In conversation recently with an American I happened to mention the principal feature of the impeachment case against Donald Trump. I said it was clear the president had attempted to use military aid as a tool of extortion and bribery for his own political benefit. “That’s not clear at all,” my American friend rebuked me, “that’s just your opinion.”
“No, it’s not an opinion,” I said. “It’s a conclusion based on overwhelming evidence.”
“You are parroting the anti-Trump narrative,” my friend replied.
I recount this little episode not merely to illustrate the divide that now typifies discussion of American politics, but to indicate a far more poisonous trend. We are living through an interval (we must remain confident it is only an interval!) of shameless assault on objective reality.
Straightforward facts are repeatedly battered and blurred, such that truth even as a concept has been undermined. People have grown comfortable disputing the indisputable. What has brought us to this grievous impasse?
Over the last several years, on a daily basis and often on an hourly basis, misleading statements and outright lies have issued from the world’s most influential bully pulpit. Nearly 14,000 such falsehoods have been spread, according to the latest count by the Washington Post. At the same time a grotesque inversion of values has occurred among evangelicals in the United States, who have embraced a venal adulterer as a shining exemplar of Christianity. The cumulative effect has been to cloud and debase both public and private discourse.
Still, the principal blame for the assault on truth does not belong to the pathological liar in the Oval Office, or to his legions of willfully blind bible-thumpers. Rather it belongs to his apologists in the right-wing media and to a class of intellectuals who have forsaken unbiased judgment.
Which brings us to Canada’s pre-eminent Trump champion, Conrad Black, aka Lord Black of Crossharbour. Lord Black’s behaviour in regard to Trump has become so obsequious as to demand a public calling-out.
First it should be remembered that for nearly half a century Conrad Black earned the respect of countless Canadians by demonstrating a masterful grasp of history, literature and politics. His many books, including an authoritative history of Canada and weighty biographies of Maurice Duplessis, Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, have given us lavish rations of research and insight. Black’s newspaper columns, always marked by deep scholarship and a unique command of diction, only added to his reputation. So too did his unflinching comportment during the years of his prosecution in the United States. He remained formidable even while imprisoned. Once released after three years of incarceration, he took up precisely where he had left off – authoring forceful commentaries with scathing wit. Unquestionably, he has been a towering presence in Canada’s intellectual life.
I employ the past tense, ‘has been’, with equal parts purpose and pain, because since the beginning of the Trump tragicomedy, Black has exerted his considerable powers to defend the indefensible.
For example, earlier this year, Trump delivered a two hour speech to the CPAC conference that legions of pundits, including a good number of ink-stained centurions of the right, compared to a psychotic rant. Daniel Dale, the former Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star who now fact-checks the president for CNN, counted 60 untruths in Trump’s tirade.
Soon after that event, Conrad Black delivered himself of an essay that ignored the flood of deceit in the president’s speech. The essay likewise failed to register any of the juvenile defamation, buffoonish innuendo, and kindergarten-level syntax that comprised the bulk of the speech. No, Conrad Black, sailing on a sea of sycophancy, instead characterized Trump’s performance as a ‘tour de force’. When I read that phrase I wondered whether the scholar I once admired had been abducted into the creative writing room at Fox News.
More recently I had cause to wonder if Black had misplaced his moral compass when he wrote that the clearly incriminating transcript of the Ukraine phone call actually exonerates the president!
Black’s forfeit of his integrity on behalf of a charlatan reached its nadir when he published an entire book of fawning praise for Trump. The book, entitled A President Like No Other, reads like an Orwellian exercise that will mortify Black’s descendants for generations to come. The book’s harshest critics will likely identify the work as Black’s most prominent quid for the precious quo he received from Trump in the form of a presidential pardon.
Whatever Lord Black’s motives may be, nothing that issues from his pen or from the broadcasts of his soul-siblings at Fox can change the truth about Mr. Trump. The president is conspicuously corrupt, a sleazy salesman to the marrow of his bones, a living breathing antonym of a public servant. These are not opinions but plain facts, accessible to the eyes and ears of anyone who has paid attention over the past three years.
Accordingly, it should ring alarms when an influential public intellectual and celebrated historian like Conrad Black exposes himself to the charge of disseminating ‘alternative facts’. This is how blatant dishonesty evolves into accepted currency, how disinformation achieves potency, and how truth itself becomes relative and ultimately unknowable.