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We need to revisit our relationship with the truth

Last month I ended my column with the story of a Wisconsin woman who refused to vote for any Republican, but vowed to vote for Donald Trump because he would “shake things up.” What did this woman see in the country that needed to be shaken up? 

As I write this column, two major stories in the previous 48 hours have been shown to be complete or partial fabrications. The more egregious of them was the story of students from Covington Catholic High School. Boys from this school were in Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Life. After the march was over, they were instructed to meet on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before they got on the bus. Then something happened. The New York Times offered this headline to explain the events: “Boys in ‘Make America Great Again’ Hats Mob Native Elder at Indigenous Peoples March.” 

The facts of the case were actually remarkably different. The Native American man actually approached the boys, not the other way around. Yes, some of the boys had those hats on. Some didn’t. No one was mobbing anyone. The boys were not at the Indigenous Peoples March, which had already been elsewhere. Nevertheless, the Times and pretty much every one else pushed the false narrative that white boys wearing President Trump’s well-known hat intimidated an elderly, nonwhite man. For this, these boys and their families have faced death threats.

What needs to be shaken up? I would say our collective relationship with the truth needs to be re-examined. Too many play fast and loose with the truth to justify their indignation against “the other side.” That anger helps motivate against those evil people over there. Consider the following:

When Trump ran for president, he made it clear that he believed illegal immigrants were bad people. He also said, “When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically.” It didn’t matter whether what he said was true. All he needed to do was convince us that beating Mexico was a priority. To win, we needed to vote for him.

Secretary Clinton did the same thing. Her “basket of deplorables” comment was not an off-the-cuff remark. Her campaign had been struggling, and the best thing they thought they could do was to demonize the other side. Half of Trump’s supporters, she said, are, among other things, racist xenophobes. It didn’t matter whether what she said was true. All we needed to know was that to beat him, we needed to vote for her.

So what’s the truth? Racism does exist in America. Some racists voted for Donald Trump. But that doesn’t make every or most supporters of the president racist. Also, the majority of illegal immigrants who cross the border are good people seeking a better way of life for themselves and their families. However, some illegal (and legal) immigrants are bad people who do bad things and have no right to be in the United States. And authorities really should have the means to protect American citizens. 

Despite what some media and our politicians tell us, all these things can be true at the same time. But admitting that doesn’t help political parties win or media outlets make money. The truth is that Americans agree on many issues. The truth is that we are not as divided as we might think. Next month, let us begin to look at where we do agree.

Deacon Omar Gutierrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at ofgutierrez@archomaha.org.

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