Beyond Truth and Lies

by Robyn Morrison

February 23, 2017

Complex wicked global challenges cannot be solved within silos of competing truths. We are too deeply divided and oppositionally certain about how to overcome the most important challenges facing humanity.

Closed minds and fixed world views prevent us from overcoming the highly complex and interrelated challenges of our world. Often what appear to be pure lies contain nuggets of truth. Truth is an amorphous thing. Certainty is a dangerous thing. I am not trying to relativize, instead I am hoping to raise our awareness of complexity.

There are not many things I am certain about. That said, I am fairly certain our institutions and leaders deceive us regularly. We tolerate their deception when what they tell us aligns with our existing belief systems. For most people, if new information conflicts with what we think we already know, we experience an uncomfortable dissonance.(1) We would rather wallow in a world of alternative truth and deception than face reality, especially when reality is full of danger.

Consequently, if the truth cannot be determined, if it is indeed amorphous or hidden, then can we also assume that what constitutes a “lie” might also be hard to determine.

This is how we evolved to the “post-truth” world. Alternative facts are a real phenomenon. Our 45th President rode the post-truth wave because he is a Master of the art of deceptive rhetoric. #45 is the most egregious pathological liar since Hitler. Although some would dismiss his lies as incompetence, or insanity, it is just as likely they are intentional gaslighting — a classic fascist totalitarian strategy for gaining and maintaining power over people.

Some truths are hard to accept. Some lies are easy to accept, especially if they conform to your worldview. Some of the things POTUS #45 says to his followers align with their experience of reality. In the midst of his constant barrage of lies, he occasionally tells the truth.

Here are three areas where #45’s rhetoric may be closer to the truth than what the “establishment” has been telling us.

1. There is a global job crisis, unemployment, underemployment, and joblessness has grown over the past eight years.

Perhaps the most contentious and amorphous facts relate to jobs. On November 4, 2016, Trump’s campaign released a statement arguing Obama’s so-called economic recovery was more of an economic disaster. The statement also reported that during the Obama administration the increase in people receiving food stamps was greater than the number who found a job. During the campaign, Trump said his “great economists” reported the unemployment rate was closer to 32%.(3)

Moreover, you cannot even trust the fact checking sources to report accurately about the jobs crisis.(2) Fact checking sites confirm the 4.7% official unemployment rate reported by the Obama administration.

In this case, the truth is complicated. They are highlighting only the most favorable out of several possible Department of Labor unemployment statistics, the number of people actively using the unemployment system (eligible for unemployment and actively seeking full time work). According to other Department of Labor statistics, when people voted in November 2016, only 62.8% of the civilian labor force was working. That means 37.2% of the civilian labor force was NOT working. Of the 62.8% that were working, millions were working part time.

Republicans accused Obama of manipulating the formula to overstate the economic recovery.(4) However, it was President Bill Clinton, not Obama, who changed the formula for calculating the reported unemployment rate — eliminating the long term unemployed out of the calculation. Both parties have reported a deceptively low number since the 1990's.

Those of us who are part of the ‘forgotten’ or ‘invisible’ long term unemployed or employment insecure have known for a long time that our leaders have been deceiving us. If you have had a full time steady job for the past four years, you may believe the official unemployment figures. However, those of us without that security know first hand that the economy (including during Obama’s time as President) has not produced enough full time jobs for all of us.

2. The so-called economic recovery is really just another bubble about to burst. The increases in the stock market during Obama’s 8 years are primarily fueled by the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, not genuine economic growth.

During his campaign, #45 claimed that the Federal Reserve has created a “false stock market.” He further said that our nation’s savers have been the worst hit by the Fed’s monetary policies. He said, “I love low interest rates, but for the good of the nation, rates should be higher.”(5)

Although #45 has been highly inconsistent and contradictory in his comments about the Federal Reserve, he was speaking the truth during this interview with CNBC. Monetary policy, in particular something referred to as “Quantitative Easing (QE),” has been a primary contributor to the acceleration of inequality.

The Economy has not recovered from the 2007–2009 economic crisis. Only the wealthiest 1% have experienced anything resembling a financial recovery. Our national and global economy (they cannot be separated anymore) are as fragile as they have ever been, probably more fragile than right before the Great Depression.

On the surface, there is an irrational ebullience about the rising U.S. stock market. The middle class has been deceived into believing the value of their homes, and their retirement accounts have recovered. Most of the poor are completely left out of the rising markets because they have no retirement accounts, and they don’t own their own home.

Furthermore, most people in the United States are economically insecure. Research shows that 2 out of three people in the US cannot even afford a $500 emergency expense. The middle class is disappearing and poverty is increasing. Public pension funds are extremely under funded. There are a number of interrelated financial bubbles that are about to blow wide open. Establishment economists failed to predict the last economic crisis, and once again they are ignoring the extreme over-valuations in today’s markets.

Actually, I hope the group of economists who are writing about the coming economic collapse, are all wrong.(6) The stock market continues to rise with #45 as President. It is difficult to predict when the irrational exuberance will collapse, but the same people who predicted the last economic crisis are once again the canaries in the mine shaft. I believe there will be another crisis and it will be worse than the last one. It will most likely happen before the 2018 elections.

