Why can’t we seem to come to a consensus on what is true?
We have access to more information, more news sources, more viewpoints from friends and strangers than at any time in recorded history, yet we can’t seem to come to a consensus on what is true and what is not.
There are so many examples, but let me focus for now on just three major recent events from where the truth seems to be incontrovertible, yet millions of Americans deny its authenticity.
Example 1 – COVID-19
Despite the devastation it has caused, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken more than 5 million lives worldwide, including more than 770,000 in the United States. Yet, millions believe it to be a hoax or overblown. The scientific community has proven conclusively that the coronavirus and its variants have had a profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives for nearly two years and will continue to play an outlier role for years to come.
In New York state, there have been more than 2.5 million cases with nearly 60,000 deaths. Tell the families of the 736 persons in Onondaga County, 566 in Oneida County, 107 in Oswego, 106 in Cayuga, 98 in Madison, 79 in Wayne and 71 in Jefferson who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 that the virus is a hoax or not as serious as health professionals would have us believe. (Those figures are from October and change on a daily basis.)
In addition to scoffing at the reach of the virus, many of these same deniers have questioned the value and safety of the vaccines that were developed in record time and the wearing of masks, social distancing and other safety recommendations to protect us from COVID-19.
While the virus was spreading uncontrolled during 2020, one of the most contentious presidential elections in American history also was unfolding.
Example 2 – 2020 Election Results
Donald Trump and his legion of supporters have never accepted the fact that he lost the election to Democrat Joe Biden despite affirmation by election officials in every state, scores of unsuccessful lawsuits challenging the results, confirmation by the legislatures of the states, approval by the U.S. Congress, review upon review, recount upon recount, audit upon audit. Even Trump’s own Justice Department conducted its investigation and found no widespread fraud. Yet, without a shred of plausible evidence, the incessant beat goes on that the election was stolen from Trump.
It will be forever known as “the big lie,” because by all measurable accounts, the election was fair and square, and Biden should be acknowledged by all Americans as the 46th president of the United States. That he is not, by a wide majority of Republicans and a few others, brings us to the topic of this column — what is truth?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines truth as “the real facts about something.” When the results of the election have been confirmed through accepted standards, litigated with a near-unanimous outcome in favor of the confirmation of the results and a finding of little to no fraud — certainly none to change the election’s outcome — to me, this makes the statement “Joe Biden won the 2020 election” a fact.
Sample 3 — The Jan. 6 Riots
That brings us to the other event, which ties in with the election — the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol building in Washington, which resulted in five deaths, 140 injuries to police officers and danger to the safety of the vice president (a Republican) and members of Congress who were convened to certify the 2020 Electoral College results, which had been verified by every state.
Many of these lawmakers feared for their lives as rioters stormed the building, pushed aside members of the Capitol and Metropolitan police forces and hunted down but never found Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and others.
More than 600 persons, including 47 from New York, have been charged so far by federal officials. This is the fourth highest number among states, next only to Florida, Texas and Pennsylvania.
Immediately after what many branded as an “insurrection,” there was near unanimous condemnation of the actions of then-President Trump for encouraging the crowd to march to the Capitol and demand that the legitimate election results be overturned. He was also criticized for not intervening early and forcefully after the rioters stormed the building. His actions led to Trump’s second impeachment, but as in the first instance, the articles of impeachment were not approved in the Senate.
Even Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy blamed Trump for his role in this dark day in our nation’s history.
Now, however, both have backed off their original accusatory stances. An effort to establish an independent 9/11-style commission (comprised of five Democrats and five Republicans) to investigate who instigated the riot and other key information was scuttled by Senate Republicans, presumably because it might hurt their chances in the mid-term elections in 2022 and because it might anger Trump, who still heads the party and who is quick to take revenge on those who cross him. Instead, a select committee comprised of seven Democrats and two Republicans are investigating what happened on Jan. 6.
The truth is that Trump supporters were at the heart of the Capitol riot, but now revisionists are attempting to sell the idea that it was Democrats, antifa (a political movement of autonomous groups opposed to fascism and other forms of extreme right-wing ideology) or others posing as Trump supporters who were the trouble-makers. They also are suggesting that the rioters were patriots or sightseers and that they really didn’t really do all that much wrong.
When we can’t even agree on what is obviously the truth, how are we going to make any progress on the major issues that confront all of us?
Our growing skepticism about the value of expertise, and our view that we know more than experts diminishes the value of the findings of health professionals, teachers, scientists, political scientists, etc.
This is laid out in scary detail in the best-selling book by Tom Nichols, “The Death of Expertise. “The increasingly democratic dissemination of information, rather than producing an educated public, has instead created an army of ill-informed and angry citizens who denounce intellectual achievement,” Nichols writes. He issues a warning about the stability and survival of modern democracy in the Information Age.
I wonder whether the words screamed by Jack Nicholson to Tom Cruise in the hit (1992) movie “A Few Good Men” have now become prophetic. When Cruise demands the truth, Nicholson replies, “You can’t handle the truth.”
Is this what’s going on with so many in our country?
BRUCE FRASSINELLI is the former publisher of The Palladium-Times. He served as a governor of the Rotary Club District 7150 (Central NY) from July 2001 to June 2002.