The utter disregard for truth that we’re seeing with Trump isn’t something that’s completely new… I just went through the archive here and found a number of instances over the past decade or so, where we’ve lamented the fact that truth was becoming a thing of the past. Back in 2008, I apparently even posted something here titled, “Does the truth matter in presidential politics?” Sure, Trump kind of took things to a whole level when he decided to become a national spokesperson for the so-called “birther” movement, suggesting that our President wasn’t even an American, but, really, it’s been with us for quite a while now. From the “swift boating” of John Kerry to the repeated lies concerning Benghazi, we’ve been sliding down this slippery slope for a long, long time.
I mean, lying has been with us from the beginning, but, at least to me, it seems as though we’ve come to a point now where we’re dealing with something now altogether, a completely different animal. In the past, at least as far as I remember, the truth generally won out. Now, though, lies, or at least a significant strain within the broader non-truth ecosystem, have morphed into something much more malignant. Much like antibiotic-resistant “super bugs,” they’ve evolved to the point where we can not longer defeat them. We try to wipe them out with facts, but they’re impervious to it. And the inconsistency of it all is just maddening. One day, we hear audio of Hillary Clinton talking bout being pinned down by sniper fire over video of a scene that doesn’t seem to jive with her story, and we collectively agree to she’s not to be trusted. [See the “lying Hillary” meme.] On another day, though, Trump will say something like “Millions of illegal votes were cast for Clinton,” and it just somehow worms its way into our collective unconscious, to a part of the brain that’s apparently unreachable by logic. Facts, at least for a significant percentage of Americans, simply don’t seem to matter when it comes to a certain kind of lie.
If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s a great example. This is footage, broadcast yesterday, of CNN’s Alisyn Camerota talking with a group of Trump supporters about the perceived problem of voter impersonation.
“Obama told [illegals] they could vote,” one of them tells Camerota. “You can find it on Facebook.” And, when it’s explained to the woman that the footage she’d seen was deceptively edited, and that President Obama never instructed illegal aliens to vote, it doesn’t even seem to register. Instead, the subject turns to California, where, according to those being interviewed, illegal aliens are allowed to vote. Cameron, to her credit, steps in to inform the men and women seated in front of her that this simply isn’t true, but, once again, it doesn’t seem to phase them. They just keep right on going… And, sadly, given the interactions I’ve had with Trump supporters, I don’t think these people are unusual in how tightly they cling to false information, as long, of course, as it reinforces their worldview.
As for that worldview, I hate to generalize, but I suspect, for a large majority of those who support Trump, it can be summed up pretty easily – 1. They see themselves as good, hardworking Americans who are deserving of more than they currently have. 2. They feel that, at least in part, the reason they don’t feel more prosperous and secure is because the liberal elite in Hollywood and Washington, who value diversity more than they do traditional American values, have handed the country over to people who don’t look like them and their neighbors. 3. They’re tired of being told that they should feel ashamed for having the politically incorrect feelings that they’re having… And if you’re lies should happen to line up with that worldview, I think you’ll probably find a receptive audience. And, certainly, a story about Obama, who we all know is probably a Kenyan that was brought up hating America, encouraging “illegals” to cross the border and vote for Clinton, so that she can transfer even more wealth to poor, inner city people of color, has it all. So, really, is it all that surprising that Trump’s most recent lie about voter fraud is as impervious to truth as it is?
And it certainly doesn’t help that more people are getting their “news” from Breitbart and social media than from traditional journalists who ostensibly still value the truth.
Yesterday, on her NPR show, Diane Rehm had Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post, Glenn Thrush of Politico, and James Fallows of The Atlantic with her to discuss the future of journalism in a post-fact world. The conversation, which centered largely around Trump, who has the ability to spread lies at will to a receptive audience of 16.4 million by way of Twitter, was, as you might imagine, terribly depressing. Rehm’s guests, I think it’s fair to say, were flummoxed by Trump. Responding to his lies with truth, I believe they all agreed, just wasn’t working. And, while they had a few ideas as to how we might want to proceed in light of our current situation, my sense was that, when it came right down to it, they had no fucking idea.
At some point during their discussion, Rehm conferenced in Trump stalwart Scottie Nell Hughes, who immediately began spouting bullshit, and then defended her position by claiming the she too was a “classically studied journalist,” a claim that made her fellow geusts gasp. Hughes, after pushing back against the notion that the truth is somehow the property of the liberal elite, dropped the following piece on knowledge on her fellow guests…
“There’s no such thing anymore, unfortunately, as facts,” she said.
And, for what it’s worth, this is life and death. Here’s a perfect illustration. The following comes from an article in Slate today titled, “The House (Anti-)Science Committee Strikes Again.”
