An Ethics professor, a plate of lasagna and a president walk into a bar...
Zoned out in my 10 a.m. ethics class, I was doodling with my pen until the professor said a phrase heard all too often: “This is your truth, and this is my truth.” As I recalibrated into the classroom discussion, I assumed this was mainly about being empathetic to different perspectives we may confront and generally thought it made sense. He repeated again, “The phrase this is your truth and this is my truth drives me absolutely bonkers.”
Now I was confused — what’s wrong with this seemingly harmless idea of holding different viewpoints? He continued, “There is only one truth — one set of facts about every situation, crisis and historical event. The idea that multiple opposing truths can simultaneously exist brings about the degradation of our sense of reality in politics, media and everyday life.” Whether or not he had put too much weight onto a simple phrase, the notion stuck with me. No one’s ever taken a minute to step back and inquire- what does that phrase even mean? Doesn’t the idea of truth varying from person to person contradict its very essence? In today’s day and age, that very lack of accountable questioning may be a contributor to what's made our political system what it is now, and the implementation of which may be a partial solution to bringing back a semblance of honesty. Amidst the current swarm of political rhetoric this election season, it seems like both parties are capitalizing on similar grievances to attract voters, yet voters are more polarized than ever before. The same accolades are lauded from figures in both parties — somehow they all lowered the unemployment rate, they all brought jobs back to the United States and they all provided Americans with the best healthcare, education and infrastructure. Donald Trump ironically still applauds the United States’ response to the pandemic, claiming we boast “numbers better than almost all countries” — which, when taking population sizes into account, is exceedingly far from the truth: following Chile, America has more cases than any other large country as of Aug. 17. The tendency to spout false rhetoric is so normalized and undisputed in our politics that it often seems as though we’re living in a post-truth America. Alarmingly, this assumption is evidently becoming reality with current news headlining the idea that a peaceful succession of power may not happen following the election.
How did we get here as a nation? From the same United States in 2000 in which candidate Al Gore encouraged citizens to accept the highly-contested Bush v. Gore results, what brought us to the point of suspecting absentee ballots — initially enacted through bipartisan efforts — of being fraudulent attacks on our democracy? The rabbit-hole of social media seems to have contributed largely to our tendency to cherry-pick sources of information on both ends of the spectrum; we search for whichever outlet can most effectively satiate our confirmation bias. Realistically, this can’t solely be blamed on human psychology, but also the innate algorithm of many platforms that recalibrates to present us with the most personalized content, mainly boiling down to topics, politics and groups we already know and love. As a society, we’ve discussed the causal factors of the post-truth world that we live in, but further tend to mull over ways in which we can combat the downward spiral of ‘alternative facts.’ In the end, it seems solely rhetoric will rise above the ashes of whatever’s left of political accountability in the 21st century.
Currently, there are important initiatives in place to combat the blatant lying we see among politicians — live fact-checking by reporters, fact-check captions at the bottom of news broadcasts and fact-checking articles. You get the idea — we have fact-checking in the armory right now. An additional measure our media must take to prevent the degradation of truth focuses on the framing of questions to political figures. Journalists must integrate unquestionable truths and established paradigms into their questions, leading already with an indisputable foundation that respondents can’t avoid. An example of the exact opposite of this recently took all news outlets by storm, with President Trump’s answer to whether or not he’ll commit to a peaceful transfer of power being “There won’t be a transfer; frankly, there’ll be a continuation.” The effect of his response was widespread enough for members of the Republican party (even Mitch McConnell) to step back and assure Americans otherwise, but the initial aspect of this exchange is what I want to focus on. Why is he even being given the opportunity to amplify something so inherently unconstitutional, so universally disavowed, in the first place? The conditional phrasing of the question gives rise to the following response — “will you commit” — opening the possibility for him not to commit, as he clearly did so. Our political system has a lot of questionable facets, from the electoral college to the permissibility of gerrymandering, but the few aspects that are unwavering in providing legitimacy to our government should not be suggested, but already implied.
As a child I was a notoriously picky eater, disliking random food with no rhyme or reason, from bell peppers to even lasagna (I now look back in shock with the latter). However, every so often when lasagna was on the dinner table, my mom wouldn’t kindly request me to bestow the honor of eating her lasagna, but instead ask how I’d go about eating what was made for dinner — the already established bottom line. Today’s political journalists may need to follow suit from my mom’s techniques, because at the end of the day, you could be damn sure I sat down with that lasagna in my plate, one way or the other.