In the midst of an election season, facts are hard to come by. At a time when many Americans across the political spectrum are trying to educate themselves on policy platforms, as well as the successes and failures of the current administration, facts and their supporting evidence seem to fall by the wayside. Both left and right wings of the media twist the truth and take politicians’ words out of context to best serve their agenda.
In the Vice Presidential debate last week, the mendacity was overwhelming as the viewers were often left unsure of what was actually true and what was just a ploy in an attempt to gain votes. One problem with this debate — and let’s admit it, there were more than a few — was that Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris could share basically any idea that had some semblance to fact without accountability and fact-checking. The result is that the American people, who absorbed a great deal of information, remain surrounded by ambiguity. These lies-guised-as-fact sway American opinions and lead voters to make decisions based on an ideology not grounded in fact.
A New York Times article published the next day highlighted a few key claims from Vice President Pence, as well as Senator Harris, that were especially misleading. Both Vice President Pence on the debate stage, and the Trump administration as a whole, have consistently attempted to discredit the safety and effectiveness of mail-in voting. This is in no way backed up by fact, but has led many on the political right to believe that, if President Trump does lose the election, it will be because “mail-in voting create[d] a massive opportunity for fraud.”
Many on the political right may claim that this election was rigged because of mail-in ballots, even though fraud by voting this way has proved to be exceedingly rare. The claim is untrue and dangerous because of its long-term implications, foreshadowing a troubled transition of power, even if President Trump loses fair and square.
Vice President Pence continued fabricating as he overexaggerated many of the alleged successes of the Trump administration and offered a hodgepodge of misleading information. For example, when speaking about the environment, Vice President Pence sought to highlight the environmental record of his team, but the reality of the situation is quite the opposite. He mistakenly claimed that the U.S. is doing a better job at reducing CO₂ emissions than other states in the Paris Agreement – a landmark United Nations environmental accord seeking to mitigate the negative effects of climate change through a sustainable, global effort. This administration has sought to repeal dozens of the Environmental Protection Agency’s protocols that protected our land, water and air, all in the interest of money and power. When asked about climate change, Vice President Pence tiptoed around the topic, never explicitly stating the fact that nearly all scientists agree on: climate change is real and humans are the main cause of this rapid increase in global temperatures.
As for other burning issues of our times, Vice President Pence continued to fall far from the truth. He argued that implicit bias doesn’t exist, and that saying so is a direct insult toward the men and women in law enforcement. Vice President Pence also endorsed large outdoor gatherings without masks, even though an event of that nature at the White House resulted in nearly two dozen people — our president included — testing positive for COVID-19. While such gatherings are against the CDC guidelines, many Americans have viewed the White House’s actions as justification for their own mass get-togethers, putting countless lives at risk.
Senator Harris was certainly not faultless in this debate, but her errors were fewer and less severe than those of Vice President Pence. She stated that President Trump referred to the virus as a “hoax” but was, in fact, taking his statement out of context. She also overexaggerated the negative effects on farmers and manufacturing jobs due to the trade war with China. While she had a lofty claim that former Vice President Joe Biden would repeal President Trump’s tax bill on Day One, this claim is not a realistic depiction of what could feasibly happen. Former Vice President Biden could only seek to repeal portions of the tax cuts and the House and Senate would have to pass new legislation for those repeals to occur.
The amount of untruths, omissions and misleading information exchanged in those 90 minutes is just a small taste of a much larger issue permeating the American news system. No one exists to hold reporters, politicians or newscasters accountable in the moment, so we absorb whatever information the media tosses our way. More often than not, we don’t think twice about the content’s veracity or origins. This lack of thoughtful engagement drives the “fake news” cycle while inciting division, hatred and overall dissonance among the general population as Americans struggle to find common ground with those on the opposing side.
Where are the facts? When did the truth become so politicized? Why aren’t politicians held accountable for their untruths? Why can’t we agree on the realities of climate change, systemic racism and the nature of this virus? Why is it that we cannot acknowledge our own humanity while seeking to actively and intentionally engage with the world?
Opinions expressed in letters and other editorials, unless otherwise stated, are those of the writers and not of The Horizon staff or the college collectively.