“If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

-- Abraham Lincoln

Chris Stewart has the same fear.

Utah’s 2nd District congressman Monday warned a virtual gathering sponsored by the conservative think tank The Sutherland Institute that our nation is in trouble.

“I worry that we may destroy ourselves, that we may commit national suicide,” Stewart said.

Which is rich, considering that Stewart’s political crowd are the ones peddling the hemlock.

“No one knows what is true anymore,” he said. “Our trust in the media has been destroyed because of their active deception. Our trust in some political organizations has been destroyed because of active deception.”

This from a man who supports a president who has told more than 20,000 documented lies in the last four years, leading the fact checkers at The Washington Post to label this administration a “tsunami of untruths.”

And from a politician who followed a reasonable defense of America’s founders and its many accomplishments with a totally groundless claim that the coronavirus pandemic was deliberately loosed on the world by the government of China.

A man who stands nearly alone, even among Republicans, in rejecting the unanimous conclusion of both the U.S. intelligence apparatus and the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election in order to get our current president elected.

The nation’s main media organizations are not engaged in active deception. Its president and a large section of its Republican Party are.

The coronavirus is a hoax. It can be cured with bleach. The nation is rife with voter fraud. Vote-by-mail is bad but absentee voting is good. The president won the popular vote. Or would have if a million illegal aliens hadn’t been allowed to vote. The streets of Portland were overrun by left-wing insurrectionists.

Lies. All of that.

The press gets things wrong. It always has. It is fallible human beings who are documenting the activities of other fallible human beings.

When Ben Bradlee, storied editor of The Washington Post, said that newspapers don’t print the truth, they just print what people tell them and it’s up to the public to figure out the truth, it was thought to be disarmingly honest. Now it seems stunningly quaint.

(Frank Zappa’s description of journalism about rock music: “People who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.”)

The American media has been slow to adjust to a world where an increasing number of politicians and pundits are not just trying to put their own views and policies in the best light, sometimes resorting to deep cover-ups in the name of anything that can remotely be called national security, but have resorted to a unprecedented range of deliberate distortion.

In such a world, the old journalist’s habit of quoting one Democrat and one Republican and not only calling it good, but basically pleasing everyone involved, just doesn’t work.

Over on the other side of the U.S. Capitol, Stewart’s fellow Utah Republican, Sen. Mike Lee, is all hot and bothered, and will hold committee hearings, about his claim that the people who run the new social media giants are unfairly targeting conservative voices in their efforts to block lies and hate speech.

Lee could be right. Or it could be that “conservative” doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

It’s not the country club of pro-business, low-tax folks who are being blocked from Facebook and deleted from Twitter. It’s people, often in the employ of Russia, who deliberately spread false information of the kind that spreads fear among different ethnic groups and political persuasions that some other ethnic group is engaged in anything from disrespecting the flag to child sex trafficking.

If Twitter and Instagram don’t want the platforms they own used for the dissemination of false information and hate-inspiring speech, if they think it’s bad for business or just makes them feel creepy, that is entirely within their purview.

As large and influential as those outfits are, they aren’t the government, and their kill switch is not censorship. And if there is a market for hate speech and false fear mongering -- which, clearly, there is -- then someone can create another website or app or whatever to meet that demand.

Chris Stewart is likely to be their best customer.

George Pyle

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, prefers to believe that Chris Stewart is not his congressman. Even though he is.

gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter, @debatestate




Correction: A previous version of this column misstated the position of Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, on the intelligence community finding on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Stewart does agree that Russia was interfering, but does not agree that the purpose of that interference was to assist Donald Trump.