Comrade Kellyannesky (R-Kremlin) has decreed that “alternative facts” equal empirical facts. Excellent. When I ventured outdoors today, tens of thousands of people — no, hundreds of millions — lined the sidewalks to cheer me on. When I told them that I hit cleanup for the Phillies and led them to the 2016 pennant, they paraded me on their shoulders. Very good shoulders! The best shoulders!
You didn’t see this not happen, so the alternative fact is that it did.
But seriously, folks. The Trump regime is only a few days old, and already its seige mentality is in overdrive. Assailing the press for reporting accurately about the Inaugural turnout — which was smaller than Obama’s two Inaugurals, as empirically confirmed by crowd experts, subway ridership stats, photos, and videos — was merely the first shot fired in their long-intended War on Facts.
What Kellyanne Conway did yesterday, and what Sean Spicer did Saturday, was to serve notice that this occupying force will combat actual facts with “alternative facts” — a euphemism for blatant lies, for the kind of disinformation that dictatorships peddle on a daily basis. I and many others warned all year that Trump and his apparatchiks were a clear and present danger to our democratic values, and now we’re seeing it in action.
Authoritarians know instinctively that the road to unchecked power begins by controlling what the public sees and hears. This war began on Trump’s very first day. As conservative Evan McMullin, the ex-intelligence officer and ’16 candidate, pointed out months ago, Trump’s attacks on accurate information are “intended to destroy the media’s ability to hold him accountable.”
As issues go, the flap over the Inaugural crowd size was trivial, and there’s no point in wasting paragraphs on spokesman Spicer’s litany of Saturday lies. Suffice it to say that his biggest lie (“This was the largest audience to ever witness an Inauguration — period”) was easily refuted by factual reality, most notably evidence we can see with our own eyes, and that even his subsidiary lies (“420,000 people used the D.C. Metro public transit yesterday, which actually compares to 317,000 that used it for President Obama’s last Inaugural”) were easily exposed (Metro ridership for Obama’s last Inaugural was 783,000; Trump’s, 571,000).
It’s tempting to joke that Trump’s obsession with crowd size is on a par with his idiocy about genital size. But rest assured, this weekend’s pathetic episode was a dry run for the huge showdowns that are sure to come. Spicer stalked off the press room podium, refusing to answer a single question about his alternative facts (or to offer any comment about Saturday’s massive worldwide protests) — so imagine what will happen when the stakes are far higher. Like … oh, I dunno … war and peace.
As press secretary, Spicer is already worthless, at least in the traditional sense — earlier this month, he said that “if you lose the respect and trust of the press corps, you’ve got nothing” — but the traditional democratic norms no longer apply. Trump will trot him out there to attack the free press, because it united the acolytes of Trumplandia against a common enemy. Trump will trot him out there to disinform and obsfucate (tasks that Trump will also perform), because it’s crucially important to sow apathy among the citizens by convincing them that true facts are unknowable. If people are confused (“Who knows what’s really true?”), they won’t fight back. Putin provides the contemporary playbook.
Actually, it’s the playbook from “1984.” In Orwell’s words, “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final most essential command.”
Trump is dangerously insecure; deep down, where he dares not go, he knows that he doesn’t belong where he is. He didn’t expect to be where he is — on election eve, his own “data analytics” people gave him a 70 percent shot at losing — and he’s too psychologically weak to abide the crossfire of democratic dissent. So he will overcompensate with his War on Facts, pumping out Putinesque pollution, in his bid for dominance.
It will fall to us (at least those of us whose eyes and ears stay open) to resist these historic assaults on our imperiled democracy. Trump and his minions have said virtually nothing about the Saturday protests — especially the Washington event, which, by dint of plane, train, and automobile, drew more people than his Inaugural — and with good reason:
Those global outpourings of dissent were impervious to alternative facts. It’s a start.
As Winston Smith, the hero of “1984,” told himself: “Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s center … The obvious and the true have got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that!”