'Defeat the lies': Biden speaks of duty to defend the truth

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Joe Biden holds up his right hand as he is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTONPresident Joe Biden declared Wednesday that truth and democracy are under attack in America and he pledged to usher the post-truth era out of U.S. politics.

Biden didn’t mention former President Donald Trump by name, but Biden's inaugural remarks were a clear rebuke of his predecessor, who persuaded millions of Americans to believe in his reality, one sewn with a fabric of falsehoods about issues such as coronavirus and election fraud.

“Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson,” Biden said about Trump's postelection claims of massive voter fraud that culminated in a deadly riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

His defense of the truth could be a tough message to push when polls show about one-third of Americans remain skeptical about the outcome of the election and misinformation is a troubling problem.

“There is truth and there are lies — lies told for power and for profit," Biden said. "Each of us has a duty and a responsibility as citizens, as Americans and especially as leaders ... to defend the truth and defeat the lies.”

Biden's address was filled with vows to shore up the government's credibility and bolster Americans' confidence in their democracy. He said the word “truth” four times and warned of the dangers of hewing to alternative sets of facts.

“We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured,” Biden said.

Biden, though, is inheriting a deeply divided nation.

Several polls before the inauguration showed some Americans – about one-third – were skeptical about the outcome of the election. In particular, roughly two-thirds of Republicans had doubts about Biden’s victory. In a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 69% of Republicans said Biden did not legitimately win the presidential election.

In October, an Associated Press-NORC/USAFacts poll showed that few Americans thought the campaign messages from either presidential candidate were always or often based on factual information. For Trump, about half said the president’s campaign messages were rarely or never based in fact, and about 4 in 10 said that about Biden’s campaign messages.

That poll also found 83% of Americans saying the spread of misinformation about the government is a major problem.

Truth was also part of the poem Amanda Gorman of Los Angeles read at the inauguration ceremony. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” says: “While democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith, we trust.”