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Editorial: The horror of lies influencing reality in a ‘post-truth’ world

  • January 26, 2017
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

What happens when someone in a position of power turns his back on inconvenient truths and instead chooses to justify lies? It results in a world filled with fiction. This fearful reality is what the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump appears to be taking the country toward.


Reports by media that the number of those who attended the inauguration of Trump was far outnumbered by the crowds that flocked to see the inauguration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, eight years ago, must’ve been quite a sensitive subject for Trump. He lashed out, stating that there were at least 1.5 million in attendance.


Trump was likely trying to say that the crowds he drew were on par with the approximately 1.8 million people who went to Washington to watch Obama’s inauguration in 2009. Shortly after Trump made his assertion, however, the White House announced that it was able to confirm some 720,000 people at the new president’s inauguration.


It is obvious from photos released by the U.S. media of both the 2009 inauguration of Obama and the 2017 inauguration of Trump that the latter attracted a much smaller crowd. And yet, the Trump White House insisted that if the people who watched the inauguration online were included in the count, the number of people who witnessed this year’s inauguration was the highest in history.


The Trump camp is also said to have stated in meetings with congressional leaders that there were 3 million to 5 million cases of voter fraud in the presidential election last year. In the popular vote, Trump lagged behind Hillary Clinton by 2.86 million votes. It appears the Trump camp is implying that he would’ve won the popular vote had it not been for all those cases of voter fraud.


However, there are strong arguments against a university study that found that 14 percent of votes were cast by non-citizens, which Trump cites to assert his allegation of rampant voter fraud.


In his autobiography, Trump talks about the utility of “truthful hyperbole” as a rhetorical tool. Perhaps he considers his recent series of statements simply “white lies.”


But Trump is now the president of the United States, whose statements and actions have great impact domestically and on the rest of the world. Unless he can be highly trusted, the administration will lose its credibility, and any confusion or instability in the U.S. will have repercussions on the whole world.


Such a state of affairs would indeed be what has been dubbed a post-truth world. Disagreement on basic facts between the citizens of a nation and the nation’s leader puts democracy at risk.


Forty-five years ago, in 1972, President Richard Nixon’s camp forged a letter to the editor defaming the character of a political opponent in the Democratic Party, which was then published in a newspaper. The letter, known as the “Canuck letter,” noted that the Democratic candidate held prejudices toward immigrants to the U.S. of French-Canadian descent. The letter was discovered to have been forged in the investigation into the Watergate Scandal, but by then, the Democratic candidate’s political career had been destroyed.


During the 2016 presidential election campaign, the Trump camp frequently used Twitter. False disparaging remarks made about opponent Hillary Clinton were spread as fact, even resulting in a shooting incident following the election at a Washington pizza restaurant.


When Trump decided to pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), he alleged that Japan was blocking imports of American cars. The main reason U.S. cars — which are customs-free — don’t sell well in Japan is because they don’t fit the needs of Japanese consumers in terms of size and fuel efficiency. A major policy that could greatly affect national interest should not be justified with falsities.


Which will end up with more power: Trump’s lies or the truth? The answer is largely in the hands of the media.


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