For Donald Trump, truth is a matter of convenience, with facts entirely optional and plenty of space allowed for make-believe. Yet in American public life, our current president is far from being the sole purveyor of fictions and falsehoods. The very institutions that citizens count on to distinguish between fact and fable engage in their own forms of mythmaking. While they may steer clear of telling outright lies, they dispense no small amount of drivel, concealing actual truth behind a veil of illusion.
Allow me to offer an illustrative example in the form of a recent column by the Washington Post’s David Von Drehle, a seasoned journalist now installed in that paper’s stable of political commentators and called upon twice weekly to reflect on the fate of humankind.
The title of Von Drehle’s essay poses a question: “Joe Biden says America is back. Back to what?” Von Drehle then proceeds to spell out his own answer to that what. Yet in doing so, he packages his views in a specific historical context. It’s that context that is instructive.
Let us acknowledge that the Biden team is no more likely to take its cues from some garden-variety pundit than from members of the outgoing administration. Van Drehle’s policy recommendations—that Biden should “end the mollycoddling” of Saudi Arabia, insist that China “play by the rules,” and knit “the Americas into a hemisphere of happiness”—carry about as much weight with the incoming administration as do Mike Pompeo’s opinions, i.e. next to none whatsoever.
Read the full article in The American Conservative.