When it happens there will be winners and losers. Who will the losers be; the financial sector, the gamblers and speculators who made billions, who were bailed out by Bush and Obama, the ones who received obscene bonuses at the end of 2009, or the rest of us? Unless we face reality we will be the losers.

3. The United States is not Great, we have always aspired towards greatness, but we are not there yet.

The message Obama, Clinton, and the Democratic party establishment put forth during the 2016 Democratic National Convention was, “America is already great.” On the other hand, Trump emphasized the dysfunction and unresponsiveness of the Government, and the rampant elitism of Neoliberal politics, although #45 did not use those words. His repetitive elementary school rhetoric drove the point home, “Things are very bad. I am going to make things great.” In addition, he pointed the finger at a number of convenient scapegoats including other people (lower on the economic hierarchy) and “the establishment.”

He tapped into the overwhelming mistrust that people have in institutions and leaders.

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer (7) described 2016 as a year of “unimaginable upheaval” due to an “implosion of trust.” “This is a profound crisis in trust that has its origins in the Great Recession of 2008… Government officials and regulators are the least credible spokespeople, at 29 percent credibility.”

The Bernie Sanders movement told the truth about unemployment, discontent, and distrust; while the Clinton campaign and the Democrats built their appeal by ignoring the distrust and resentment and offering only arrogant platitudes. Clinton’s message was, “Things are already pretty good, and we promise that they will get a little bit better.”

During the campaign, fact checking sites reported that Hillary was generally the most truthful. This is a classic example of how powerful establishment mindsets were busy confirming their existing beliefs. The DNC and the Clinton campaign had many highly intelligent political operatives on their team, it is astonishing to realize that their minds may have blocked them from understanding some of the greatest concerns of the voters.

In addition, the majority of people did not think Hillary was trustworthy. There were admissions during the campaign that Hillary has “differing public and private positions.”(8) I suspect that Hillary does not even know her authentic self, instead she tries to be all things to all people. She was just trying very hard to be a good politician.

Clearly people are tired of politicians who try to be all things to all people, politians who say one thing and then do something else (which is hypocrisy not lying). One clear lesson from the surprising rise of Bernie and Donald is that in 2016 people were attracted to authenticity. It is hard not to wonder what would have been the outcome of a general election that pitted an authentic commitment to the common good (Bernie)against an authentic commitment to personal greed (Donald).

Hillary and Donald were the two most disliked Presidential candidates in the past ten presidential cycles.(9) #45 won because he was more truthful about the resentment people feel towards the Government. Interviews of his voters also point to the fact that they found it refreshing that he was authentic. They were willing to dismiss the evidence that he was greedy, self-centered, ill-tempered, hateful, and abusive. Clearly there is a difference between being authentic and being honest because they even ignored his constant lies. In hindsight, it seems that millions of people voted for the least liked candidate, because he was successful at turning the distrust in Government into hatred towards other people.

Since the election, #45 has continued to bombarded us with lies, or alternative facts. The uprising from progressives has been very impressive. The millions of people participating in populist uprisings should give me hope, but instead I feel strangely suspicious.

I know that Republicans are not the only liars. Democrats are also inauthentic, and they also lie to people. I find myself searching for the truth in a world of alternative facts. I estimate that somewhere around 5% or less of the population is actively engaged in an open minded pursuit of the nuggets of truth on both sides of the most contentious issues. The 5% question everything, especially our own assumptions. We know that what we know is a small fraction of what we don’t know that we don’t know. We actively seek to understand other perspectives, especially perspectives we instinctively resist.

The truth that we seek, the truth that will set us free from fear and hatred, is not an easy truth. It is not a certainty that we are right and they are wrong. The truth is on the other side of right and wrong, we should try meeting there.

Endnotes:

1. Elizabeth Kolbert. New Yorker Magazine. 2/27/2017 http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds

2. Even factcheck.org paints an overly rosy picture of our jobless rate. It’s complicated! http://www.factcheck.org/2016/01/obamas-numbers-january-2016-update/

3. Trump Campaign. https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/the-obama-economic-disaster

4. It is important to note that the President is not responsible for creating jobs (except a role in possible increases in Federal hiring). That said, we do tend to judge a President’s performance on this factor because jobs are important to voters.

5. Matthew Belvedere. CNBC. September 12, 2016. http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/12/trump-says-fed-chief-yellen-should-be-ashamed.html

6. Washingtons Blog. http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2016/01/top-economist-predicted-2008-crash-confirms-alternative-financial-sites-saying-decade.html

7. Richard Edelman, January 15, 2017. http://www.edelman.com/p/6-a-m/an-implosion-of-trust/

8. Ben Wolfgang. Washington Times. 10/8/2016. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/oct/8/hillary-clinton-says-she-has-both-public-and-priva/ AND Indira A.R. Lakshmanan. Politico Magazine. April 14, 2016. http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/04/hillary-clinton-2016-the-mystery-of-the-two-hillarys-213813

9. Harry Enten. May 5, 2016. FiveThirtyEight. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/americans-distaste-for-both-trump-and-clinton-is-record-breaking/