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
According 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.
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?