Does Truth Still Matter?

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer
A team of extraordinary liars. Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

There is at least one truth in politics: Politicians lie. They misrepresent, twist and spin facts. They try to get away with hiding or obfuscating the truth. When they are caught in a real whopper, however, they usually pay a price — not just at the polls but also because their legacy is tarnished.

Just think back to the most famous quotes and moments of some recent presidents.

Richard Nixon proclaimed that he is not a crook before resigning in disgrace. George H.W. Bush asked Americans to read his lips before assuring them that there would be no new taxes. Then he raised taxes and became a one-term president. The soundbite his successor Bill Clinton is best known for is insisting that he did not have sexual relations with an intern before it was revealed that he did. To this day it tarnishes his legacy and everything else he did as president.

Then came George W. Bush, whose administration lied its way to invading Iraq. That left a major stain on the reputation of everybody involved in claiming that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction — even somebody as widely respected as Colin Powell. The most iconic image of Bush himself, apart from his appearance at Ground Zero, is standing atop an aircraft carrier with a “Mission Accomplished” banner flying in the background.

Most recently, Barack Obama and his signature accomplishment — a major expansion of health insurance — continue to be hounded by his claim that Americans could keep the doctors they liked when that wasn’t always the case.

Donald Trump is different.

It’s not that he doesn’t lie. It’s that there are so many falsehoods, incorrect statements, broken promises, “alternative facts,” etc. that it is impossible to pick out one thing in particular that somehow defines him. The Toronto Star is maintaining a running list of the false claims Trump has made since taking office on January 20th and the total now stands at 363.

Add to that how brazenly Trump lies and how little it seems to matter to his supporters — 77% of Republicans say the president is “honest” — and it becomes clear that we might be seeing a dangerous shift in how politicians conduct themselves.

It’s not just Trump. His top spokespeople are following the president’s lead and are frequently making things up as they go along. They are overwhelming the American people, the media and fact checkers with a barrage of falsehoods that is unprecedented. In many cases, these lies are also completely unnecessary.

The only real consequences so far have been that Trump, Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders are being ridiculed on Saturday Night Live and on social media. But the only people who are laughing are those who already dislike the president and his team.

That’s part of the problem. Americans are increasingly living in their own bubbles. They get news from outlets that are sympathetic to their own views and surround themselves on social media with like-minded people who also reinforce their beliefs.

Trump, who has proved to be very savvy when it comes to recognizing such trends, has effectively tapped into this divided mindset.

“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” he said early last year. While that is (probably) incorrect, it certainly seems to apply to him constantly saying things that are demonstrably false.

So why be honest if honesty doesn’t matter?

First of all because it should matter. When politicians lie, they should pay a price so it doesn’t become a habit. Nixon, Bush 41 & 43, Clinton and Obama got what they deserved. In each case, the soundbite they are most known for is something that wasn’t true.

Honesty also matters because there will likely come a time when it will be important that all Americans — not just core supporters — will need to be able to believe the US president and his team.

If and when that time comes, Trump and his team will wish that they still had the trust that they are now needlessly squandering one tweet, White House briefing or Fox & Friends interview at a time.

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Sarah Huckabee Sanders caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Kellyanne Conway caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Sean Spicer caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), Wonder Woman (istolethetv / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), bush (earthisthering / Flickr – CC BY 2.0) and background (The Obama Whitehouse Archives).

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10 responses to “Does Truth Still Matter?”

  1. Wholy 1 says:

    It HAS and WILL ONLY “matter” to the righteous/repentant few that diligently DAILY continue to pursue it.

  2. rhodey777 says:

    I went to the Toronto Star and was unimpressed with their Snopes-esque attempt to pile up the numbers. Yeah, Trump is serial exaggerator, but to conflate his fabulism with actual lies of policy is ridiculous. “Keep your doctor” is the least of Obama’s falsehoods about the ACA. How about the budget impacts? How about the premium relief? Overall, not impressed with your papier maché hatchet job.

  3. 0040 says:

    The American experience/understanding of the concept of truth began to diverge from reality when pragmatism, as defined by Glenn Ford, became an adjunct of capitalism circa 1950.

  4. Olle Reimers says:

    Seems that the author wants to imply that since there are so many lies (that is what they always say, but without examplifying) nothing that the president says can be believed to be true. Did he really ask Putin about meddling into the election? Did he fire the missiles into the desert to give the wrong impression?

  5. sfulmer says:


  6. punkyboy says:

    When someone figures out what “the truth” is, please let me know. At this point I have to admit that I have no idea. And that’s the plan, isn’t it?

    • 0040 says:

      “There’s truth that lives and truth that dies . I don’t know which , so nevermind.” Leonard Cohen.

  7. Tom Blanton says:

    “Nixon, Bush 41 & 43, Clinton and Obama got what they deserved. In each case, the soundbite they are most known for is something that wasn’t true.”

    First, the soundbite lies these liars are most known for hardly rise to the level of importance of the worst lies they told. All of them lied about things that led to actual death and destruction as well as trillions of dollars of debt for future generations to pay for their lies.

    To pretend that Trump is worse at this early stage of his presidency while claiming the other liars got what they deserved is atrocious. None of these liars got what they deserve and they never will. That you are willing to give them all a pass because they are merely known as liars is to give Trump a pass also – don’t forget that he was a well known liar before he was even elected!

    Does truth still matter? Of course not, but when did it ever matter to politicians or the rubes that belong to their cults? The truth doesn’t seem to matter so much to you guys if you actually believe that the liars you identify got what you think they deserved.