… Alternative Facts

Donald Trump was inaugurated last Friday, and on Saturday the country’s largest demonstration since the Vietnam War took place. In a move that’s hard to read as anything other than a desperate attempt to establish credibility, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer met with the press to call “attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration” “shameful and wrong,” as well as claim that this was the best-attended inauguration in history, supporting his claim with statements about the number of people using public transportation, the extent of security on the day of the inauguration, and more. These statements, every last one of them, were lies. The next morning, Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, took to television to claim that Spicer had cited “alternative facts." This is deeply disturbing.

There are, of course, those who will argue that this is absurd on our part, that we’re caring far too much about something that’s really not a big deal. And if we were concerned only that Trump not lie about how many people like him, this might be an accurate criticism. The real problem with this sequence of events, though, is how it illustrates that, much like candidate Trump, president Trump is going to have a somewhat casual relationship with the truth. Even the most cursory research could have shown Spicer’s figures to be blatantly false. That he stood in front of the press corps and said them anyway speaks to a startling lack of competence, a frightening disregard for the truth, or both. 

It’s hard to exaggerate just how worrying this is. After all, in any interaction with someone, we can expect with some certainty that they will attempt to describe facts accurately to us, and that if they don’t they will be conflicted about being wrong or lying. It’s this assumption that underlies just about all aspects of human interaction. Imagine, for a second, if you had to operate under the assumption that everything you were being told was false with friends or family or even strangers. Simple conversations would become almost impossible, not to mention in depth discussions about plans or ideas. This is the situation we now find ourselves in with regards to our own government. Not only is it unlikely to be telling us the truth, it is unlikely to ever truly care about doing so or want to do so.

In the face of all this, it’s clear that, now more than ever, we need to be doing the legwork to get at the truth. For one reason or another, we can no longer assume that the White House is going to be telling us the truth about how the government is running. For our own sakes, we need to find this information ourselves, in any way we can. So let’s take out subscriptions to any informative magazines we can, read all the newspapers we can buy, make C-span our favorite TV channel. Anything, as long as we force ourselves to keep up with what our own government is doing. A well informed electorate, Thomas Jefferson famously expressed, is critical to the proper functioning of any democracy. Right now, more than perhaps ever in recent history, it falls on us to inform ourselves