WASHINGTON FAILED. Not because of America’s polarized politics, racial divisions or wealth inequalities. No, it wasn’t that complicated. Washington failed because of simple lies.
Donald Trump lost the election but then said falsely that he’d won. He sued more than 60 times but couldn’t show any evidence in a single case. The courts all ruled against him, including judges Trump had appointed. Courts decide who is telling the truth. They decided Trump lied. But that didn’t stop him from repeating his lies, over and over, until many people believed him. Tens of millions of them.
Some people understood what the lack of evidence meant, including many members of the U.S. Congress who had a responsibility to tell the truth to the American public. More than a hundred of them didn’t. Trump’s alternative facts were more convenient, so they repeated the same lies until the same tens of millions of people believed them too.
What was the result? The U.S. Capitol was invaded to “stop the steal” (a steal that never took place). The insurrectionists didn’t care about courts or evidence. They proclaimed their loyalty to Trump, QAnon, the confederate flag and just about anything else other than American democracy…or truth.
Many Americans were shocked. They shouldn’t be. There was nothing surprising about attacks on truth by using lies. It was a familiar tactic in America: Obama wasn’t born in the USA, crime is caused by Mexicans, white supremacists are fine people, protesters for racial equality are thugs, the climate hasn’t changed and a tax cut for the wealthy helps the working class, to name just a few.
The divide between rhetoric and reality kept getting wider. Trump said the coronavirus would disappear like a miracle. It didn’t. In lieu of leadership, official Washington undermined doctors and scientists. America now leads the world in the sheer stupidity of its response to covid-19 and in the number of citizens who won’t cooperate to fight the pandemic’s spread. Some still believe in Washington’s downplaying of the risks while others no longer trust Washington enough to get vaccinated – both are results of a failure of Washington to tell the scientifically known truth.
Not everything from Washington was a lie or a failure. Some of it was highly accurate, and some actions taken in Washington were very helpful. But the lies outnumbered the truths, and far too many Americans now believe that what’s clearly false is true and vice-versa. Democracy can’t function without a shared basis among voters about fact versus fiction…or even a willingness to care. Washington became a poster child for indifference to truth, a mindset that’s now been accepted and imitated by tens of millions of Americans. That’s a colossal failure, and Washington is to blame.
Has the failure of Washington doomed America? Perhaps not.
There’s still hope, with most of it coming from outside Washington. America’s business community finally took a stand against truth decay. Many big businesses, banks and trade groups will no longer support politicians in Washington who won’t abide by obvious truths. Social media will restrict content that promotes violence or criminal acts. Rationality was imposed by those with power in the business world who realized that a successful economy requires a civil society.
Heroes emerged far from Washington. Some state governors faced the coronavirus with tough actions. Frontline workers stayed on the job in nightmarish conditions. Local election volunteers and officials, many of them Republicans, faithfully counted ballots and certified the results. Trump then publicly called them nasty names, urged them to find votes that didn’t exist and, when they refused, remained silent about the death threats they received. They were ordinary Americans who nevertheless bravely stepped up to do and say what many politicians in Washington didn’t dare.
Will President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris be equally courageous? They’ve pledged to reinstate daily press briefings, to consider diverse opinions and not to announce major policy decisions via surprise tweets. That seems promising, although their initial personnel choices indicate a nostalgic preference for veterans of the Obama and Clinton administrations with limited regard for new or competing views, progressive or conservative. So it’s still too early to say, but their starting point is to tell the truth always, good news or bad news, to the tens of millions of Americans who will believe them and the other tens of millions who won’t. That’s exactly what Washington needs now. So does America.
Kolumni on julkaistu SAM Magazine 1/2021-numerossa helmikuussa 2021.
Tom A. Lippo is a Finnish-speaking American lawyer. Educated at Yale, the University of Jyväskylä and Stanford Law School, he is the founder of FACT LAW, an international law firm established in 1985. FACT is the first law firm with offices in both Finland and the United States. Tom has been a lawyer in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill for nearly 40 years.