Donald Trump and the Rise of Post Truth

The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the US has now happened and like everything else to do with the Trump Presidency.  It has been mired in controversy.  Not, only did A-grade stars refuse to play at his inauguration balls, but the media and other political commentators pointed out that the Trump inauguration was smaller than his predecessors, especially Obama’s 2009 first inauguration.

Trump’s reaction to this has been to call into question the reliability and truthfulness of his opponents. In the case of the Inauguration, Trump and his team responded that they had never asked for A listers to attend; or that he wanted a people’s inauguration which is why there were no A list stars.  These explanations are at odds with previous comments from Trump that he was being approached by stars to attend and that Trump’s team had offered people money and political appointments if they did attend.

The latest controversy came with the observation by the Press and by Trump’s political opponents that the crowd for his inauguration was considerably less than that for Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.  As a clear comparison, many media outlets published photographs from the two inaugurations side by side to prove their point.  Trump’s reaction to this was to accuse the media of lying and creating “fake news”.  He expressed this belief when he was speaking to CIA officials on Saturday morning.

The CIA visit and the resulting speech was a means to repair a rather fraught relationship between Trump and the US intelligence agencies. Trump had been critical of the US Intelligence agencies throughout his campaign. However, he became more critical with the release of a recent report which alleged that Trump was in the pay of the Russians. In the aftermath of that release Trump compared the US intelligence agencies to those in Nazi Germany.

However, Trump largely used the speech to skewer his opponents remarking that the supposed hostility between him and the various agencies was the result of the media.  The media was openly trying to discredit him.  Indeed, the media could not even get the numbers at his inauguration correct.

As the Guardian reported;

His 15-minute speech included boasts about the supposed – and inaccurate – size of crowds for his inauguration; expressions of airily defined love and support for intelligence agencies with which he has been at odds over their belief in Russian attempts to influence the election on his behalf; boasts about the number of times he has appeared on the cover of Time magazine; the supposed fact that it stopped raining when he spoke at the Capitol on Friday (it didn’t); and an insinuation that he might start another war in Iraq.

The US (and indeed the larger international) media was provided with another strange scene later that day when the new White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer called a press conference and accused the press of dishonest behaviour over its reporting of the inauguration.  Reuter’s news agency reported that;

In an unusual and fiery statement on Saturday night, White House spokesman Sean Spicer lashed out about tweeted photographs that showed large, empty spaces on the National Mall during the ceremony on Friday.

“This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe,” Spicer said in a brief statement. “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm about the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”

In response to questioning about Trump and his assertions, Trump’s team have now proposed that they have “alternative facts” to those that are being presented by their opponents.  (Their opponents appear to be anyone who is opposed to Trump).  The notion of “alternative facts” was presented by Kellyanne Conway, the newly appointed White House “Counselor” in an interview with the Chuck Todd, who is the political director of NBC news.  Todd confronted Conway pointing out that there was no such thing as “alternative facts” merely falsehoods.

The worrying thing is the attitude which appears to be taken by some politicians and is being legitimised by the Trump White House in what some people have euphemistically labelled as a “post-truth” situation.   For the layperson, Wikipedia notes that “Post -Truth” identifies a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of truth by rendering it of “secondary” importance. Post Truth allows people to repeatedly spread claims even if they have been found to be untrue by the media, opponents or experts.

In the post truth situation, the facts are derided, ignored or it even proposed that there are “alternative facts”.  Alternative facts endorse the idea that facts can be challenged.  As Humpty Dumpty remarked to Alice;

“When I use a word …. it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.

In the past if someone was caught lying then they would often admit it, especially after the facts of the situation came out.  As an example, Richard Nixon admitted that he had been less than truthful regarding Watergate when the facts were eventually revealed.  However, there is no such thing as “alternative facts.” It is nonsense, a fact is a fact is a fact. A fact is based on something that has demonstrable evidence.  Water boils at 100 degrees at sea level, a heavy stone falling on someone’s foot will hurt are factual.  In politics, this rationale does become more problematic due to its subjective nature.  But, we expect our politicians to be reality factual. Further, if they are caught out then they should admit it. Was Richard Nixon behind the break in at the Watergate Hotel? Yes, he was.

The problem is that facts are being circumvented by (political) opinion masquerading as fact.  This is the important difference, you can have alternative opinions but, these are not facts.  If someone offers an opinion on a topic, that is their opinion.  An opinion can be based on facts, and good opinions should be, but they are still opinions.  The worrying aspect of this situation is that these opinions are being stated as valid facts. Further, the public are being told that not only are there no such thing as facts, that any facts or events that you don’t like can be changed.  This has the chilling effect of nullifying facts in the public consciousness. That is, if everyone is right, then no one is right.


Loose lips sink ships…

Revelations about the infiltration of left(ish) groups by the Police and the Security Service have recently dominated the pages and airwaves of New Zealand’s complacence and lethargic media. However, as Liberation Blog (Bryce Edwards) and Against the Current (Steve Cowan) have pointed out such infiltration should come as no surprise. The police and the SIS in particular have been planting moles and informants in left (and, sometimes, even Right wing) organisations for decades. Rob Gilchrist, the outed police informer/spy, is merely the most recent in a long line of internal Government paid spies that have been inflicted upon various New Zealand activist groups and organisations in this shoddy and shameful practice.

Friends of mine who were involved in the SAL (Socialist Action League) in the 1970s and in CARE, HART and the PYM in the late 60s, 70s and early 1980s were well aware that their groups had been infiltrated. When he was Prime Minister, Muldoon regularly used the police and the SIS to infiltrate “anti government” and “subversive” (his words) groups, organisations, unions and political parties such as the Labour Party, the SUP and, in 1983/4, even the right wing New Zealand Party. Often individuals would appear from nowhere, volunteer to undertake or coordinate various tasks and events and then disappear just as quickly. One such individual was only identified as a member of the police, after he was photographed in the local Nelson newspaper with a number of his police colleagues. This was a year after he had suddenly disappeared from the organisation’s membership.

I recently had the chance to read the SIS files relating to an organisation, of which I am a member. These were obtained under the Official Information Act (this organisation has existed for some time) and most of ‘their’ files are due to be archived. They detail a long sorry list of half truths and outright fabrication which are listed as fact. The alarming thing was the extent to which organisations had been infiltrated by moles. And, even more alarmingly, those people or colleagues who were prepared to pass information and allegations onto the authorities.

I suppose that while it is tremendously demoralising, shocking and upsetting for those people who have come to rely or know people like Mr Gilchrist as friends or colleagues, it is one of the dangers of belonging to an activist group.  It is also important to realise that most people join and actively participate in various groups for the ‘right’ reasons. Those being that they believe in the cause and they wish to help change society or propagate a series of beliefs. This, we are told, is an important part of the democratic process.

In this circumstance, while better judgement may be called for, it is important to realise that not all people are cut from the tawdry cloth from which Rob Gilchrist was.

If we start doubting and suspecting people, then those ‘dark’ agents and agencies behind Mr Gilchrist have truly won.