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A loose relationship with the truth

| Tuesday, January 24, 2017

On President Trump’s first day in office, it seemed that he did little to deviate from the person and politician that he is in order to become a more dignified and calm president. His speech, which was one of the shorter inauguration speeches in history, became a populist rallying cry, conveying a vision of a country that was on the brink of collapse. His tweets did not stop, his crusade against free trade ratcheted up and his ambitions for the presidency did not calm down. What was most striking, however, was the casual way in which he (and his staff) treated the truth — they seemed to be no different and no better than the way they ran his campaign.

The day after his inauguration, Trump’s press secretary announced that his inauguration was the most widely attended inauguration that the world had ever seen. Even though he was refuted by multiple sources using multiple methods of fact-checking (not just a picture from the inauguration), Trump and his advisers still refused to admit the very true fact that his inauguration was not well attended. In fact, former campaign manager and current senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway merely stated that Trump’s press secretary provided “alternative facts” to the real facts on hand — whatever that means. It was astonishing — no one, not a single person in the administration, would admit that the inauguration was not very well attended.

Some might say that this really isn’t all that big of a deal. After all, Trump has always seemed to be a narcissist and the crowd size at his inauguration really doesn’t matter that much — it’s obvious that he just wanted people to think that he was popular with the people. Additionally, it’s been known that Trump has had a rocky relationship with the press, so the fact that he wants to push back on something that they report is normal and expected.

But the casual relationship that Trump has with the truth has serious consequences. Firstly, Trump has managed to delegitimize the press and what they do. By calling them “fake news,” or liars, refusing to take questions and calling them out on Twitter, Trump has taken power and respect away from one of the few institutions that can provide an important check on him. Sure, people should always be skeptical of media reports — but the media plays a very important role in the federal government. It is the one set of people who have access to the president and can hold him accountable for impermissible actions. This isn’t to say that Trump cannot counter false stories about him. But it’s obvious that any negative report — anything at all that makes him look bad — is vilified by Trump. Politicians can and should respond to salacious and inappropriate reports about them, but Trump feels the need to respond and attack anything that seems to go against him.

Furthermore, Trump’s apathy towards the truth harms his relationship with the American people. On one hand, there are groups of die-hard supporters who only believe what Trump says and discount anything and everything the media says. On the other hand, however, many Americans believe that most of the things that Trump says are lies. How are we, as Americans, supposed to believe Donald Trump when he says that we are safe amidst threats from abroad? Why should we believe him when he addresses the nation to tell us something important, as every president before him has? One of the most important things for a president is to have the trust of the people, regardless of whether or not the people actually like them. President Trump’s past actions and first few actions in office have not fostered any sort of trust, and he has a long way to go to try and rebuild any sort of credibility. His — and his administration’s — penchant for lies and disregarding the truth is a troubling start to what will certainly be a divisive presidency.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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