In my post “The muddled mess of truth today”, I discussed how news site editors like to twist headlines to convey a point of view. These kinds of banners are not hard to find. Just open up a news feed.
Before me right now is the headline “Amidst Trump Turmoil, Pence carves his own identity.” Looks benign enough, right? The US Vice President is becoming his own man in the midst of our president’s own mess.
Well, not so fast. The editor has already asked us to take for granted that the current president is encompassed by all kinds of horrible commotion by their use of the term “turmoil.” It’s a loaded word full of negativity. Who wants turmoil?
In my view, this idea that Trump’s administration is in “turmoil” is a matter of perception and open to debate. I have some questions.
I wonder if President Trump sees himself as surrounded by turmoil. What does he think about it if he does? Who or what is causing the turmoil?
The answers produced from those questions are also a matter of one’s point of view. Some think our president creates turmoil out of his own alleged incompetence and vulgarity. Others think he also creates chaos because he thrives on it and works better in such an atmosphere.
Mr. Trump’s supporters think that there is no turmoil in the president’s White House. They believe that the media or the president’s opponents have fabricated this as a story.
Those of Mr. Trump’s advocates who do see tension around him also believe the media is at fault. They say that the media is actually creating the disorder to bring the president down.
It’s really difficult in today’s media to get at the truth amidst all the click bait. The owners and editors of news organizations seem to have other agendas they want to follow which triumph over truth. Their goals appear to be more financial and political in nature.
The media is not the only institution where something besides the truth is emphasized. If the purveyors of communication have contributed to the tumult in our society because of their departure from the road to truth, so has the justice system.
Like the media, the American judicial system also has other priorities which supersede discerning the truth. This includes taking the human element out of the equation and emphasizing rules. In an article comparing the American system of justice to the European one, Ellis Washington writes, “Under the Anglo-American/common law system of jurisprudence, especially over the past 100 years, rules trump the truth.”
Washington notes that in the last half century that the US Supreme Court “made up out of whole cloth” criminal defenses which emphasize procedure over the rule of law. In other words, ‘rules’ rule over a principle meant to provide fair and equal justice to everyone.
For example, some of SCOTUS’s rulings developed into something we see all the time on the ubiquitous cop shows on TV: the reading of Miranda Rights. (“You have the right to remain silent, etc. etc.”). We all know what happens if a police officer blows it and doesn’t read a perp their rights.
Washington says such cases “have thoroughly perverted the rule of law and the original intent of the Constitution’s framers, plunging American law, culture and society into our present state of chaos.” Judges are handicapped by rules imposed from above. Criminals go free when rules are broken. Police are tempted to perjure themselves if they break a rule in their arrest.
Washington thinks the Continental System is much better because it gives judges a freer hand. It allows them to be more involved in the cases before them and better arrive at the truth.
Following the Continental System, he says, would be better “because the law’s primary purpose should not be to legalistically follow a case-driven, judge-centered template, not the rules of evidence, not politics, liberalism, conservatism, feminism, humanism, secularism, positivism, pragmatism or any other ‘ism’… but justice, equality under law and veritas – truth.”
Sadly, in today’s America “isms” do tend to run the show in the courtroom. Judges are more known for their political views then who they are as human beings. Conservatives, for example, think of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as a bastion of left wing thought. The progressive believes Supreme Court justice Atonin Scalia was a reactionary. Who today focuses on the judge’s ability to arrive at the truth? They instead zero in on their politics.
That we live in a society devoid of truth is evidenced by a term such as ‘post-truth’ receiving the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year Award for 2016. It is a word which Oxford defines as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
There are people who think the Western concept of the rule of law is strong and able to withstand the assault on it described above. British attorney Tamas Lukasi is not worried about the effect of a post-truth world on our legal system. He stresses the soundness of Western law:
“Lawyers are often seen as a greedy and unethical profession; and law as bureaucratic red-tape. To deny this perception would itself be a post-truth posture. Though I happen to have a better opinion of lawyers and the law, who cares about opinions? It is rather facts that should matter. And the fact is facts matter in law and they matter a lot.”
“I am quite confident,” he writes,” that until the deeply rooted rules on legal argument, evidence and standard of proof stand strong, the legal process cannot be else but immune to post-truth. The rule of law has survived much turmoil.”
Despite the convoluted sentence, I presume Lukasi means in context that our Western judicial system will triumph. (He seems to mean “while” the rules stand strong, not “until.” Blame HIS editor.)
I’m not so sure our judicial system is winning. The current situation in it, the media, and other Western institutions is as confusing as Lukasi’s statement. This is I believe is due to the inability of our thought leaders to even arrive at basic truths. They even have trouble, as I mentioned in my last post, in defining what truth is or even deciding what their own buzz words mean.
For example, the American Bar Association (ABA) admits that the term “rule of law” is difficult to define. The best it can come up with is that it is “an ideal that we strive to achieve but sometimes fail to live up to” and that “institutions and procedures have contributed to the definition of what makes up the rule of law and what is necessary to achieve it.”
The ABA seems to have written an expanded definition without forming a simple one. Let me help. Here’s a formula for a simple definition by John Swales.
T=G + D1 + D2 etc. or Thing equals General class plus distinguishing characteristics
As I mentioned, there is the even more important attempt to define the concept of “truth”. A website called DifferenceBetween.net struggles to differentiate between the terms “fact” and “truth.” They note how dictionaries discuss how similar the terms are. In comparing the two, the site calls ‘truth” the “true state of a certain matter.” I was always told by my teachers not to include the term in my definition.
Further (and what is worse), these folks say “truth” is “what a person has come to believe” and that facts are more permanent and more constant than truths are.
DifferenceBetween.net’s kind of definition of truth is at the heart of the problem in today’s world. Truth appears to be relative to modern mankind. There are no universal truths. “Truth” is something we believe. It may be reality. It may not be. It really all depends on what we “believe.”
The consequence of the muddled mess created by inability of our institutions to define truth is that our society is in a state of confusion