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Truth, it has been said with considerable justification, is the first casualty of war.

It could also be said that truth is a casualty of current-day politics or that today's politics is characterized by dishonesty and misinformation.

Yes, for decades politicians have often tailored their comments, telling people what they wanted to hear, even if it meant shading truth. And we have had colossal cases of national leaders misleading the public on major matters such as war in Vietnam and Iraq.

Each day we awaken to more fables and falsehoods, often intended, it seems, to change the agenda, diverting attention, part of President Donald Trump's serial subject-changing. The assault on truth is unrelenting.

Polls indicated long ago that many Americans see Trump as dishonest. Some of what comes from the White House and administration officials may in some cases be wishful thinking ("the wall" and "Mexico will pay for it").

Some of it is just plain ignorance, as seen in the embarrassing display by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who appeared unaware that a presidential line-item veto has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Legal experts say the only way to grant this power to the president is by amending the Constitution, which would be a daunting undertaking. In an interview with Fox News, Mnuchin begged to differ. He said Congress had other options and could simply "pass a rule ... that allows them to do it."

News and fact-checking organizations have documented hundreds of examples of inaccuracies, outright untruths or unfounded statements, with Twitter twiddles an especially abundant source.

Some stand out for their audacity and others get lost within the torrent of unbacked assertions that become almost commonplace.

With income-tax deadlines approaching, I'm reminded of one of the most egregious of Mr. Trump's sleight-of-tongue dodges -- his promise to release his IRS filings. He later added the "as soon as the audit is completed" codicil. It became clear that, unlike other major-party presidential candidates in recent times, he had no intention of releasing his tax returns. There was, of course, the outlandish insistence that his inauguration had record-breaking attendance; his claim that at least 3 million unauthorized immigrants illegally voted against him; the allegation that President Barack Obama wire-tapped Trump Tower; and the assertion he would not benefit from his tax "reform" proposal. And instead of "draining the swamp" and "one of the greatest cabinets ever," we have been presented with a changing cast of characters on the Trump team, many of them cozy with lobbyists, clearly unqualified and/or with ethics questions and family business issues.

Last week he touted the number of jobs created during his tenure, saying "nobody would have believed that could have happened." However, the 2.5 million new jobs created in his first 13 months in office parallels almost exactly the 2.6 million jobs created in Obama's last 13 months in the White House.

He promised major cuts in the budget deficit, vowing the deficit would never reach $400 billion again. However, because of tax cuts and spending increases, the ballooning deficit is expected to exceed $1 trillion next year.

The list is endless.

Recently, the president boasted that he made up facts about U.S.-Canada trade in a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trump said he told Trudeau that the U.S. runs a trade deficit with Canada, which is not true, and later Trump acknowledged that he had "no idea" what was true.

Hard-core Trump supporters aren't bothered by his recklessness with the truth. Many are convinced that "everyone does it" and that reports about his distortions and deceit are the work of those biased against him. And some see the administration's scenario as a continuation of reality television. However, there's reality TV such as The Apprentice and there's reality -- the distinction between what makes good entertainment and what is the real world is too easily blurred.

I'm reminded of another TV program (and before that a radio show) called Truth or Consequences, which some will remember. It was the first TV game show, premiering in 1941, and broadcast for many years. The premise is that if someone doesn't answer questions truthfully, they have to face the consequences by performing a stunt. And we should be giving more thought and attention to the consequences for our democracy.

Truth conquers all, we are told. But is truth sufficiently valued in our society? Is truth essential to the proper functioning of our government and political system? Those are questions that need our serious consideration.

Commentary on 04/04/2018

Print Headline: Truth or consequences

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