When multiple major news stories about the policy of child separation at the US/Mexico border contains the casual and, by now, well-worn, observation that officials in the administration are making “false” claims–that it’s Democratic legislators’ fault, that it isn’t a policy, that it isn’t happening at all–then you know that we have strategic problem on our hands as it relates to truth and falsehood. Calling lies lies doesn’t seem to work. Fact-checking isn’t cutting it. Because the lies* only repeat themselves, even multiply, in the face of mounting evidence to disprove them presented forcefully and with clear documentation.
One major network anchor put the problem clearly enough on Sunday when he asked, “How can we believe a President who routinely says things that are provably false?”
I think the “how?” in that question is growing in urgency by the day. How? is a strategy question.
It no longer seems obvious to me that proving the untruth of a lie is effective. It’s not like there’s some referee waiting to weigh the evidence and call “foul” on people repeating things for public consumption that are demonstrably false. If you care about honesty and truth in public discourse, regardless of your party affiliation, this moment presents a crisis of strategy: how do we combat falsehood?
I’ll be working this out for some time, and I will begin with this hunch: the antidote to falsehood is not evidence, it’s love. Enacting love in public life is the most powerful strategy we have for resisting lies. Love cares for weak and marginalized. Love listens. Love gives. Love casts out fear.
This is the beginning, then, of my strategy for combating a growing culture of lies. Look for and commit to acts of love amidst falsehood. It’s a start.
*It feels important to distinguish between the spin that we have become so accustomed to from lies. Spin cherry picks facts in a way that benefits your position while ignoring those that don’t. It’s disingenuous. It’s dishonest. But it falls short of a straight up lie. A lie contradicts verifiable reality and has no basis in actual fact.