Toxic word spills are poisoning democracy

word spillsJust one week into the Trump presidency, the newly inaugurated president and his circle of sycophants are working overtime to convince us that words and facts are meaningless. Sifting through President Trump’s rambling streams of disconnected, fact-less word spills can be discouraging and downright terrifying. When word upon contradictory word spills out in a jumbled torrent of ill-informed grandiosity and juvenile vindictiveness, confusion reigns.

Does anyone believe that this deeply disturbing spectacle of dysfunction at the highest levels of government creates a serious and focused environment for taking on the most difficult and dangerous challenges America and the world face? Job creation, health care, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, climate change – every challenge to our well being and security demands clarity and a mature mindset with the capacity for sifting through the facts and analyzing the nuances of debate.

Unfortunately, the chaotic pattern of pronouncements and then retractions that became the defining character of the first week of the Trump show inspires zero confidence.

Words and facts are foundational. They are what bind us together in common understanding and purpose. Peddling propaganda, falsehoods, and lies undermines our democracy. When words become empty and stripped of coherence or meaning, the essential dialogue necessary for a civil society to define commonly held principles and debate real policy prescriptions is rendered mute.

Whether we are progressives, centrists, conservatives, or members of the far right, we should at least be able to sit down together and agree on what is real and what is fiction.

When Kellyanne Conway paused during an interview on national television and swallowed hard before spewing out the most distortive words spoken by any representative of any administration in recent memory —her farcical “alternative facts”—she dropped a poison pill into our national discourse that will take the collective effort of all of us to expunge.

When White House strategist Stephen Bannon told the New York Times that the media should “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” his words left no doubt about his disdain for the First Amendment and the press’s solemn obligation to hold the government accountable to the people.

Looking back on the Trump administration’s first shaky week in office, perhaps we should be grateful to Conway and Bannon for ripping down the curtain and pulling out all the stops. Perhaps this early stomach-turning glimpse into the deep cynicism at the core of the Trump administration will be the kick in the gut we all need.

For now we know. Now we can be sure of one indisputable fact: that this administration seeks to redefine our understanding of the words we use and the facts we observe and to use those distortions to bully those who disagree with them into silence.

We cannot let them succeed.