‘Alternative facts’: Is Trump at war with reality?
The first task of every autocrat is to “delegitimize facts,” said Ezra Klein in Vox.com, and President Trump is off to a flying start. On his first full day in office, Trump sent an irate press secretary Sean Spicer to dress down the White House press corps and proclaim it was “shameful and wrong” of the press to have shown photos suggesting that the crowd at Trump’s inauguration was two or three times smaller than the one at President Obama’s in 2008. Spicer insisted—using a slew of easily disproved claims—that Trump’s had been “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” In a rambling, self-aggrandizing speech at CIA headquarters that same day, Trump also insisted the media had lied about his crowd size and had invented his blistering criticisms of the intelligence services—criticisms that could still be found on Trump’s Twitter feed. The most chilling sound bite came from Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, who on Meet the Press used the Orwellian phrase “alternative facts” to characterize Spicer’s blatant falsehoods. “This is not a conventional dispute over facts,” said Greg Sargent in WashingtonPost.com. Trump is trying to discredit not only the press’s critical role in our democracy but also the idea of “factual reality itself.” For at least the next four terrifying years, “the truth is what Donald Trump says it is.”
The president must be held accountable for his falsehoods, said David French in NationalReview.com, but “those with no credibility make poor critics.” The same reporters now apoplectic over Trump happily swallowed the Obama administration’s serial deceptions for eight years—on Obamacare, Benghazi, the IRS investigation of Tea Party groups. Worse, said Sean Davis in TheFederalist.com, Trump had barely been sworn in before mainstream outlets were circulating lies of their own, including that he removed a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. from the Oval Office, and “blew a kiss at” and “hugged” FBI Director James Comey at a meeting (it was actually a handshake and arm pat). This nation “desperately needs” a source of unbiased, credible information, but based on the media’s overt hostility to Trump, “that institution does not currently exist.”
The reporter who made the mistake about the King bust issued a correction and an apology, said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com Compare that with President Trump, who this week yet again insisted on the dangerous falsehood that up to 5 million illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton in November. Clearly, “Trump cannot help himself. He lies because reality won’t conform to his narcissistic view of the world.” Trump’s insecuritydriven “war with math” goes back to his days as a TV star, said James Poniewozik in NYTimes.com, when he would insist The Apprentice was the “No. 1 show on television,” even though ratings showed it was the 67th. The fact that he lost the popular vote to Clinton by nearly 3 million votes rankles him deeply, as did the fact that his inaugural crowd was smaller than both Obama’s turnout and the Women’s March. These facts can’t be true and must be denied, because “Donald J. Trump is not a loser.”
The press faces a real danger here, said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. It serves Trump’s interests to portray his disregard for facts as a partisan war with the press, and he has a gift for dragging his opponents down to his level of venom and hyperbole. If the president provokes journalists into “a kind of hysterical oppositionalism, a mirroring of Trump’s own tabloid style,” they will delegitimize themselves, and do the “demagogue’s work for him.
Only in America
▪ A California high school canceled performances of the acclaimed Jean-Paul Sartre play No Exit because it features a lesbian character. Buchanan High School administrators say they received complaints from parents about the show’s strong language and adult themes. “It’s not what they expected their children to see,” an official said. The show’s student director, Jared Serpa, said parents shouldn’t shield teens from “reality” and “the fact that people are different.”
▪ Louisiana’s new “Blue Lives Matter” law, enacted to protect police and other first responders from attacks, could make the act of resisting arrest a hate crime. The law used to define resisting arrest as “just that charge,” said St. Martinville Police Chief Calder Hebert. “The legislation made it a hate crime now,” a felony punishable by five years in prison.
Good week for:
The power of belief, after a national pizza chain, Villa Italian Kitchen, introduced an “alternative facts pizza,” a “presidential” pie topped with bacon, pepperoni, ham, sausage, homemade sauce, and whole-milk mozzarella that will have “zero calories.”
Having a strong right, after Fox Business correspondent Charles Gasparino reported seeing White House adviser Kellyanne Conway throw some “mean punches” in a man’s face while breaking up a fight during Trump’s inaugural ball. “Now I know why Trump hired her,” Gasparino said.
Fido, after a new amendment to Alaska’s divorce law empowers judges to assign joint custody of pets and requires courts to take “into consideration the well-being of the animal.”
Bad week for:
Mixing politics with work, after the Secret Service said it would take disciplinary action against a female agent who said in a Facebook post she’d rather go to jail than “take a bullet” for Donald Trump.
Road trips, after researchers found that jet lag hurts the performance of Major League baseball players, lowering batting averages and leading to pitchers giving up more home runs, especially when players travel west to east across two or more time zones.
Naming rights, after a Vancouver buildings council blocked the lease of a restaurant property to the fish-and-chips chain “Moby Dick’s” on the grounds that “Dick” is an offensive word. The property owners argue that the name has “literary significance” and does not refer to male genitalia.
Boring but important
A replacement for Obamacare?
Two Republican senators this week unveiled an alternative to the Affordable Care Act that would give states the option to keep most of the law’s major provisions. Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine introduced the legislation amid mounting pressure on the GOP to propose a replacement for the law before repealing it. Their bill would allow states that chose to stick with Obamacare to continue to impose the individual mandate, expand Medicaid, and provide coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. States that opted out would be required to provide “marketbased alternatives,” like autoenrolling the uninsured into catastrophic plans. Democrats said the bill was too vague and could cause millions of people to lose their insurance.