How much does the truth matter? Too little in politics.

Count me among those who were rocked by the vitriol of the presidential campaign and shocked by the outcome. I suggest one of the reasons for public dismay was an inability to believe what we heard. It appeared that putting truth behind the words mattered little to either candidate.

From the earliest days of the campaign, candidates displayed alarming disregard for the truth. This is a common complaint with every election, but the problem crescendoed this year. Each candidate accused the other of lying while simultaneously spouting falsehoods of their own.

Fact Checking the Truth in Claims

Donald J. TrumpAccording to independent fact checker Politifact, 70% of the claims made by Candidate Donald J. Trump were judged Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire false. Only 15% of claims he made were gauged True or Mostly True.

Claims made by Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, were gauged to be Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire false 26% of the time. Over half (51%) of the claims Clinton made were gauged True or Mostly True.

Hillary ClintonShould Clinton supporters feel smug because their candidate lied less than Trump? Because only a quarter of the things she said were false? No.

Would any of us accept our children lying to us a quarter of the time, let alone 70% of the time? Our spouse? A friend? A business associate?

Maybe I’m bent out of shape over nothing. Do I care that Trump lied when he said he drew bigger crowds than Beyonce and Jay Z? My inclination was to blow it off. Who cares who gets bigger crowds?

But, when Trump said at a campaign rally that President Obama “spent so much time screaming at a protester, and frankly it was a disgrace,” he flat out lied, fabricating a situation, ripping down the President, who had, in fact defended the protester. Meanwhile, Trump had himself shouted down protesters many times. That I care about.

One of the greatest strikes against Hillary Clinton was that the public believed her untrustworthy. Initially, I cut her slack about the emails. I believed what she said. Much unsubstantiated ado about nothing, I thought. When it finally became clear beyond a reasonable doubt that she lied about the emails, I was heart sick.

I should care about all lies. Because they all speak to character. Yet, I made excuses for Clinton just as others made excuses for Trump. We sank into a tar pit this year, apparently willing to accept candidates for whom lying and corruption are standard procedure.

The Impact of Lying

The results of lying are many. A damaged reputation for the speaker. Difficulty going forward, because what can you believe when someone lies about even the smallest things? A disillusioned, disheartened, apathetic, cynical public. Greater distrust in the political system as a whole.

If the candidates don’t care enough to build trust in their audiences by searching out, presenting, and sticking to the truth, how can they expect us to care about them? Yet, apparently, we did.

What can we do?

How do we climb out of the tar pit? I’m trying to figure it out. I know I need to care more at the outset. I need to vet candidates more closely. Speak up. Speak out. Because the weight of our current situation isn’t just on the candidates; it’s on all of us. We will get more of what we accept.

I want to believe what people say. I need to believe what people say. I’m desperate to believe my president. Words matter.

How did you process the ongoing, escalating falsehoods during this presidential election? How much does it bother you that candidates play so fast and loose with words and facts? What do you propose we do about it?

Comments

  1. Nan Johnson says:

    Great questions at the end of another excellent post, Carol. Our right to vote – the very foundation of the democratic process – becomes meaningless when the information we need to make our choices is false. The right to free speech was badly abused; this precious right should be revered, used honorably and for revealing truth. Leaders have no power to lead when they don’t have the trust of the people. The media and how we get our news is another issue we will grapple with, but honesty, integrity, and truth must be the stuff our leaders are made of.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Well said, Nan. Somehow we’ve gotten so far from the values most of us were taught as children. I hate to think that like drug addicts and alcoholics we have to hit rock bottom before we can begin to crawl back up. We’ll see.

  2. I’m with you Carol. It time for all of us to wake up and examine what
    those who up for election are all about. And yes, it was quite evident that we were lied to on both sides.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      I do think it’s on us (We the people) that we came to such a situation. And it’s up to us individually and collectively to do something about it.

  3. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder says:

    As a Canadian, I was not able to vote in your election, but the outcome certainly does affect us as your closest neighbours as well. Most of us were in shocked disbelief at the result, and are still reeling. My family knows from personal experience how devastated a country can become when self-serving tyrants are at the helm. My great grandmother and her family left Ukraine in the 1920s; my grandmother stayed and she and her family endured horrible suffering. My family fled in the 1940s and remained refugees for years. I see the writing on the wall. Psalm 121 calms and sustains me as it did my ancestors before me: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      Your family has an important story to tell that’s relevant to our times, Elfrieda. People keep saying, Give Trump a chance. He’s really not so bad as he seems. I know he’s our president for the next four years, but that doesn’t mean his actions go unchallenged. That’s our responsibility as citizens, too.

      Psalm 121 is one that I’ve returned to over my lifetime. A useful reminder.

  4. I’m with you about the need for truth telling as a foundation both for personal morality and for democracy, Carol. The role of “fake news” and social media in general has made me tempted to leave Facebook and Twitter. I haven’t quite decided to pull the plug, but I might.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      I’ve pulled back on social media, too, Shirley. It raises my blood pressure every time I look. I read recently that a majority of the public gets their news from Facebook. The percentage that actually read a newspaper is relatively minor. I fear for us if what gets passed around on social media is seen as the truth. Maybe we have to swing way out on this unvetted news pendulum before we come back to realizing that real journalists serve a a legitimate and necessary purpose.

  5. Carol — I can tell you with certainty that if I lied like the recent lie-fest that took place publicly and shamelessly during the recent political campaign, my mother would have washed my mouth out with soap and sent me to my room to think about my unacceptable actions until the cows came home.

    I don’t understand why there are no consequences for the blatant display of unacceptable behavior.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      We’d never have gotten away with it either, Laurie. My sense is that the only people who can create consequences for the liars are we who vote. Of course that requires that we dig out the truth and call candidates to account. Many media and other outlets are fact checking the claims. I read those columns after every speech, but what I haven’t done is confront the candidates. That’s the next step for me. This election made me see I have to quit sitting on the sidelines.

  6. Chuck Robertson says:

    There is really nowhere you can go for the unbiased truth. Even the media has their own biases, whether they are aware of it or not. All you can do is get your info from a lot of different sources and make up your own mind about what is true.

    • Carol Bodensteiner says:

      You are absolutely correct, Chuck. The truth is quite different from the facts, and even the facts may be open to interpretation. Frequently when I’m talking about memoir writing, I make the point to audiences that if we all wrote about what happened in the room in the past 15 minutes, we’d all write something different because we all come to the situation with different points of view, different biases.

      My concern about this campaign cycle was that the candidates frequently ignored even the most basic verifiable facts. Listeners couldn’t pedal fast enough to keep up with the fake news. The credibility of politicians spirals down, creating greater apathy among voters who feel they have no control. The more lies, the faster the downward spiral. Will voters be willing to do the work to ferret out the ‘truth’? We’ll see.

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