Politicians, the media and the truth

Donald Trump’s distrust of the media, his refusal to take a question from CNN, his desire to move the press corps from the Press Room in the White House, his misuse of the term ‘fake news’—these are all developments that are welcomed by his supporters, who mistrust anything that the “liberal media” reports. I believe that the religious right is in large part responsible for this attitude with its incorrect idea of the “religious antithesis.” Such people believe that we cannot know any facts correctly unless we have the right religious beliefs. As I have argued elsewhere, this comes from reformational philosophy, but it is a misunderstanding of Dooyeweerd, who said that the religious antithesis is not to be used to divide people, but only for self-critique. Furthermore, he said that there are common “states of affairs” that can be appealed to regardless of one’s religious convictions.

The problem is not confined to the religious right. On the left, the idea of constructivism is the dominant ideology—that we construct our reality by the ideas that we bring to it and by our background. The end result is the same as the idea of religious antithesis in leaving no common ground or common facts on which to base our discourse. In its extreme form, we are left with solipsism, where we can never understand the other person. It is said that one race can never understand another, that one sex cannot understand the other and that he/she should not even write about it, that the classic literature of the past is by dead white colonialist males and therefore irrelevant. And it is said that constructivism will lead to a kind of postmodernism and even post-truth society. In fact, as I have shown in my recently published article, constructivism is not postmodernism at all, but an extreme form of Kantian modernism in its denial of a common “givenness” to our experience. It is this idea of a common “givenness” to our experience that is lacking in both the religious right and in the constructivism of the left, although I would extend the idea of what is given to our experience to more than a sensory manifold.

It is the job of the press to explore and bring to light the common facts by which we can test the truth of what politicians are saying. And when Trump is shown to have lied about facts, it is not a proper response to then “pivot” and say that Clinton also lied. That kind of pivoting is a refusal to answer the question, and it only reinforces the idea that there is no common standard by which to judge truth. Lies on both sides need to be addressed head on. Yes, there is bias, and yes we need to beware of the “echo chamber” effect when we listen to only one source of news. But there must be a bedrock belief in common facts if we are to ever be able to communicate with each other.