When you start working on a piece like this, you need to frame it properly in your mind. The fact that I chose to include images of two controversial politicians in the feature photo all but guarantees me a limited audience for this piece, because a large portion of the readers who scroll past this story in their newsfeeds have already chosen sides. Those who support Donald Trump despite his predilection for misrepresenting facts will roll their eyes and scroll on by, mumbling something about “snowflakes.” Those who believe Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represents the future of the Democratic party thanks to her own knack for fudging the truth will similarly dismiss this story, assured in their belief that her approach to politics is akin to fighting fire with fire.
But for the few of you who were willing to look beyond your own home team political bias and acknowledge the idea that neither of these politicians are doing America any favors with their rhetoric, I welcome you to the internet’s much maligned minority voice: the proud few who think the truth still matters.
It’s been a few years since the first time someone in Donald Trump’s corner had to take to the internet and utter those five magical words, “What he really meant was….” Since then, media outlets and their audiences have simply grown tired of fact-checking the president’s off-the-cuff remarks. We all know they’re often colored by misstated, misrepresented, or simply inaccurate facts used unintentionally or intentionally to bolster his political positions. For those with Trump bumper stickers on their cars, his relationship with the truth isn’t really what this administration is all about. They elected Donald Trump to advance their political agenda, and in the minds of many Americans, the ends are what matter, not the means. If Donald Trump has to misconstrue a few facts along the way, it’s a necessary evil we’ll just have to swallow while defeating the malignant liberal agenda.
And before you go and accuse me of being the one misrepresenting this situation, here’s Fox News’ own Chris Wallace getting fed up with the Trump administration’s casual relationship with the truth:
Here’s the video of Chris Wallace fact-checking Sarah Sanders on her false claim that terrorists are streaming over the border with Mexico.
“The state department says there hasn’t been any terrorists found coming across the southern border.” Via Fox. pic.twitter.com/ByMaa9TK2S
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 6, 2019
Ah…but here’s the rub. For all the grandstanding Democrats like to do about Trump’s lying, they spent the better part of 2018 searching for a charismatic anti-Trump that could take the fight to the media in the very same fashion. Enter Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her own laundry list of arguably intentional errors aimed at advancing her own political ideology.
Ocasio-Cortez, like Trump, has blatantly lied about elements of her campaign in order to paint herself in a more positive light (like claiming her Republican opponent spent five times more than she did during his campaign). She has also demonstrated a lacking grasp of the figures associated with national defense (claiming the Pentagon was given a $700 billion budget increase last year). And then there’s her infamous quote about unemployment:
“Unemployment is low because everyone has two jobs. Unemployment is low because people are working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and can barely feed their family.”
Ocasio-Cortez was dragged through the mud for that and a number of similar remarks by conservative pundits, but in many ways, the media has embraced Ocasio-Cortez while shunning Trump, and the question I keep finding myself asking is… why?
“There’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right,” @AOC says in response to criticism that she’s made factual errors. https://t.co/sKf3sHl9F6 pic.twitter.com/xKc2eB7GEk
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) January 7, 2019
In that recent “60 Minutes” interview, Ocasio-Cortez was asked directly about how often she’s been caught distorting the truth. To many Democrats’ approval and my instant discomfort, she responded by simply mirroring the talking points of numerous Trump administration officials in recent years: truth isn’t as important as intent. Are her lies “not the same thing” as his because of the politics behind them? Or because she feels she’s fighting the good fight? Because chances are good that those on the other side of the aisle feel as though they’re the good guys, too.
“If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they’re missing the forest for the trees,” she said to Cooper. “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.”
Like Fox News with Sanders, even the liberal-leaning CNN took issue with Ocasio-Cortez’s apparent comfort with lying as long as the ends justify the means. She effectively used the same argument as Sanders as well: Don’t get hung up on the data, pay attention to the fear I’m trying to evoke instead. This isn’t a practice that’s relegated to the camps of these two politicians; in fact, it’s becoming the modus operandi for sitting and aspiring lawmakers alike. Why bother fighting on the grounds of facts when you can win using nothing but emotion? Your supporters will embrace you no matter how inaccurate your claims, and your detractors will vilify you whether you tell the truth or not.
So here we find ourselves, an American people clamoring for a champion and, just like in 2016, we find ourselves choosing sides between two people with no real interest in addressing us like adults, telling us the truth, or engaging in productive discussion. Granted, one is the president and the other is a first-term congresswoman, but in terms of damaging the American political discourse, their official roles are less important than their perceptions among the American people. Pro-Trump righties and pro-Ocasio-Cortez lefties aren’t at all bothered by either of these politicians lying to the American people (whether intentionally or not)—they’re only mad about it when it comes from the opposing team.
Politics and hypocrisy have always been bedfellows, but as of late, it seems the American people have never been more eager to embrace dishonesty, not as an unfortunate byproduct of politics, but rather as the way good politics should work. When all you want is to win at any cost, it can be easy to lose sight of what you’re sacrificing for victory. Today, we’ve decided that we would rather be talked down to and misled by the politicians we think have the right intentions instead of demanding to be represented by leaders who see us as grown-ups worthy of being told the truth.
So here’s the crux of it (and I’m sure this will earn me some extremely colorful hate mail): If you can shrug away Trump’s lies but take to Twitter in a frenzy when Ocasio-Cortez says something untrue, you’re a hypocrite. If you’re one of the people who has justified Ocasio-Cortez’s misrepresentations of the facts as “necessary” in today’s political climate while shouting at the sky about Trump’s dishonesty, you’re a hypocrite, too.
Maybe you can use that as the common ground on which to build a more cooperative government, but I’d be willing to bet our newfound love affair with weaponized dishonesty doesn’t produce any positive results at all.