“Is Truth Dead?” asks Time Magazine. Seriously?
The curious thing is the timing of Time magazine’s question.
It’s a very sad cover.
So why is it sad? Not because the question is so serious, but just the opposite. Where have these editors been for the past few decades? Yes Time, truth is dead and the coroner’s report lists the cause of death as sustained blunt force trauma. It happened decades ago and to great fanfare by many. First, to truth in politics.
Hannah Arendt gave a graceful eulogy of the long and troubled relationship between truth and politics in the pages of The New Yorker in 1967. She noted, “No one has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other, and no one, as far as I know, has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues.” Nothing new under the sun.
But more troubling still, it’s not just truth in politics. We have been long told at nearly every turn that an absolute adherence to the objectivity of truth is something that tragically possesses only polyester-clad fundamentalists. Psychiatrists have told us for decades that holding desperately to such a silly view is a psychosis.
Ask any kid educated in public schools or any state or major university. Of course truth is dead! It’s such a fundamental part of liberal orthodoxy the kids will think it’s a trick question. It’s absolutely true that truth is not absolute. They’ve had it drilled into them six ways from Sunday and then back again.
The curious thing is the timing of Time’s question. Concern for the dignity of truth seems to ebb and flow with such consistency one can easily detect a pattern. It was a question of great pertinence during the Reagan presidency. We were told the man had a very tenuous relationship with the truth and regularly dismissed or papered over it with a unique and artful flair. It’s what made him so dangerous. George W. Bush’s precarious rapport with it gave our political lexicon a new word: truthiness.
And now President Trump. Yes, yes, we know. Even Melania has muttered, “Why does he keep saying this stuff?” more times than she can count. But why do the elites get so exercised about the health and well-being of truth only during certain political cycles? (It’s largely the same with democracy and WaPo’s bold new mantra.) William Safire was labeled a meanie when he charged Hillary Clinton with being a “congenital liar”. And that was in 1996.
This selective concern over truth is embarrassing. First, it manifests itself in such a transparent way. No one believes this cover promises a thoughtful investigation into the nature of truth. It’s a slap at or indictment of a particular politician, depending on your politics. You know it before you turn a page.
Second, Time and its fellow elites don’t even seem to appreciate the question’s own subjectivity. The question is not whether truth is in good hands with Donald Trump. That track record has been established, and well before his election. This fact demonstrates that voters can adeptly distinguish between politicians who say things their listeners know are whoppers and the policies and vision they hold for the nation. 65.8 million Americans did precisely that with Hillary Clinton and 63 million did it with Donald Trump. Voters can walk and chew gum and have been doing so for quite some time. They don’t really need anyone banging on the truth alarm, warning the simple folk they’re being duped. The false duty here is a story journalists tell themselves to prop up the nobility of their trade. It’s why so many readers chuckle when they see the New York Times and Washington Post’s assurance they are on the job, “fact-checking” our current leader.
The primary question here is not “Is Truth Dead?” but why does the question only arise when someone challenges the elite’s particular control of it? Time might consult Arendt:
The story of the conflict between truth and politics is an old and complicated one, and nothing would be gained by simplification or moral denunciation.
Is it possible this new President is trying to tweak you like an older brother jabbing you in the backseat of the family van? It’s so easy to get a reaction, and it’s fun to do.
And half the nation is in on the joke.
This essay originally appeared in The Federalist and is reprinted with permission.