[Congressional Record Volume 164, Number 10 (Wednesday, January 17, 2018)]
[Pages S215-S225]

                          Truth and Democracy

  Mr. FLAKE. Mr. President, near the beginning of the document that 
made us free, our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote: 
``We hold these truths to be self-evident.'' So from our very 
beginnings, our freedom has been predicated on truth. The Founders were 
visionary in this regard, understanding well that good faith and shared 
facts between the governed and the government would be the very basis 
of this ongoing idea of America.
  As the distinguished former Member of this body, Daniel Patrick 
Moynihan of New York, famously said, ``Everyone is entitled to his own 
opinion, but not his own facts.'' During this past year, I am alarmed 
to say, Senator Moynihan's proposition has likely been tested more 
severely than at any time in our history. It is for that reason that I 
rise today to talk about the truth and the truth's relationship to 
democracy, for without truth and a principled fidelity to truth and to 
shared facts, our democracy will not last.
  Mr. President, 2017 was a year which saw the truth--objective, 

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evidence-based truth--more battered and abused than at any time in the 
history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our 
government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine 
``alternative facts'' into the American lexicon as justification for 
what used to be simply called old-fashioned falsehoods. It was a year 
in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally protected 
free press was launched by the same White House, an assault that is as 
unprecedented as it is unwarranted.
  ``The enemy of the people'' was what the President of the United 
States called the free press in 2017. It is a testament to the 
condition of our democracy that our own President uses words infamously 
spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that 
so fraught with malice was the phrase ``enemy of the people'' that even 
Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party 
that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of 
``annihilating such individuals'' who disagreed with the supreme 
leader. This alone should be the source of great shame for us in this 
body--especially for those of us in the President's party--for they are 
shameful, repulsive statements.
  And, of course, the President has it precisely backward--despotism is 
the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot's enemy, which 
makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power 
reflexively calls any press that doesn't suit him ``fake news,'' it is 
that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.
  I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome 
responsibility to serve in this Chamber knows that these reflexive 
slurs of ``fake news'' are dubious at best. Those of us who travel 
overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas all around 
the globe, encounter members of U.S.-based media who risk their lives 
and sometimes lose their lives reporting on the truth. To dismiss their 
work as fake news is an affront to their commitment and their 
sacrifice. According to the International Federation of Journalists, 80 
journalists were killed in 2017. A new report from the Committee to 
Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned 
around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total 
includes 21 reporters who are being held on ``false news'' charges.
  So powerful is the Presidency that the damage done by the sustained 
attack on the truth will not be confined to this President's time in 
office. Here in America, we do not pay obeisance to the powerful. In 
fact, we question the powerful most ardently. To do so is our 
birthright and a requirement of our citizenship. And so we know well 
that, no matter how powerful, no President will ever have dominion over 
objective reality. No politician will ever tell us what the truth is 
and what it is not. And anyone who presumes to try to attack or 
manipulate the press for his own purposes should be made to realize his 
mistake and be held to account. That is our job here. That is just as 
Madison, Hamilton, and Jay would have it.
  Of course, a major difference between politicians and the free press 
is that the free press usually corrects itself when it has made a 
mistake. Politicians don't.
  No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent 
acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to those 
assaults on our institutions.
  An American President who cannot take criticism, who must constantly 
deflect and distort and distract, who must find someone else to blame, 
is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as 
a check on the President adds to that danger.
  Now we are told via Twitter that today the President intends to 
announce his choice for the ``most corrupt and dishonest'' media 
awards. It beggars belief that an American President would engage in 
such a spectacle, but here we are.
  So 2018 must be the year in which the truth takes a stand against 
power that would weaken it. In this effort, the choice is quite simple, 
and in this effort, the truth needs as many allies as possible. 
Together, my colleagues, we are powerful. Together, we have it within 
us to turn back these attacks, to right these wrongs, repair this 
damage, restore reverence for our institutions, and prevent further 
moral vandalism. Together, united in this purpose to do our jobs under 
the Constitution, without regard to party or party loyalty, let us 
resolve to be allies of the truth and not partners in its destruction.
  It is not my purpose here to inventory all the official untruths of 
the past year, but a brief survey is in order. Some untruths are 
trivial, such as the bizarre contention regarding the crowd size at 
last year's inaugural, but many untruths are not at all trivial, such 
as the seminal untruth of the President's political career--the oft-
repeated conspiracy about the birthplace of President Obama. Also not 
trivial are the equally pernicious fantasies about rigged elections and 
massive voter fraud, which are as destructive as they are inaccurate; 
to the effort to undermine confidence in the Federal courts, Federal 
law enforcement, the intelligence community, and the free press; to 
perhaps the most vexing untruth of all--the supposed ``hoax'' at the 
heart of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
  To be very clear, to call the Russian matter a ``hoax,'' as the 
President has done so many times, is a falsehood. We know that the 
attacks orchestrated by the Russian Government during the election were 
real. They constituted a grave threat to both American sovereignty and 
to our national security. It is in the interest of every American to 
get to the bottom of this matter, wherever the investigation leads.