The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is, ironically but shocking to no one who understands the majority party, quite anti-science. For years now, the committee and its chairman, Lamar Smith, R-Texas, have been merciless in their attacks on both climate scientists and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Smith—who receives a large amount of funding from fossil fuel interests—has been subpoenaing NOAA staff and data repeatedly in what is a transparent attempt both to create a chilling effect and to directly prevent them from doing their very important research into human-generated global warming.
The committee’s Twitter account often reflects this ideology. And Thursday afternoon, to the dismay of many, they tweeted a climate-denying “news” story from Breitbart.
And here’s their post.
Which brings me to to the point of today’s post. How, I’m wondering, do we as a culture, make our way back to sanity? And, here, with that in mind, is a short list of things that I’m thinking might help push us back in the direction of truth. And please feel free to add your own. I’d like for this to be a conversation.
1. I’m going to start paying for journalism. I’ve put it off long enough, and, this Christmas, I intend to purchase online subscriptions to the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Detroit Free Press, as well as a magazine or two… Real journalism has never been more critical, and I figure that I should start contributing in some way. And, as a subscriber, I intend to use my voice, complaining when, for instance, these entities refer to white supremacists as the “alt-right”, or insist on giving equal time to anti-science global climate change deniers. [And, yes, I know that these three papers aren’t without fault… I too remember Judith Miller… But I think they’re the best bet we have going forward.]
2. I think we need to go after those who advertise on sites that refuse to conform to journalistic standards, like Breitbart News. I was heartened to see that Kellogg had pulled their advertising from the faux-news site yesterday, and I intend to reward them for that with a cereal purchase and a letter of thanks this weekend. I will also, however, be writing to those companies who still advertise on Breitbart, asking that they follow the lead of Kellogg… And here, to give you an idea of just how seriously the folks at Breitbart are taking Kellogg’s advertising boycott, is a statement by Breitbart editor-in-chief Alexander Marlow.
“Breitbart News is the largest platform for pro-family content anywhere on the Internet. We are fearless advocates for traditional American values, perhaps most important among them is freedom of speech, or our motto ‘more voices, not less.’ For Kellogg’s, an American brand, to blacklist Breitbart News in order to placate left-wing totalitarians is a disgraceful act of cowardice. They insult our incredibly diverse staff and spit in the face of our 45,000,000 highly engaged, highly perceptive, highly loyal readers, many of whom are Kellogg’s customers. Boycotting Breitbart News for presenting mainstream American ideas is an act of discrimination and intense prejudice. If you serve Kellogg’s products to your family, you are serving up bigotry at your breakfast table.”
And this, my friends, is where the wars of capitalist America will be fought. These people don’t care about online petitions. They don’t care about protests in the streets. They care about their profits. And we need to continue directing our energy there.
3. No matter how tiring it becomes, I’m going to try my best to keep engaged with people who don’t share my appreciation for objective truth. [Here, if you’re interested, is an example from earlier today.]
4. I’m going to demand more from our existing news sources… Reading up on Scottie Nell Hughes after hearing her on the radio this morning, I discovered that she’s a paid CNN contributor. While I understand that they want people on staff who can provide a window into the mind of Donald Trump, I feel as though there’s a line that should not be crossed, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to demand that our news networks hire only people who are able to acknowledge the existence of true, objective facts.
5. I’m going to do more on the local press front… All I can say at this point is that I have ideas. I do think, however, that we can’t lose sight of the fact that a lot of this starts at home, at the local level. We need to teach media literacy to kids, and we need to encourage and support local initiatives that prioritize good, solid investigative journalism over click-bait headlines.
6. I will encourage social media companies to be more responsible. Facebook, as I understand it, has started cracking down on fake news, but others need to step up as well. While I don’t think it should necessarily be the job of Twitter to factcheck every tweet that goes out on their platform, they need to accept some responsibility for what we’ve seen happening in America, and respond accordingly. As for what that might look like, I’m not sure. Some are suggesting that they remove Trump’s account until such time that he stops using it to amplify his deliberate and destructive lies. I’m sure, however, there are other things that could be done short of this, like prioritizing responses from trusted fact checkers, etc. Whatever we do, we have to shift the culture back in the direction of sanity, and we need out social media companies onboard to make that happen.
7. I will finally get around to reading Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, paying special attention to how people in the past have successfully responded to the lies of totalitarians. Who knows, I may even bring back the old Ypsi-Arbor Progressive Book Club, so that I don’t have to read it alone.
8. I will try not to become discouraged. I will stay busy. I will not wallow in despair. I will force myself to remain optimistic, and keep believing that, in time, science and truth will win out.
There’s more, but I can no longer keep my eyes open… Please keep the list going. I’m just going to rest my eyes for a while.