Saturday, December 15, 2018

“Alternative Facts” Are a Danger to Our Democracy

HUNTER SAVERY

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

When thinking of Donald Trump and his administration, many things come to mind. Unfortunately, honesty is not one of them. In one of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first press briefings, Spicer vehemently disputed media reports of low attendance at Trump’s inauguration, saying it was the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.” Aerial photography of the event and data from the DC Metro subway system proved Spicer’s claims to be categorically false. In a subsequent interview on “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd questioned Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, over Spicer’s false statements, to which Conway responded, “Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and … our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts to that”.

Spin is a part of everyday life in American politics, but the outright denial of facts and defense of proven falsehoods is a distinctly “Trumpian” phenomenon, one that completely undermines the credibility of the White House.

While the issue of crowd size is hardly consequential news, the danger lies in the precedent. How can the American people trust the White House to tell them the truth on major issues if it is so willing to lie about meaningless ones? The Trump administration has set an early precedent for misleading the nation. This is not a new development for President Trump, however, his team repeatedly made false claims and refused to answer important questions on the campaign trail. Many hoped that “the Donald” would change his ways under the weight of the responsibility that the Oval Office presents. Unfortunately, it is clear that the worst parts of Trump’s character have not diminished.

A number of observers declared the current political era to be “post-truth.” In fact, the Oxford Dictionaries’ international word of the year for 2016 was “post-truth,” reflecting Trump’s electoral victory, as well as events such as  Brexit. The notion that 2017 is a time where facts have become subjective and possibly meaningless should be alarming to people everywhere. The doublespeak coming out of the White House is not only obscuring the truth, but is putting American democracy in jeopardy by leaving the electorate confused and misinformed. President Trump’s White House has repeatedly lashed out at the media for alleged false reporting, particularly when the media calls out the Trump team for any part of the ever growing mountain of misconduct and lies with which it is associated. Trump calls the media liars and the media accuses Trump of the same, dizzying the Americans caught in the middle.

It is important to remember that Trump was elected largely because of a distrust of the media prevalent in much of America. Confirmation bias dominates the way  people on both sides of the aisle consume information today. Social media creates an echo chamber where individuals only hear stories that seem true to them, regardless of the source. This creates a dangerous culture of misinformation, off of which Donald Trump’s campaign found its strength. While many Americans are unwilling to trust mainstream media, with its unbiased reports and journalistic standards, they are more than willing to believe anything on their Facebook feed that meets their mental image of America today. Misinformation is dangerous, and Americans must be vigilant when reading the news, rather than believing anything that sounds true.

There is something positively Orwellian about the doublespeak that Trump’s administration engages in, and if they were a little less bumbling about it, the resemblance would be uncanny.

So it should come as no surprise that The New York Times has reported that sales of George Orwell’s “1984” have skyrocketed in the past week. Trump’s strategy of lying, repeating the lie, and then clouding the truth with “alternative facts” certainly bring the novel’s Big Brother to mind. No one would have expected that Orwell’s nightmare would come to fruition in the form of a boisterous, orange businessman like Trump, but as Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction… Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” On the topic of truth, there have been few times in American history where it has been more important to defend it. Truth is not a matter of opinion. Facts, by their nature, are the opposite of opinions. Americans must reject alternative facts and press the Trump administration for the truth. When the White House lies it betrays the trust of the American people. Do not be fooled, alternative facts are simply lies.

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