges it to us.”
So what’s the answer to this tsunami of falsehoods? Well grandma always used to say, “Don’t believe everything you read.” Even though grandma is long gone, add “hear” to that, and it’s still sound advice. We owe it to ourselves as citizens of this nation to become critical thinkers. It isn’t so much “you get what you deserve.” It’s more, “You get what you allow yourself to be given.” If we don’t think more critically we will all drown in the lake Pogo’s boat was floating in when he said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”