Jim Shella: Trump’s legacy conjures up us to reject the reality

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Jim Shella

“Will you believe me or your lying eyes?” That’s a line a Republican friend used to point out how politicians used misdirection and deception to convince voters that facts don’t matter. He used this line as a source of humor. It was funny 30 years ago. Not so much today.

It is undeniable that politicians long shadowed the truth in order to steer voters in their direction. Sometimes it was about packing the truth.

Let me give you an example. When Evan Bayh was governor, he opposed a Republican plan to cut excise taxes. He later learned how popular the plan was and suddenly came up with a similar plan of his own. I went on television and reported that the Democratic governor was doing “flip-flops”.

Bayh went over the heads of his communications staff and called me at home that evening to question my story. He did not question the facts, but the use of the term “flip-flop”. He wasn’t referring to my “lying eyes” but that was the boost. It all seems so innocent now.

We have entered an age where outright lies are so commonplace that it is hard to trust anything that is said by a politician.

Donald Trump lied more than 25,000 times, according to the Washington Post fact checkers who say he now lies more than 50 times a day. What is more problematic are the others who have picked up the habit. You lie for him and for yourself.

Politicians no longer shadow the truth. They reject it and encourage us to reject it too. Political analysts who once made a living explaining the nuances behind the actions of politicians are now simply telling the truth or falsehood.

Cable news commentators repeat the lies. Social media spreads it. Fact checkers endure personal attack, and courtesy has become a rare commodity.

This is Donald Trump’s legacy.

Why is that happend? Maybe we were all naive.

The classic social science question for elected officials is: Do you vote on your conscience or do you vote on the will of your voters? It’s never been so easy.

Elected officials usually cast the vote that is most likely to help them maintain power. Bayh was opposed to lowering the excise tax as he felt maintaining a budget surplus was a greater priority. However, when he learned that voters were in favor of a tax cut, he proposed one for self-preservation reasons.

U.S. Senator Mike Braun admitted Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election in December but joined efforts in January to question the election college results. He was freaking out.

You can rest assured that in the meantime he has read some private survey data that showed his popularity was falling for telling the truth. In his case, this would be most important to the GOP primary voters, who might one day be faced with a choice between Braun and a current member of Congress to support the electoral college challenge. So the truth goes out the window.

Biden stood up for the president, saying America could not stand a second term from Trump. I agree. The question now is whether America can recover from Trump’s only term in office.

The answer depends on whether voters find out that their eyes are not lying to them. •

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Shella hosted WFYI’s Indiana Week in Review for 25 years and covered Indiana politics for WISH-TV for more than three decades.

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