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The truth is the truth

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By Bill Press, Tribune Content Agency

If anybody who grew up a Catholic remembers only three words of Latin, it's probably those three, posed by Pontius Pilate to Jesus. As recounted in the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 18, verse 31, when Jesus was questioned by Pilate about allegedly claiming to be "King of the Jews," Jesus explained: "To this end I was born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth hears my voice." The cynical Pilate replied: "Quid est veritas?" What is truth?

If it's one of the most famous questions in history, it's also one of the most important. And it's a question we're still struggling with today, thanks to a president of the United States and his coterie of White House suck-ups, who have zero respect for the truth and, indeed, wouldn't even know the truth if it hit them between the eyes.

Answering the question "What is truth?" became even more problematic this week, after Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump's personal attorney, in a mind-blowing exchange with Chuck Todd, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," asserted it's impossible to know the truth. Why all the grief about meeting with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Todd wanted to know. After all, if President Trump did nothing wrong, he should just tell the truth. "The truth is the truth," noted Todd.

"No, no, it isn't truth," Giuliani countered, "Truth isn't truth." An astounded Todd couldn't believe his ears: "Truth isn't Truth?" Giuliani: 'No, no, no." The next day, after Twitter followers had a field day comparing his assertion to the "double think" of George Orwell's classic novel "1984" -- "war is peace," "freedom is slavery," "ignorance is strength" -- Giuliani tried to clarify, insisting his statement was "not meant as a pontification on moral theology."

But that didn't clear up anything. The fact remains: Donald Trump believes, as Rudy Giuliani apparently does also, that the truth is not absolute. The truth is not real. The truth is not that which is and can be nothing else. In their alternative universe, the truth is simply whatever Donald Trump says it is. And that's been the rule since the beginning of the Trump administration -- which began, remember, with the phony claim that he'd attracted the largest inaugural crowd in history.

For Trump and company, truth is irrelevant. Reality doesn't count. Truth is not what can be proven, it's what the president believes. They don't bother finding out whether or not something actually happened before defiantly asserting it did because, as presidential aide Kellyanne Conway explained, they live in a world of "alternative facts" -- a parallel universe so full of lies it's hard for us to keep up with them.

Fortunately, several news outlets, including the Washington Post, are keeping score. On July 31, day 558 of the Trump presidency, the Post released its latest count: 4,229 Trump lies in 558 days, or an average of 7.6 a day -- many, from this disciple of the "big lie" theory, repeated over and over again.

As tracked by the Post, 30 times in the last five months Trump has declared his border wall is under construction. Not true. Congress has provided funding only for repairing existing fences. Eighty-eight times he's claimed to have signed the biggest tax cut in history. Not true. It's the eighth-largest, smaller even than two tax cuts of Barack Obama. And 160 times he's called the Russia probe a hoax. Not true. So far, five top Trump aides have been indicted or convicted for federal crimes.

This transcends politics. Donald Trump's total disregard for the truth should trouble all Americans, because in a democracy truth is the coin of the realm. When Americans can't believe one word that the president says, our government can no longer function. Where there is no truth, there is no common ground. There is no country.

Fortunately, sooner or later, for every compulsive liar, the truth catches up with him -- as it did for Donald Trump this week. Not only was his campaign manager convicted on eight counts of fraud, his former personal attorney admitted committing federal crimes at Trump's direction. Which means not only did Michael Cohen break the law, but so did Donald Trump.

Trump can't spin his way out of this one. He's in greater legal jeopardy than ever before. The combination of Manafort's conviction and Cohen's plea bargain marks the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency. And that's the truth.

Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show, CNN political analyst and the author of a new book, "From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire," which is available in bookstores now. You can hear "The Bill Press Show" at his website: billpressshow.com. His email address is: bill@billpress.com. Readers may also follow him on Twitter at @bpshow.

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