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Normalizing lying

This is a submitted guest opinion from former U.S. Representative Larry La Rocco.

President Trump’s State of the Union address touched me personally. And not in a good way.

As a former U. S. Representative from the First District of Idaho I was privileged to spend four years working in the hallowed House Chamber in the US Capitol. If you have visited or seen it on TV, you immediately grasp its historic significance and its relationship to our nation’s core values.

The State of the Union has gravitated toward increasingly more theater, campaign rhetoric and partisan messaging, but it still serves as an important vehicle for presenting the President’s agenda and gauging the reaction of the Congress. The speech is a dramatic spectacle filled with the leaders of the three branches of government under one roof at the exact same moment. It can be simultaneously spine chilling and stomach churning depending on the issues at hand, the behavior of the audience, the height of the oratory and the tenor of the message.

The 2019 speech for me was, quite simply, sad. Here’s why: it contained false claims, misleading statements, mis-characterizations and outright lies. The State of the Union is the place where falsehoods and dishonesty should be parked at the curb. The well of the US House of Representatives is not a plane hangar. President Trump’s mendacity fouled the hallowed chamber and it is inexcusable.

We live in a contemporary world of fact checkers. Pick your favorite: Politifact, The New York Times, Politico, NPR, The Washington Post, Snopes, The Annenberg Public Policy Center; and the list goes on. The Washington Post has documented 8,459 false claims and misleading statements in the first 745 days of the Trump Administration.
Depending on your political persuasion and your preference for news sources, that
claim of falsehoods could be off by anywhere from zero to 8,459. However, the “Pants on Fire” list of documented Trump lies by Politifact goes on for many pages. The New York Times meticulously catalogues the lies by subject and date. The other sources have cited hundreds of instances of outright falsehoods and the facts to
back up their claims.

I was deeply saddened because I believe the State of the Union should be a safe zone for facts. It is not a place or time for lies. President Trump stretched the truth 30 times based on fact checking by The Washington Post. His lies were mainly on immigration and the economy over the course of his 82 minute world-wide address. Anyone can access a fact-checking source with a phone or computer.

We must question whether Americans have become so accustomed to President Trump’s lies and falsehoods that it has become accepted behavior. We cannot brush this deceptive behavior off as “whataboutism” which is a convenient way of saying they all do it. No, they don’t all do it. This isn’t about “equivalency” and settling political scores with rivals or partisans. 8,459 falsehoods in two years is 8,459 too many.

The State of the Union speech was instantly accessible to 327 million Americans and was viewed worldwide. To wrap our brain around political mendacity and its insidiousness we should localize the impact of it on our lives in Idaho. What if Senator XXXXX gave the commencement speech at Eagle High school, and it contained 30 falsehoods? What if Congressman XXXXX spoke to the Parma Lions Club and dished out 30 lies? What if Governor XXXXX spoke to the Idaho Farm Bureau and skirted the truth 30 times? Would those speeches be acceptable to Idahoans? I don’t think so.

Yet, the Idaho Congressional Delegation sat in the hallowed House Chamber for the one hour and 22 minute State of the Union message, absorbed 30 falsehoods preceded by two years of thousands of false claims and lies and said nothing. Maybe they even stood and applauded when the emotional and dishonest red meat was served.

I was deeply shaken by this year’s State of the Union because it strayed from the truth for purely political reasons. We must demand better. Lying to Americans is not normal. I fear its normalization will tear at the core values we cherish and protect. President Trump should be ashamed, and his enablers should as well.
 

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