Why it is essential to fact-check Trump’s statements
Artwork by Eli Canter: Trump has accused many news companies of “fake news.”
A recent tweet from Donald Trump reads, “The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!” Even though this is far from the truth, as the majority of the protests are grassroot movements by unpaid citizens, Trump’s message has been accepted by his supporters. This has been a common theme over the last few years. In 140 characters or less, Trump has the ability to influence his legions of followers with the click of a button.
Unfortunately, Trump does not use this platform to tell the truth. His Twitter posts or speeches are rarely based on reality. In fact, studies show that almost 90% of what he’s been saying is either a blatant lie or barely qualified as a half truth. When an authoritative figure, such as the President, says something, it is taken seriously. We assume that remarks made by our leaders are true. Some fluff from politicians can be expected, but not to the extent seen this past year. Facts are powerful. When used correctly, words can motivate people to take a stand, inspire change, or contribute to social and scientific progress. The perversion of the truth, however, when presented as fact, is dangerous.
The most important human innovation is the written word. Since its creation, writing has mutated into a wide variety of forms: novels, plays, speeches, fables, poems, and diaries. Nonfiction permeates throughout all these forms, and with it carries truth and facts in an easily accessible package. Human beings crave knowledge. On a purely physical level, there are obvious benefits to learning. The more one learns, the more connections form in the brain, increasing thinking power and overall cognitive ability. However, nonfiction can have a more abstract purpose. People trust the truth; it’s what gives nonfiction its power. Unfortunately, when a falsity is presented under the guise of being a fact, it influences people to make incorrect decisions. Nonfiction continues to be a mighty tool for positive change, but especially in today’s technological world, it can also be used for a more dangerous purpose.
When a falsity is cloaked in the veil of nonfiction, it can have dangerous ramifications. In 1925, Hitler published his autobiography, Mein Kampf. In it, he presents abominable accusations as facts. Referring to the Jews, he states, “The nationalization of our masses will succeed only when, aside from all the positive struggle for the soul of our people, their international poisoners are exterminated.” For a German reading this in the early 1900s, looking for a scapegoat for the economic crisis in their country, they would have no reason not to believe the writings of an influential politician. It’s presented as nonfiction, but clearly doesn’t contain facts. Hitler harnessed nonfiction for his own benefit, and spread lies throughout his country under the ruse that they were truths. When one ignores the definition of nonfiction, it can have deadly consequences. Ten million exterminations later, the damage caused is clear.
When it comes to influential nonfiction, religious texts trump all. From the Bible to the Quran, each claims to be the true doctrine. Both can lead to positive results; the Bible and the Quran preach peace and tolerance. However, when accepted as fact, both texts can lead to violence and hate. For the casual believer, a loose interpretation is applied. They realize that many parts of these antiquated documents are not applicable today, and only follow the parts that are relevant to modern day. Extremists, however, follow very literal interpretations of these texts. The Ku Klux Klan took the Bible’s description of Ham’s punishment as fact, and used it as an excuse to inflict harm and fear upon countless African-Americans. ISIS takes most of their ideology from an extremely literal interpretation of the Quran, using it as a basis for their increasingly bold terrorist attacks. Again, nonfiction has the power to move and influence people, because they assume it contains the truth. However, when people use a text to justify a violent act, the purpose of nonfiction is perverted.
While there certainly has been instances of “fake news,” equally dangerous is the current attack on the media. Trump’s crusade to label negative press as “fake” has the potential for serious consequences. The media is where the average American gets their news; most people are not witnessing the developing stories first hand. To be informed, one must use the sources available to them to get information about current events. While not all news sources are unbiased, reputable organizations can be trusted to present the truth to the best of their ability. However, Trump’s attempts to discredit them will leave some Americans unsure of who to trust and uninformed on important topics. His barring them from press briefings will convince some of his followers that journalists are liars, and that he is the only one telling the truth. With professional journalists and broadcasters out of the way, Trump can paint any picture he chooses of what’s happening in the world. The reason the United States has freedom of the press is to keep the government in check, and with his attack on the media, Trump is dangerously close to violating that power.
The truth can facilitate positive change, improvements, and innovations. However, when misused, it has the power to destroy and desecrate. With Trump as our President, it is more important than ever to be vigilant in identifying when a lie is being presented as a fact. One tweet can cause a lot more than 140 characters worth of destruction.
By Henry Brody