Since he started running for the presidency of the United States, Donald Trump’s blatant lies have been sending his political opponents into the paroxysms of rage. Our 45th President lies about big things and small. It is of little comfort that Trump’s lies are yet to lead to catastrophic policy mistakes, such as George W Bush’s lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and Barack Obama’s lie that, under Obamacare, Americans would be able to keep the healthcare plans they liked.
In the long run, a dishonest political class cannot but destroy the health of the Republic.
That said, very few Americans, including his supporters, see the President as a good and honest man. His misconduct had been, so to speak, “baked into the cake”, when the US electorate chose Trump over his dissembling Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. That’s a good thing. As America’s foremost political commentator, George Will, put it on the pages of The Washington Post: “Trump is something the nation did not know it needed: a feeble president whose manner can cure the nation’s excessive fixation with the presidency.”
The same, alas, cannot be said of the great and the good in the Democratic Party who are, yet again, searching for a messianic figure a propos Obama – a man widely regarded to be so saintly as to receive the Nobel Peace Prize just for being alive (his secret drone “kill list” be damned).
Until last week, it was de rigueur to think that the flag-bearer of progressivism in the 2020 presidential election would be a left-wing populist, like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders or Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Not any more.
Following her speech at the 75th Golden Globe Awards, Oprah Winfrey has emerged as the putative slayer of the fire-breathing Orange Dragon. The entertainer’s address, which touched upon the sexual abuse of women in Hollywood, was met with effusive praise from all the “right” people. The actress Jessica Chastain noted that, “This speech is everything”; while Obama’s former speechwriter Jon Favreau averred that “Winfrey is as brilliant and inspiring as any public figure today.”
Winfrey, we are told, is not some run-of-the-mill celebrity seeking public office. She is an aspirational figure who embodies the best in us. Winfrey has, it is true, come from poverty to build a great media empire. And, unlike Trump, she did so without ever going bankrupt.
As the grande dame of the beautiful set, Meryl Streep, put it, “You realise how we thirst for that … We really want that kind of elevated, aspirational, can-do, optimistic attachment to the principles of our country.” And, she asked, “Where do I send my cheque?”
Now, I have nothing against Winfrey’s presidential bid. As a number of commentators pointed out, following Trump’s electoral victory, there really is no reason why Winfrey should not be a candidate for the presidency. Sure, no one has the faintest idea where she stands on just about anything , but Trump has lowered the bar for the candidacy for the highest office in the land so low that, for the first time in US history, truly anyone can become president.
What concerns me, is that in spite of all of her purported brilliance, on one of the most important issues of the day, there is, in fact, very little daylight between Winfrey and our Chief Magistrate.
I am, of course, referring to the metaphysical nature of the truth.
We are, it is said, living in a “post-truth” era. The blame for this sad state of affairs is frequently placed at the golden doors of the Grand Kremlin Palace, where Trumpkins and Ruskies have supposedly conjured up “fake news” to defeat Clinton. If so, it did not end there. Our beloved leader often seems to live in a parallel reality all by his lonesome. Be it the record numbers who, he claims, turned out to see his inauguration or the (non-existing) nuclear button on his desk, Trump has “his truth”.
Let us now turn to Winfrey. In her much-praised speech, this Mount Olympus of human wisdom said the following, “I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”
Does anyone else see a problem here?
Axiomatically, a lie is the opposite of the truth. If there is to be a lie, there must first be the truth. And truth does not reside in the eye of the beholder. The laws of physics, for example, do not apply differently to Sir Isaac Newton on the one hand, and Trump and Winfrey on the other hand. There is, in other words, no “your truth” and “his truth”. Things are either true or they are not true. It really is that simple.
Speaking of simple … For all his flaws, Trump’s elevation to the presidency is the result, not the cause, of our post-truth politics. Long before Trump announced his bid for the presidency, the smart half of the electorate (or so the Democrats, being a modest lot, would be the first to self-identify as) happily indulged in fake news and reveled in it.
The prevalent narrative of the Obama years, after all, was that America was a singularly vile country beset by racism and misogyny. The media, which served as a sycophantic appendage of the Obama Administration, were only too happy to oblige their idol in the Oval Office by giving credence to stories of dubious veracity.
The tragic killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, gave rise to the “Hands up, don’t shoot” movement – ranging from peaceful activism to violent race riots – aimed to rid America of “systemic racism”. Stories of horrific acts of racism mushroomed and although many of them, including Ferguson, turned out to be hoaxes, the media reported them anyway. They wanted, I assume, to tell “their truth”, rather than examine the ample data on police killings and engage seriously with the very real issue of police accountability.
In the same vein, the media uncritically swallowed invented stories of widespread rape on US campuses (thereby helping to misdirect finite resources, even as the data shows the rate of rape is significantly higher for women away from university campuses), including the much-hyped and later retracted reportage of a gang rape of a young woman at the University of Virginia in The Rolling Stone magazine. But, as Jackie, the alleged rape victim, helpfully noted in a court testimony, she believed her story “to be true at the time”. Well.
There were many reasons for Trump’s victory in 2016. One of those reasons was Obama’s attempt to cut America down to size, by constantly demeaning the country that gave him everything he had. It is a pity that in order to reject the legacy of one conjurer, they had to elect another one. Unless she recognises that things are either true or not true, Winfrey will not be an improvement on either man.