‘Alternative facts’ – is this a post-truth era?

By Anna Myers

Team Trump has never been known for their dedication to truthfulness. But as they settle in to the White House, they seem to have become even bolder in the stories they invent. In his first conference, Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, brazenly told us that Trump’s inaugural crowd was ‘the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration. Period’. It wasn’t. The New York Times estimated that Trump drew a crowd about a third the size of Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

When questioned on her colleague’s deliberate and provable lies in an interview, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s counsellor, suggested that Mr Spicer had simply provided ‘alternative facts’. Defending Trump’s so-called Muslim Ban, Ms Conway invented a terrorist attack called the Bowling Green Massacre, lamenting the fact that ‘most people don’t know about that because it didn’t get covered’ – most likely because it didn’t happen.

Ms Conway’s statements are almost laughable in their refusal to acknowledge the truth. Some compared her words to the newspeak employed by the Party in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, causing sales of the novel to surge. She responded to criticism in Trump-like fashion: by throwing out random insults. After Chelsea Clinton tweeted that Ms Conway should not make up facts, the Counsellor responded – in the mature manner you would expect of a politician – ‘I misspoke; you lost the election’.

The lies of the Trump administration are absurd, and sometimes amusing. But they point to a serious issue. Many politicians manipulate the truth. But the brazenness of Team Trump, their refusal to accept facts when confronted and their efforts to de-legitimize the media should frighten us. When President Trump calls journalists ‘the most dishonest human beings on earth’ it is heard by millions of Americans. When he claims to have seen Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11, he follows in the footsteps of Vladimir Putin, of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and of countless other authoritarian leaders for whom the truth is of but minor importance. Alternative facts are not facts at all; let us hope the American people remember that.

Photograph: Cat Branchman via flickr.

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