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The government doesn’t define truth, nor should it even try

Russell Vought | Alarm bells should go off every time an administration attempts to control information


Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas Associated Press/Photo by Mariam Zuhaib

The government doesn’t define truth, nor should it even try
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Just as the supporters of free speech began to breathe a sigh of relief that Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter might offer a renewed public square of free expression, the Biden administration moved swiftly to protect the liberal regime’s narratives and ensure that it can continue to define truth. The code word used by the left is “disinformation,” which can mean anything that does not toe the administration’s line.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently announced the creation of a Disinformation Governance Board—an entity with a name straight out of George Orwell’s 1984 with its infamous Ministry of Truth. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas claimed the board will “gather best practices in addressing the threat of disinformation from foreign state adversaries” and is “safeguarding the right of free speech.” But conservatives have seen in the past how the left seeks to weaponize both government and private actors to undermine their political critics.

The Biden administration’s actions echo back to efforts by Barack Obama’s White House to crush dissent. In August 2009, as patriotic citizens across the country crowded into town hall meetings to oppose the government takeover of healthcare, the Obama administration released a video in which it encouraged Americans to snitch on their neighbors: “If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to [email protected]” Ironically enough, in its attempt to combat “misinformation,” President Obama claimed, “If you like your insurance plan, your doctor, or both, you will be able to keep them”—which PolitiFact awarded its “Lie of the Year” for 2013.

Even after the Obamacare debacle, the Obama administration kept up its harassment of conservative groups. In 2013, the Internal Revenue Service confessed to applying additional scrutiny to applications for nonprofit status coming from organizations with terms like “tea party” or “patriots” in their names. Think about that for a moment: The agency charged with administering our nation’s tax laws decided to punish people in organizations who dared to call themselves patriotic.

Governments do well when they recognize their lack of authority to define truth, rather than merely contribute to it with accurate information.

The Biden administration has rapidly escalated where Obama’s presidency left off, again targeting individuals and groups who oppose its political agenda. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Justice and Attorney General Merrick Garland drafted a letter to federal prosecutors—after coordination with the White House—directing them to investigate protests against school boards as possible incidents of domestic terrorism. Even after conservatives objected that the Justice Department would consider concerned parents—outraged by school districts using critical theory to indoctrinate their children—terrorists, Garland refused repeated requests to revoke the memo.

Now, DHS is focusing on its disinformation board, through which it will use the authority of the federal government to pressure Big Tech companies further to restrict free speech. Mayorkas’ comments about disseminating “those best practices to the operators” suggest he wants companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to do the federal government’s dirty work for him, censoring conservatives even more than they already have.

Ironically, the Biden administration identifies the “misinformation” that the U.S. southern border is open and fueling a crisis as an example of the harm the board could prevent. And yet the border is open as a result of the deliberate policies of the Biden administration. Thousands of illegal aliens continue to come to our southern border every day—and those numbers are expected to skyrocket when the Biden administration ends pandemic-era restrictions on migration later this month. Secretary Mayorkas and his department have faced bipartisan criticism for planning to loosen restrictions while the border remains in crisis.

At a time when distrust in government remains high, the Biden administration engaging in yet another effort that could lead to more censorship represents exactly the wrong approach. The Disinformation Governance Board will only divide Americans more and could end up targeting them to boot.

Political leaders from the dawn of time have sought to be the arbiters of truth. Remember Pontius Pilate’s rhetorical question to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), implying a belief that truth is constructed and informed by one’s interests. But it’s not—in fact, it is anchored in God’s own characteristics. Governments do well when they recognize their lack of authority to define truth, rather than merely contribute to it with accurate information. If the Biden administration moves forward with this board, Congress should quickly pass legislation that prevents it. In the meantime, the American people must recognize and act according to the danger of a government bent not on protecting their freedom but on controlling their perception of reality.


Russell Vought

Russ Vought is the president and founder of the Center for Renewing America and Citizens for Renewing America. Russ served as the 42nd director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Donald Trump. Prior to serving in the Trump administration, Russ spent nearly 20 years working in Washington, D.C., in Congress and with grassroots and public policy organizations. Russ graduated from Wheaton College in 1998 and from George Washington University Law School in 2004. He lives in Virginia with his wife, Mary, and two daughters, Ella and Porter.

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