The media have gone predictably insane over the story that a 28-year-old nutjob walked into Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C. with a shotgun and fired one blast before being arrested. What drove Edgar Maddison Welch of Salisbury, North Carolina to attempt assault with a deadly weapon? He said that he came to perform an investigation into #PizzaGate, a completely fictional conspiracy theory about a child sex ring led by top Democrats.
The #PizzaGate nonsense has been pushed by the Trumpian underground for months. Even today, the son of new National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn had this to say about PizzaGate:
As Daily Wire editor-at-large John Nolte notes, the media quickly used the story as a club in their new crusade against so-called “fake news,” which they have labeled any news of which they do not approve. Some of the “fake news” the media decry is indeed fake news, but much of it is just conservative angles on the news. Nolte writes:
More than a dozen police officers have been ambushed in the wake of this very same media spending day after relentless day in Ferguson, Missouri, spreading the Fake News that strong-arm convenience store robber, Michael Brown, a young black man, was nothing more than an "gentle giant" murdered in cold blood by a white, racist police officer…. In the two years since, despite the media's Ferguson lies resulting in that predominantly black city being looted and burned, our media has chose to learn nothing. Still, whenever a black man is shot by a police officer, even a black police officer, the completely unfounded and unproven specter of Racism is immediately raised by the Kings of Fake News: CNNABCNBCMSNBCCBSPBSNPRNewYorkTimesWashingtonPost.
This is indubitably correct. But just because the left has ignored and disparaged truth for years is no excuse for the right to do so as well. And unfortunately, truth-free politics seems to be growing exponentially on the right.
A large part of that newfound disregard for truth springs from the Trump campaign. Trump pathologically and regularly lied on the campaign trail, on everything from Cindy Sheehan-esque lies about George W. Bush to ridiculous lies about Ted Cruz’s father (here was a very partial list of Trumpian lies just through April 2016). This has driven heretofore truthful people into the position of defending lies generally – if Trump does it, then untruth must be okay, since the left lies regularly and they must not have a monopoly on lying.
So, for example, this weekend saw a bevy of lies from top Republicans associated with the incoming Trump administration. Last week, Trump lied on Twitter, stating that there had been millions of fraudulent voters in the election, nearly all for Hillary Clinton:
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
Here was incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ response when asked about the tweet: “Well, I don’t know if that’s not true…There are estimates all over the map on that, and here’s the problem, no one really knows…It’s possible.” Priebus could offer no proof that Trump’s tweet was true. When CBS News’ John Dickerson replied, “I guess the question is, when you’re president, can you just offer a theory that has no evidence behind it, or does he have to tighten up his standard of proof?,” Priebus answered, “I think he’s done a great job. I think the president-elect is someone who has pushed the envelope and caused people to think in this country, has not taken conventional thought on every single issue.”
Then there was Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, who was asked by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, “It’s his right to make false statements?” Pence stated, “Well, it’s his right to express his opinion as president-elect of the United States. I think it’s one of the things that’s refreshing about our president-elect and one of the reasons why I think he made such an incredible connection with people all across this country is because he tells you what’s on his mind.” Stephanopoulos reiterated, “why is it refreshing to make false statements?” Pence said, “Look, I don’t know that that is a false statement, George, and neither do you.”
Or try Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. When CBS’ Scott Pelley asked Ryan about the voter fraud allegations, Ryan answered, “I don’t know, I’m not really focused on those things…I have no way of backing that up. I have no knowledge of such things.” Pelley continued to push, and Ryan stated, “It doesn’t matter. He won the election. The way I see the tweets you’re talking about, he’s basically giving voice to a lot of people who have felt that they were voiceless.”
These demagogic non sequiturs undercut conservative claims to value the truth. And that has policy consequences: the supposedly conservative Pence and company have been pushing the lie for a week now that the free market is a failure and case-by-case economic fascism from above is the solution to lost American jobs. When truth doesn't matter, lies about policy are sure to follow.
This ongoing soul-suck from the Trump campaign has been at play for months. Last week, sometime Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski – a man with his own peculiar disregard for the truth – explained Trump’s appeal thusly: “This is the problem with the media. You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally. The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes – when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar – you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.” Scottie Nell Hughes, another Trump surrogate, explained last week, “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts. And so Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd – a large part of the population – are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some – amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up.” Here was new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development nominee Dr. Ben Carson, a religious Christian, sounding off about allegations of Trump’s sexual assaults during the campaign: “It doesn’t matter whether they’re lying or not. What matters is that the train is going off the cliff and we’re taking our eye off of that and we’re getting involved in other issues that can be taken care of later.”
This is pure ends-justify-the-means logic. And the means are pushing falsehood. The notion here seems to be that Trump is helping America avoid perdition, and thus must be given leeway to lie; if we didn’t allow him to lie, the left would continue to do so, and then they’d win and drive us straight into Hell. But that suggests that truth no longer has the capacity to drive voters or Americans. If that’s true, republicanism is finished as a principle – if we can only lie to voters to get them to vote for us, that undermines the decency of republicanism altogether.
Conservatives used to care too much about values and republicanism to buy ends-justify-the-means logic. But it increasingly appears that political expedience now outweighs basic morality. At least one side of the political spectrum seemed to care about truth. Now both sides are competing to see who can race to the bottom fastest.