Sally Yates: We're At An Inflection Point Between Truth And Autocracy

Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

"Not only is there such a thing as objective truth, failing to tell the truth matters."

"Over the course of our nation’s history, we have faced inflection points — times when we had to decide who we are as a country and what we stand for. Now is such a time."

So begins an op-ed in Tuesday's USA Today written by Sally Yates, who was fired from her position as acting attorney general by President Donald Trump in January.

Yates delineates the aspects of U.S. governance that separate America from an autocracy: the rule of law and insistence upon truth.

The rule of law depends not only on things that are written down, but also on important traditions and norms, such as apolitical law enforcement. That’s why Democratic and Republican administrations alike, at least since Watergate, have honored that the rule of law requires a strict separation between the Justice Department and the White House on criminal cases and investigations. This wall of separation is what ensures the public can have confidence that the criminal process is not being used as a sword to go after one’s political enemies or as a shield to protect those in power. It’s what separates us from an autocracy.

A society cannot hope to debate policies and achieve shared goals without being rooted in a shared reality, one that is bound by objective facts rather than appeals to emotion or fear.

Not only is there such a thing as objective truth, failing to tell the truth matters. We can’t control whether our public servants lie to us. But we can control whether we hold them accountable for those lies or whether, in either a state of exhaustion or to protect our own political objectives, we look the other way and normalize an indifference to truth.

Yates concludes with an exhortation for the American people to act:

We are not living in ordinary times, and it is not enough for us to admire our nation’s core values from afar. Our country’s history is littered with individuals and factions who have tried to exploit our imperfections, but it is more powerfully marked by those whose vigilance toward a more perfect union has prevailed.

So stand up. Speak out. Our country needs all of us to raise our collective voices in support of our democratic ideals and institutions. That is what we stand for. That is who we are. And with a shared commitment to our founding principles, that is who we will remain.