Editorial: A heavy lift for U.S. voters
Two items hit the news last week that we might as well be prepared for in a Donald Trump presidency: Trump taking credit for something he didn’t do, and bad news on the environmental front.
Last Thursday, Trump claimed he saved a Ford plant in Kentucky from moving to Mexico. Not so fast, said the Ford company. Facts are the plant was never going to move to Mexico, but rather just a small line of production involving the Lincoln utility vehicle, the MKC.
Yet, here’s what Trump posted on his Twitter account: “I worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky. I owed it to the great State of Kentucky for their confidence in me!”
In reality, Ford corrected Trump’s tweeted exaggeration. The company released a statement saying it had told Trump it “would cancel a plan to shift production of a single model — the MKC — from Kentucky to Mexico. The company last year indicated it would be moving MKC production out of Louisville, though it did not announce where it was going. At the time, union leaders said the shift would not cost any jobs in Kentucky, because Escape production would replace lost MKC production.” With a projected loss of no jobs, and Ford calling it “a small line,” it was not a huge deal. In the meantime, Ford announced it will continue to export jobs to Mexico from some of its other U.S. plants. So while Trump would willingly make an exaggerated claim on one hand, he would ignore larger job shifts from other Ford plants on the other.
Such blatant distortions of fact, as has been seen throughout Trump’s presidential campaign, is extraordinary in modern times (primarily because he is so easily called out on the truth), but his attitude is clear: truth is what the audience wants to hear, and in a world with so many contradictory news outlets (in which the accurate news can be hard to discern) at the very least he offers a counter narrative that his supporters will want to hear whether it reflects the truth or not.
It will be increasingly important for the American voters to pay attention to facts and the realities of Trump’s record during his presidency so they can sort fact from fiction. American voters won’t find the truth in Trump’s tweets, or in his speeches, or the “facts” distributed by his campaign and within the administration. Rather they will have to seek it out in credible sources — which, as many Americans know by now is not the “fake news” that proliferates on Facebook, Twitter and social media outlets, nor on partisan news sources such as Breitbart News.
And it will take effort. Unfortunately, the trend line for the internet is not that it will be a boon to democracy as originally hoped, but rather that it has become the purveyor of “fake news” and other deliberate misinformation campaigns to the detriment of our democracy. The only salvation is for a more educated and aware public that is able to discern fact from fiction — and that certainly was not the case in this past general election.
The second item that sprang from the nation’s newspaper pages last week was this headline about our warming world: “The North Pole is an insane 36 degrees warmer than normal as winter descends.” Scientists report that average temperatures in the Arctic have spiked higher in November even as the Polar nights have set in. “It’s about 20C (36 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal over most of the Arctic Ocean, along with cold anomalies of about the same magnitude over north-central Asia,” Jennifer Francis, an Arctic specialist at Rutgers University, told the Washington Post last Wednesday.
Mark Serreze, who heads the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., told the Post that not only are air temperatures unusually warm, but water temperatures are as well. “There are some areas in the Arctic Ocean that are as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit above average now,” Serreze said. “It’s pretty crazy.”
“The sea ice is (also) at a record low right now, for this time of year,” Serreze said. “And why it’s so low — again, there’s so much heat in the upper ocean in these ice-free areas, the ice just can’t form right now. The ocean’s just got to get rid of this heat somehow, and it’s having a hard time doing so.”
And, yet, President-elect Trump nominated as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Myron Ebell, the director of the partisan Center for Energy and Environment at the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute. Ebell has called climate change “nothing to worry about” and even questions whether humans contribute to it. He’s also chairman of the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of nonprofits that “question global warming alarmism and oppose energy-rationing policies.”
Several other of Trump’s cabinet picks are similarly regressive, pointing to a reversal of the gains made over the past decade and a practice of scientific when the facts don’t match Trump’s political goals. Here, too, Americans will have to speak up with a unified voice if we are to stop the harm done to the planet — all while staring down a right-wing media that will be purporting progress where there is none, and planting fake stories on Facebook, Twitter and in the news to confuse and confound the American voter.
We recognize that’s a big lift for American voters to be ready to challenge those distributing fake news or wrong information while tuning in to those resources delivering the facts and accurate analysis, but it’s imperative. “If you have a society where people can’t agree on the basic facts,” said the Post’s executive editor Martin Baron, “how can you have a functioning democracy?”