The holiday this year revealed loads of examples of people trying to push beyond myths and elevate truth. Sorting out truth is paramount in the Trump era. We need to be willing to flat-out call a lie a lie.
Our new president seems to have led more Americans to think about what is or isn’t true and led them to challenge myths and lies more forcefully than they might have without his approach to facts.
We need a deeper examination of ideas and statements, whether we are considering the words of one person or the larger stories that define us as individuals and as a country.
St. Patrick’s Day this year provided a wealth of examples of people trying to push beyond myths and elevate truth. And much of that was in reaction to Donald Trump and the people who have invested faith in him based on ideas about America and the world that aren’t accurate.
One of the common themes in news stories and commentary was how ideas about immigrants have been distorted to support policies based on demonization of some of the people who want to become part of this nation.
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Trump has called Mexican immigrants rapists and tried to stir fears of people from majority-Muslim countries, restricting the entry of people from those countries.
The Irish columnist Fintan O’Toole wrote in The New York Times that the White House celebration of St. Patrick’s Day would be a “breathtaking celebration of double standards and the willful forgetting of America’s recent past.”
On St. Patrick’s Day, the administration celebrated Irish immigrants while trying to keep out other refugees who have much in common with them, except that the more recent immigrants aren’t all white and some of them aren’t Christian.
Several stories and opinion pieces made the point that accusations thrown at the Irish when they arrived long ago were similar to those being hurled today at people from Muslim nations or from Latin America.
During his visit for the annual celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, Enda Kenny, the prime minister of Ireland,reminded Trump of immigrants’ contributions to the United States and urged him to see undocumented migrants (50,000 of whom are from Ireland) as people who simply want a chance to improve their lives and contribute to the country.
The Irish who arrived here generations ago faced deep prejudice. They were poor and they were Catholic, and in America at that time both of these things were cause for fear and suspicion. Anti-immigrant Americans claimed the Irish were criminals destroying cities and opening the door for the pope to exercise control of this country.
Sound familiar? We Americans can make poor personal and political choices because we don’t have a sound grounding in our national history or current realities. We are vulnerable to myths and distortions.
Mythmaking happens in every realm of life, but it’s a particular risk in politics where it is necessary to persuade people to see things your way, whether you’re selling government policy or yourself.
Does the average American understand enough about history to have a grasp of why the standoff over a pipeline in North Dakota drew Native Americans from across the country?
Do we understand enough about voting rights in the past and present to give context to current battles over restrictions on those rights? Do you know that native-born Americans have a higher violent-crime rate than immigrants?
Some studies have found that while uninformed voters are a problem, the greater problem may be misinformed voters, people who’ve been told untruths and then cling to them.
Some people are particularly good at telling stories to move us toward their views or sometimes to distract us from inconvenient truths. Donald Trump pushes things further than most presidents. He clings to his belief that his predecessor as president bugged his offices during the campaign, despite the absence of any evidence for that claim.
News organizations in particular have struggled to find appropriate and effective ways to deal with the new reality. And more and more, this has meant flat-out saying that something the president said is a lie.
That’s a start. And even more important is spreading truth so persistently that it will drown out untruth. That would make us a greater nation.