True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information. – Winston Churchill
Fraud and falsehood only dread examination. Truth invites it. – Thomas Cooper
Frank A. Pelaschuk
What is truth?
We cannot ask our leaders because too many are strangers to truth. We hear America’s president Donald Trump and Ontario’s Doug Ford and their gang members talk constantly of “fake” news both refusing to answer questions they don’t like or from reporters they consider unsympathetic or, as does Trump, as “enemies of the American people”, i.e., Trump himself. Some, as had Ford, steal pages from others, making a show of media scrums with staff members in attendance solely for the purpose of loudly drowning out questions posed by members of the press and/or to show support for the new premier at taxpayer expense.
Theirs is the method of tyrants, bullies and liars who fear scrutiny and reject the notion of an open society and the public’s right to know for they are aware that with an open society comes the onus of responsibility and care in how one acts and what one says. For such as these, this kind of responsibility is restrictive and intolerable because it naturally lends to scrutiny and scepticism often in the form of pointed questions demanding honest responses. From most of our leaders, we seldom get that and, from some, Trump and Ford, almost never. A truly free society must, perforce, include and support a truly free press, a press free to ask questions without risk of intimidation, threat and reprisal notions that are anathema to the despotically inclined. Even so, even for Trump and Ford, shutting down the media is not an option while ignoring it too obvious: What is there to fear tenuous supporters may ask. More acceptable, even to those very supporters to whom Ford panders and whose tax dollars he says he wants to save and likely with a prayer of thanks to Stephen Harper, is the creation of his own taxpayer funded propaganda machine on the government website. That way he not only responds to soft questions from “fake” party hack “journalists” (conservative staffers) with his own version of the “facts”, he can also offer the constant iteration of how the mainstream media have it “in” for him and his supporters. You see, one constant in the mostly conservative war against the press is this: For Trump, Ford and all their kind, they are always victims of a vast conspiracy; anyone challenging or questioning them is out to “get” them and “those” folks out to get them are usually members of the “liberal establishment elites”.
For Ford and Trump and all their kind, there is no truth, no fact, but the truth and fact of what propels their agenda, their goals, their party and personal ambitions. Nothing more forcefully demonstrates this than the comments made by two members of Donald Trump’s inner circle. In January 2017, Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, during an interview on Meet the Press, infamously defended Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s vastly inflated estimate of the crowd size during Trump’s inauguration saying Spicer “gave alternative facts…”! Not to be outdone, Rudolph Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, appearing on the same show 20 months later, claimed that “Truth isn’t truth” a reaffirmation of the hidebound denialism of those who refuse to be open to anything but their own version of a gong show reality. For them, truth is a crap shoot, it is immaterial, a hindrance and unacceptable when it conflicts with their mythology. Even with the best will in the world, they cannot be offered the benefit of the doubt of having misspoke. There is no doubt. They may be vile but they are not necessarily stupid people; there is no misspeaking: they deliberately lie seeking to drag us into their Alice-in-Wonderland worldview, a world that many of their supporters apparently willingly inhabit of blind, unquestioning adherence to a belief or philosophy and/or, more likely, “a gut feeling”, that all things that do not conform to what they want to believe, to hear and to have confirmed, are suspect, wrong and not to be trusted. For me, it is difficult to declare for whom I hold the most contempt…those tin-pot despots eager to exploit and manipulate or those who gladly soak it in with minds in neutral and eyes glazed. For petty autocrats, such supporters are a bonanza for any claims of “fake news” are fodder to them who often seem prone to conspiracy theories (the American government was behind 9/11; Obama is not an American; the earth is flat and our governments don’t want us to know). These folk, who likely haven’t read a complete newspaper article in years let alone a newspaper, often appear to receive, and pass on, their information from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter sources written by unknown, unreliable and dishonest attention seeking noisemakers with solid assurances that “this is real”.
In a way, sadly, it is, even if a really stupid way to inform oneself; theirs is a world lived online wherein only that with which they find agreeable is acceptable. Politicians of the ilk of Ford love this for these are the kind of people they hope to reach; it’s about winning and what better way to do so than playing on ignorance and manipulating the fears and baser instincts as did Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander during the last election campaign and as Maxime Bernier, one-time leadership candidate for the Conservative party and loser to Andrew Scheer does today. While not all Conservatives are mean, the gang under Stephen Harper, many of whom still hold office under Scheer, are a nasty lot, Bernier particularly so because, beneath his impeccably manicured facade, there resides a foul cretin loudly and proudly broadcasting the depths to which he will sink in the form of bigotry that so many Conservative supporters find so appealing.
