What role does truth play in our political discourse?
In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, numerous media outlets and Democratic officials swiftly adopted a common dual theme: Donald Trump was encouraging an atmosphere of violence, and he was somehow anti-Semitic.
Unlike many partisan diatribes, these allegations contained not even a shred of reality. One could respond to them by discussing the president’s close family members who are Jewish, or that his foreign policy is more pro-Israel than any of his predecessors.
It could also be pointed out that those making the charge support a political party that had Keith Ellison as its deputy chair, a former congressman who since Tuesday’s elections is now Minnesota’s attorney general-elect. He has been associated with Louis Farrakhan, who considers Jews “termites.” It may also be mentioned that the former Democratic White House intentionally alienated Israel, and tilted toward Iran, which has vowed to destroy the Jewish state.
But don’t bother the majority press with the facts.
A similar pattern can be discerned in the allegation that Mr. Trump has been the cause of the sharp uptick in violent political acts and language. The fury of the Democratic Party and its supporters over their loss in the 2016 campaign has led to numerous outbreaks of both physical force in the streets and on campuses, as well as the use of harassing legal actions by partisan officials against the White House. Outside of isolated incidents, nothing similar could be found on the other side. But the common theme has been that the violence has been provoked by the right.
Honesty has been notably absent in the coverage of the Central American caravan. The media continues to mislead the American public about the nature of those comprising this unofficial army-sized movement. It is not comprised of refugees from political oppression. They are, by many of their own admissions, seeking economic opportunities that they lack at home. And they are not predominately the women, children and families as much of the press seeks to portray. The majority are military-age young men.
During the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, a basic tenet of truth-telling, the production of evidence to back up a claim, was summarily dismissed. Those who demanded that the charges against the nominee be supported by facts were labeled anti-female. And while the entire process has been wielded as a bludgeon against the GOP in the midterm campaign, there was a cone of silence from most of the “Women’s Movement” about the horrific and fact-backed pattern of sexual abuse by former President Clinton, not to mention the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
How did America get to this point? It is often said that in war, truth is the first casualty. During a Democratic primary debate in the campaign of 2016, candidate Hillary Clinton unleashed an extremist concept: Those who disagreed with her views weren’t just political opponents, they were The Enemy. It’s justifiable to engage in any dishonest or violent tactic to defeat an enemy.
Recently, Mrs. Clinton doubled down on the concept when she rejected the potential of restoring civil relations until her party controlled Congress.
A partisan media, which has for well over half a century considered “advocacy” more important than truth-telling, enables this harmful concept to survive public scrutiny.
Even in the most tumultuous debates and eras of this century, (think, for example, of the 1960s with its sharp confrontations about the Vietnam War and civil rights) Americans viewed their political adversaries sometimes with great disdain and anger, but nevertheless as co-citizens that had to be convinced and brought along to a common goal.
We need to return to that perspective.
The perception of fellow Americans with differing views as “enemies” rejects that notion. You don’t convince enemies, you destroy or defeat them.
• Frank Vernuccio Jr. is editor in chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.