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.


The New Man Cometh…

Yesterday, as the world knows, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.  He has his work cut out for him.  On the very day that he was inaugurated, the Citadel of Greed, otherwise known as the Dow Jones dropped 4%, pulled under by ongoing concerns about the solvency of US Banks. 

The US economy continues to stall and with it, the employment prospects and aspirations of millions of US citizens. As the US economy stalls so does the global economy.  I am sure that as President Obama said farewell to former President Bush, he was doubtless more than aware that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan continued and with it the disastrous and inglorious foreign policy pursued by Bush, ‘Pax-Americana’.

Obama has said a lot in recent months. Much of it has focused on the need of the US to change, economically, socially, environmentally and internationally.  During, his Inauguration Address, Obama observed that;

“…everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.”

Later he added that;

“…a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.”

These are bold words and now the time has come for him to put his words into action. He has talked the talk; can he now walk the walk? 

Interestingly, in the lead up to Obama’s inauguration, the ‘Times On-Line’ had an archived report of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second Inauguration speech in 1937.  Roosevelt is seen as one of the three greatest US Presidents along with Washington and Lincoln. He is the only US President to have been elected for more than two terms and is likely to remain so, as after his fourth election victory the US Congress altered the constitution to limit a President to two terms.  Although, Roosevelt’s policies were often muddled, there is little doubt that his ‘New Deal’ improved the lives of many ordinary people suffering under the greatest economic depression ever seen. 

So, it was that on a cold, wet January day, Roosevelt spoke to a Depression wearied, but increasingly hopeful US public about the achievements of his first term and stressed the need to continue to go forward.  While, much had been achieved since 1933, much remained to be done;

“I see a United States which can demonstrate that, under democratic methods of government, national wealth can be translated into a spreading volume of human comforts hitherto unknown, and the lowest standard of living can be raised far above the level of mere subsistence.

But here is the challenge to our democracy: In this nation I see tens of millions of its citizens–a substantial part of its whole population–who at this very moment are denied the greater part of what the very lowest standards of today call the necessities of life.

I see millions of families trying to live on incomes so meagre that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day.

I see millions whose daily lives in city and on farm continue under conditions labeled indecent by a so-called polite society half a century ago.

I see millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.

I see millions lacking the means to buy the products of farm and factory and by their poverty denying work and productiveness to many other millions.

I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.”

Roosevelt’s observations remain true today. 

Seventy two years after that speech, successive US Government’s have watered down Roosevelt’s social and economic commitment to the US public.  They have attempted to reduce, and since the 1980s eliminate the security offered to millions by the New Deal, the Fair Deal and the Great Society, for the sake of making the prosperous, even more prosperous.

As a result, Seventy two years on, the US continues to be one of the most unequal countries in the western world.  Millions are still denied education, recreation and the opportunity to better their lot. Millions still live on incomes that are so meagre that the pall of family disaster hangs over them day by day. Millions remain ill-housed, ill-clothed and ill nourished.  In short, millions of Americans continue to be denied the necessities of life.

If Barack Obama really wishes to make the US a more equal state and ‘cleanse the temple of the money changers’, then he might want to take heed of Roosevelt’s first inauguration speech in 1933.  For it was then, in the depths of the Great Depression, that Roosevelt told people prior to implementing the new interventionist polices of the New Deal, that the “only thing we need to fear, is fear itself.” 

Bedtime for Bonzo

I thought that I would start my postings in the New Year by not dwelling on the international and domestic negatives (the invasion of Gaza, the war in Iraq, the looming economic meltdown etal) and instead, concentrate on something positive.

And, amidst all the problems, something positive is occurring. George W Bush has reached the end of his Presidency. After eight years – it’s finally over. There will be no more, George W making inane comments and decisions, no more scenes of Vice President Dick Cheney (the man behind the throne) or Condi Rice talking about protecting US interests overseas (or shooting their friends on hunting expeditions).

I am no fan of the US Presidential or electoral system. I don’t see real differences between the vast bulk of Democrats and the vast bulk of Republicans. However, there have been Presidents who have, for various and different reasons, stamped their mark on the office of President, on US society and on the internationally arena – Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D Roosevelt, John F Kennedy and even Harry Truman (the Fair Deal) and Lyndon Baines Johnson (who despite his support of the Vietnam War was also in favour of improving and extending the programmes of the New Deal and the Fair Deal, to millions of Americans, creating the ‘Great Society’).

George W Bush has unfortunately made his mark on the US and the international scene as well. Under his Presidency, the US has become a far more insular and dangerous place. A place where constitutional rights are being eroded piece by piece, where human rights are not respected and a place where the dark desires of a group of people are inflicted upon everyone else, openly and brazenly.

Well, what’s the difference one could ask between George W and others who have recently been President such as, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (snr) and ‘slick willy’ Clinton? Simply, because Dubya demonstrated that he processed no skills in any area of his presidency. He is a jack of no trades and a master of none. All the others showed a skill in terms of their presidencies, from the shrewd (but paranoid) toughness of Nixon, the negotiation skills of Carter, the folksy communication of Reagan to George H Bush, who developed an understanding of the international situation through his years as CIA director and later as Reagan’s Vice President.

George W Bush processed none of these talents. After his first election victory, he proceeded to make the world safe for democracy, by making it unsafe for democracy. He stole an election in 2000, led the US and its allies to invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq on the basis of lies, stood by while the citizens of New Orleans drowned. Enacted tax cuts for the rich while penalising the poor.

However, one of the few good things that he did was to reveal in a crass and open way the real agenda of those who led him, in a manner that the skills of the men who had occupied the Oval office prior to his presidency would never had allowed.

When I was a teenager, I remember the mirth (and terror) that the Reagan presidency caused. Reagan was a man who slept through briefings, appeared to be increasingly out of touch with global realities, but, yet, had his finger on the ‘big red button’. In eight years, Bush did the impossible for me, he made Reagan look good.

A lot can be said and has been about Dubya, and doubtless much will be said in the future. From my perspective, his Presidency was truly one that showed that you could be both bad and inept. He is a worthy recipient of the title of the Worst US President in history.