When Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani asserted to Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press that “truth isn’t truth,” Todd was right when he responded, “This is going to become a bad meme.” In the days following Giuliani’s bold and somewhat baffling claim, numerous journalists have tried to analyze the statement and put it in perspective.
Here’s how it went down:
“When you tell me [Trump] should testify because he’s going to tell the truth,” Giuliani was explaining, “that he shouldn’t worry – well, that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth, not the truth.”
“Truth is truth,” Todd interjected.
“No, no, it isn’t truth,” Giuliani said. “Truth isn’t truth.”
To be fair, Giuliani is probably just lacking the right words to describe what he means. In the case of Trump testifying to special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump’s attorneys have been vocal that they fear such a testimony would amount to a perjury trap — that Mueller’s team isn’t looking for honest testimony for their investigation as much as they’re looking to catch Trump in a lie of some sort. This is the analysis of one Fox News commentator, for instance, who wrote, “Giuliani’s point was simple: even if you tell the complete truth, prosecutors can still go after you for perjury..”
Of course, such a point only makes sense if you believe truth is truth in the first place.
Only a week prior, speaking on CNN, Giuliani challenged Chris Cuomo’s statement that “facts are not in the eye of the beholder.”
“Yes, they are,” Giuliani said. “Nowadays they are.”
These comments brought back to mind some curious and embarrassing lines from the past, such as Bill Clinton’s “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts,” and Karl Rove’s “we create our own reality.”
All of these claims relate to a philosophical idea called relativism, which many people have accepted as reality in modern times. Relativism asserts that absolute truth does not really exist, but rather all knowledge is relative to the subject viewing it. One amusing aspect of relativism is that it contradicts itself by making the absolute truth claim that the truth cannot be known.
It didn’t take Giuliani long to walk back his comment, tweeting, “My statement was not meant as a pontification on moral theology but one referring to the situation where two people make precisely contradictory statements, the classic ‘he said,she said’ puzzle. Sometimes further inquiry can reveal the truth other times it doesn’t.”
From this clarification, we can detect Giuliani finally making it clear that he believes truth is indeed truth, but sometimes it’s hard for us to discern the truth from error or lies — especially in court, even while taking testimony under oath. “The essential role of judges and juries,” says a representative from the law firm of Friedman and Simon, “is to determine verdicts to the best of their ability based on presented evidence.”
The open dispute when it comes to Trump’s testimony appears to be whether or not Mueller’s team can be trusted to act fairly, and not whether or not truth is truth after all.