For Conservative supporters, however, not even the pretence of ambition can be offered as an excuse for vile attitudes; all they have is self-pity and the need to blame: nothing is their fault. For them, and always with encouragement from those willing to use them, there is the inchoate feelings of uneasiness, suspicion and anger: the world is a fearful, dangerous place and they are hapless victims, pawns of others: Big Government, Big Business, Big Unions; the list is endless; they are being dragged and held down by immutable forces they cannot and never had the ability to fight against. They are scared and told they are right to be frightened. They feel themselves losing and feel they are losers and are told they are losing and are losers. They long for something, anything, that will give their lives a sense of purpose and of fulfillment; they want change but feel helpless and floundering in their daily struggle because all they know is they want change, more and better but change from what and to what they are mostly unable to articulate. Ask any supporter of Trump or Doug Ford and their ilk what it is they want change from. Chances are, they cannot. They want easy fixes in the way of easy answers and grand promises. They want assurances they are, indeed, victims, that they deserve better, and that there is a fix.
And if you were to ask them why they believe the mainstream media is “fake”, they again will likely fail the test because the probability is they feed off bloggers with an agenda (mischief, political, who really knows?), from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as noted above or from those Snake-Oil political salesmen slithering into their lives with the cure-all elixir for all the fears and ills of their lives; perhaps Ford’s “a-buck-a-beer” is the answer; they may need it when the costs of his cuts begin to add up.
Curiously, even as they proclaim distrust of politicians, they still insist on lapping up the same vague promises and poisonous nonsense by those very same people who have lied to them time and again.
But why? Certainly it is not because they seek honest men and women. If so, most in office having proven themselves liars would have been gone long ago. They certainly don’t want truthful people because, again, most of our elected folk would be long gone. Politicians are fond of saying, “Voters know best”. That’s what they like to say for public consumption. They also know better. Voters often make no effort to examine or understand party platforms. Doug Ford offered no detailed platform as he campaigned; even so, he won with a majority. Ontario voters simply did not care; they wanted change and opted for someone who offered nothing rather than the NDP party that did. They did not need to reflect on that they heard, read or saw because they wanted nothing to reflect on. These were not intelligent voters. And that, too, elated conservatives.
It could be that voters are simply too lazy, too willing to let others do their thinking for them, to let others tell them what they want and what they need. Maybe they love playing the role of mothered baby: yes, you are a victim, yes, the world is out to get you, yes, you need me to care for you, to love you, to save you money. Voters must accept responsibility but that requires effort to understand the political issues that affect their lives and be able to differentiate between want and need. Everyone wants to be well off but we all need good health. We must set our priorities and among them is to determine fact from fancy; it is not enough to embrace only that with which we agree but embrace instead that which works towards our interests and which includes the interests and welfare of others. We are, for better or worse, members of one community; tribalism as practiced by too many of our politicians leads to insularity and exclusion; it damages and fractures and encourages anger, blame and suspicion. How can we trust any politician who appeals to the worst in us and who states he knows all the answers while refusing to acknowledge let alone even listen to the voices of others? We cannot. There is nothing wrong with ambition or having goals; there is with using any method, fair or foul, to achieve those aims. Demonizing the media as a fraternity of “lickspittle elites” by which is meant, and in which is included, not only journalists but also educators, jurists, scientists, artists, business folk and, yes, even politicians who happen to disagree with them, is diversionary, divisive and destructive. How can knowledge be the enemy of anyone let alone a nation?
Truth has nothing to do with the revision of history or the denial of another’s humanity. Too many Conservatives do not seem to understand that. Nor is truth achieved by undoing the works of another simply because that work was done by that other. Trump, Ford and ilk of their kind are anti-truth simply because truth will not serve their purpose. They are despoilers and haters and serve no one but themselves and their friends. They are anti-democratic rigging the game as Harper sought to do with his so-called Fair Elections Act and as Ford seeks to do with his gerrymandering interference of the Toronto municipal election just months away.
What is truth? Rudolph Giuliani has it wrong; there is no My Truth or Your Truth. There is only Truth. What purpose does it serve in your daily life? Do you care? You should. Information from any source, particularly political, should not be swallowed holus-bolus. It must be studied carefully, evaluated with even greater care and then mulled over some more. Truth is not always easy, it may offend you because it is not what you want to hear. But if, in reasoning, you embrace it as true even as every fibre in your being may scream in opposition, it just may be. Our politicians will never be the answer; knowledge is.
But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing. – Thomas Paine
They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Benjamin Franklin