The great majority of the Republican Party is going through a terrible crisis of truthiness. How else can we explain the continued belief by so many GOP leaders, state parties and rank and file members that Donald Trump won November’s election? What other reason can there for so many to ignore the fact that after examining evidence and arguments judges and election officials of both parties uniformly dismissed Trump’s baseless claims of electoral conspiracy and fraud?
Of truthiness, the word’s popularizer, comedian Stephen Colbert said, “We’re not talking about truth, we’re talking about something that seems like truth – the truth we want to exist.”
It’s a silly word, meant to emphasize the sheer wackiness of substituting one’s own hopes, wishes and fantasies for obvious evidence and facts. Truthiness is believing that something is true when it demonstrably isn’t.
Truthiness is believing the Earth is flat. It’s believing the Vikings won those four Super Bowls in the 1970s or that the Twins haven’t lost 18 straight playoff games since 2004. And yes, it’s believing that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election.
Normally, members of our two political parties agree on the truth or facts surrounding a given issue but come up with different solutions, according to their philosophical predilections. A classic example, much in the news today, of agreed-upon facts leading to opposing policy proposals is the shared idea that all employees should get paid for their work. One proposal out of those facts is that the wage nationally should be increased to $15 per hour, while the other is that the federal level should remain the same and each state can set its wage at a level believed appropriate. Though these proposals are different, they are each born from facts.
Of course, in politics there is always a certain amount of truthiness, of things that we want to believe but are not backed by evidence. Common, impossible-to-prove bromides like “America is the greatest country of all” or “the land of the free and home of the brave” are good examples and usually harmless.
Republicans’ current embrace of truthiness is a different and more dangerous matter. The concept had clearly replaced truth in Republicans’ minds when they nominated Donald Trump as their 2016 presidential candidate. He declared that if he lost it would only be through election fraud, positing for the first time, but not the last, that his belief in victory, his truthiness, took precedence over the wishes of the voters. For worse or better, that initial glimpse of Trump’s declaration of truthiness became irrelevant when he won a majority of electoral votes over Hillary Clinton.
By the summer of 2020, the GOP had so subordinated itself to Trump’s truthiness that the party platform’s policy resolution only said, “the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.” Nothing more. Absent were time-honored GOP precepts such as a strong foreign policy, limits on government spending and praise of the free market. Instead, the party’s 2020 agenda was left for Trump to fill in the blanks. Republican policy minds were to be empty until Trump filled them.
The platform’s logic was followed when few Republican leaders disagreed when Trump rejected the 2020 election results. Well regarded polls showed somewhere between 65% and 73% of GOP voters likewise repudiated the outcome. Given that high level of truthiness, there was no surprise when 147 GOP Senate and House members (a solid majority of the party’s total congressional representation) voted to toss out the real Electoral College count in January. By doing so, in Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse’s words, they’ve turned politics into “the weird worship of one dude.”
Prospects don’t look good for a GOP repudiation of truthiness soon. A substantial majority of Republican voters want Trump to remain the party’s leader. Truthiness stalwart Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri reports record-breaking campaign contributions since he egged on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Uber-sycophant Sen. Lindsay Graham is being praised for blistering Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s claim that Trump should answer in another forum for the Capitol attack. And the recent convention of CPAC, the large conservative activist organization, not only had Trump proclaiming his victory but also featured nine speeches and expert panels explaining how the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Sic semper truthiness.
Ken Peterson lives in St. Paul. Though a DFLer, as a former state Labor and Industry commissioner he successfully worked with members of both parties, always believing that telling the truth helped.
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