  Ignoring or denying the truth about hostile Russian intentions toward 
the United States leaves us vulnerable to future attacks. We are told 
by our intelligence agencies that these attacks are ongoing. Yet it has 
recently been reported that there has not been a single Cabinet-level 
meeting regarding Russian interference and how to defend America 
against these attacks--not one. What might seem like a casual and 
routine untruth--so casual and routine that it has now become the white 
noise of Washington--is, in fact, a serious lapse in the defense of our 
  Let us be clear. The impulses underlying the dissemination of such 
untruths are not benign. They have the effect of eroding trust in our 
vital institutions and conditioning the public to no longer trust them. 
The destructive effect of this kind of behavior on our democracy cannot 
be overstated.
  Every word that a President utters projects American values around 
the world. The values of free expression and reverence for the free 
press have been our global hallmark, for it is our ability to freely 
air the truth that keeps our government honest and keeps the people 
free. Between the mighty and the modest, truth is a great leveler. So 
respect for freedom of the press has always been one of our most 
important exports.
  But a recent report published in our free press should raise an 
alarm. I will read from the story: ``In February, Syrian President 
Bashar Assad brushed off an Amnesty International report that some 
13,000 people had been killed at one of his military prisons by saying, 
`You can forge anything these days,' we are living in a fake news 
  In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has complained of being 
``demonized'' by ``fake news.'' Last month, the report continues, with 
our President ``laughing by his side'' Duterte called reporters 
  In July, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained to the 
Russian propaganda outlet that the world media had ``spread lots of 
false versions, lots of lies'' about his country, adding: ``This is 
what we call `fake news' today, isn't it?''
  There are more.
  A state official in Myanmar recently said: ``There is no such thing 
as Rohingya. It is fake news.''
  He was referring to the persecuted ethnic group.
  Leaders in Singapore, a country known for restricting free speech, 
have promised ``fake news'' legislation in the next year--and on and on 
and on.
  This feedback loop is disgraceful. Not only has the past year seen an 
American President borrow despotic language to refer to the free press, 
but it seems he has now, in turn, inspired dictators and authoritarians 
with his own language. That is reprehensible.

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  We are not in a ``fake news'' era, as Bashar Assad said. Rather, we 
are in an era in which the authoritarian impulse is reasserting itself 
to challenge free people and free societies everywhere.
  In our own country, from the trivial to the truly dangerous, it is 
the range and regularity of the untruths we see that should be the 
cause for profound alarm and spur to action. Add to that the by now 
predictable habit of calling true things false and false things true, 
and we have a recipe for disaster.
  George Orwell warned: ``The further a society drifts from the truth, 
the more it will hate those who speak it.''
  Any of us who have spent time in public life have endured news 
coverage we felt was jaded or unfair, but in our positions, to employ 
even idle threats, to use laws or regulations to stifle criticism is 
corrosive to our democratic institutions. Simply put, it is the press's 
obligation to uncover the truth about power. It is the people's right 
to criticize their government, and it is our job to take it.
  What is the goal of laying siege to the truth? In his spurring speech 
on the 20th anniversary of the Voice of America, President John F. 
Kennedy was eloquent in the answer to that question. He said:

       We are not afraid to entrust the American people with 
     unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and 
     competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its 
     people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a 
     nation afraid of its people.

  The question of why the truth is now under such assault may be for 
historians to determine, but for those who cherish American 
constitutional democracy, what matters is the effect on America and her 
people and her standing in an increasingly unstable world, made all the 
more unstable by these very fabrications. What matters is the daily 
disassembling of our democratic institutions.
  We are a mature democracy. It is past time to stop excusing or 
ignoring or, worse, endorsing these attacks on the truth. For if we 
compromise the truth for the sake of our politics, we are lost.
  I sincerely thank my colleagues for their indulgence today. I will 
close by borrowing the words of an early adherent to my faith that I 
find has special resonance at this moment. His name was John Jacques. 
As a young missionary in England, he contemplated the question: What is 
truth? His search was expressed in poetry and ultimately in a hymn that 
I grew up with titled, ``Oh Say, What is Truth?'' It ends as follows:

       Then say, what is truth? 'Tis the last and the first,
       For the limits of time it steps oe'r.
       Tho the heavens depart and the earth's fountains burst,
       Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
       Eternal, unchanged, evermore.

  Thank you, Mr. President.
  I yield the floor.