Opinion | Susan Knopf: In a post-truth political climate, facts have never been more important

I really don’t want to get into a mudslinging contest with any of the true believers out there.

George Lakoff in his seminal work, “Whose Freedom? The Battle over America’s Most Important Idea,” established anyone with a “deeply held frame” cannot be dissuaded of their beliefs regardless of evidence to the contrary. I’m talking to the the folks who reserve their judgment, the unaffiliated voters and those of you who may not always vote.

The fact is, in a courtroom an unrebutted lie is taken for truth and the same can be said for the court of public opinion. So let’s get the record straight.

One Summit Daily reader said the President is “protecting our Constitution.” Let’s start with the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The founding fathers established the Bill of Rights because they were afraid the government would try to abridge our rights. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “I am….for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents…” (To Elbridge Gerry, Philadelphia, Jan. 26, 1799)

But what does our president say? He calls the news “fake news.” He calls the press “the enemy of the people.” This past week we found he will only allow Fox News to be viewed on Air Force One and demanded the TV set his wife watches be changed. These are not things the press says, these are things the president does.

Here’s the danger: “The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.” (Hannah Arendt interview with Roger Errera, New York Review of Books, October 26, 1978)

So if the people are convinced the truth comes from only one news outlet, the one approved by the president, we have killed the free press and free expression. This is very dangerous in light of the fact that President Trump has uttered more than 3,200 false or misleading statements since taking office, compared to President Obama, who made only 18 such statements in eight years. That’s according to the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit leader in journalism, and the owner of PolitiFact, a non-partisan, Pulitzer prize winner. If you think that’s fake news, just go on the PolitiFact website and read the list of quotes. You’ll recognize them as things you have heard and seen the president say.

A reader wrote to this paper that the political left poses a far greater threat to freedom of speech. I found this theme trumpeted on right-wing sites. In truth, so-called conservative lawmakers in several states tried to push through laws to make it legal to injure or kill a person blocking a road or driveway while marching in a protest. The laws didn’t pass. But you can see there really is no comparison between ill-mannered hecklers on a handful of college campuses and the proposal that right wing thugs can legally kill protesters with their cars.

My favorite lie of all is that the Republican Party is the party of fiscal responsibility. Let’s be clear; the new tax code is expected to add $1.4467 trillion more to the deficit, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The beneficiaries of this deficit are the uber rich.

The trade war is widely considered a debacle, hurting dairy, soybean, and pecan farmers just to name a few. The tariffs are causing layoffs in manufacturing, industries that were expected to be aided. Scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit, say the president is “putting the entire economy at risk.” Again just to set the record straight, this last quarter which saw a 4.1 percent growth in GDP limps behind Clinton, Obama, and G. W. Bush. It is tied as the 10th best quarter in 18 years. No great, staggering achievement, folks.

What I find most disconcerting is the denial of verifiable facts and the demonization of those whose political opinions differ. Again I turn to Jefferson: “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” (Thomas Jefferson to William Hamilton April 22, 1800)

Let’s all try to be civil. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. None of us is entitled to our own set of facts.

Susan Knopf is a Summit County resident, and a contributor to the Summit Daily. Susan has won awards from the Associated Press and United Press International for her news reporting.

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