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Editorial: Truth or no consequences

Editorial cartoon 19082017
Editorial cartoon 19082017

Many eyes will probably be on U.S. President Donald Trump today, when he speaks to the United Nations General Assembly. It’s his first such speech, and it will be interesting to see who shows up: the more-moderate version of President Trump who sticks to the notes others have written, or the off-the-cuff, angry leader who loves airing old grievances.

But whatever you think of his Jekyll and Hyde appearances, it’s worth taking a minute or two to listen to someone else: Sean Spicer, who was turfed as the White House spokesman.

Spicer, you may remember, came out of the blocks quick and nasty, arguing with the media that Trump’s inauguration was attended by more people than Barack Obama’s had been — a claim that was blatantly false.

Spicer appeared on the Emmys this past weekend, and has been surfacing on broadcasts like Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Now, maybe it speaks volumes about the curious cult of celebrity that is the United States that Spicer is on the entertainment circuit. But think about what Spicer says now about defending obviously fake statements about the inauguration numbers.

“Your job as press secretary is to represent the president’s voice and to make sure you're articulating what he believes his vision is on policy, on issues, and other areas that he wants to articulate,” Spicer said to Kimmel. “Whether or not you agree or not isn’t your job — your job is to give him advice, which is what we would do on a variety of issues all the time.

“He would always listen to that advice, but ultimately, he’s the president, and he would say ‘I agree with you’ sometimes, or ‘That’s a good point, incorporate it,’ or sometimes he would say, depending on the issue, ‘Look, I know what I believe, and this is what I think the right thing to do is.’”

That’s where Kimmel got in a quick jab: “And then you have to march out there and go, ‘Yeah, he had a bigger crowd, everybody!’”

Spicer’s response? “As I said, he’s the president; he decides.”

Think, then, about what that means: the belief of one man, in this case, a U.S. president, trumps any demonstrable fact. Even when that belief is clearly proven wrong, minions will continue to argue that the sky isn’t blue or water isn’t wet, simply because the person who pays the bills has decreed it so.

The stakes on who did or didn’t have the larger inauguration are remarkable small — in fact, the only person who still cares about it is President Trump himself. (And who knows? He may raise it, along with similarly false claims about winning the popular vote — which he didn’t — at the UN today.)

But here’s the question: what if the stakes are higher?

Will the U.S. president and his staff bother with the truth?

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