How to defeat “alternative facts”

We’ve seen strong signs of a successful liberal coalition in the past couple of weeks, with multiple and varied protests against Trump’s Muslim ban. Efforts like this have to be narrowly focused, in order to bring in the largest number of supporters. It worked very well this time.

(Note: If you aren’t a regular follower of this blog, please read this post to understand how I’m using the word “liberal.” I’m using it in its original sense, from before it became associated with massive government power.)

The puzzle to me has been why the protests haven’t been even broader, to the point of making Trump a laughing stock even among the people who reluctantly voted for him. From my observation, most of the votes for him were very reluctant, yet there are still Trump signs up around where I live. Charles Sykes’ article, “Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying,” provides a lot of insight, as well as guidance on how to further build the opposition.

Sykes tells us, “All administrations lie, but what we are seeing here is an attack on credibility itself.” It’s explicit subjectivism, and “in that world, the leader becomes the only reliable source of truth.” The leader’s obvious lies don’t matter, when truth is just a matter of preference.

How should people who care about truth respond? “If we want to restore respect for facts and break through the intellectual ghettos on both the right and left, the mainstream media will have to be aggressive without being hysterical and adversarial without being unduly oppositional.”

That’s very important, and not just for big publishers. Some people, interested only in getting Democrats back into power, use denunciation as their main tactic. They claim everyone who voted for Trump is a racist. They declare that Republican Christians are fake Christians. They aren’t promoting respect for facts by doing that.

The liberal coalition has to pull people in, not drive them away. The huge majority of Americans should be opposing the power-mad buffoon in the White House, but they won’t if they see the opposition as their enemy. We can go back to fighting over other issues later. Right now the important thing is to prevent a major power grab from succeeding. Each individual can make a difference for worse or for better.

2 Responses to “How to defeat “alternative facts””

  1. Eyal Mozes Says:

    The main problem with Sykes’ article is that he talks as if the responsibility, for creating the atmosphere of subjectivism and acceptance of “alternative facts”, is entirely with the conservative media. He may have had to put it this way to get the New York Times to publish his article; but that’s no excuse. The mainstream media, especially the New York Times, were the ones who created this atmosphere, and the conservative media were right to direct attention to it. Then most of the conservative media chose to counter subjectivism and “alternative facts” with more subjectivism and more “alternative facts”, only in service of the opposite political views; that’s the attitude we’re now seeing in Trump’s supporters.

    If I had to name the first incident that gave birth to the acceptance of “alternative facts” as legitimate, I’d point to what happened at Obama’s 2010 State Of The Union Address, when he attacked the Citizens United decision with the clearly contrary-to-fact statement that the decision “open[s] the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” When the camera then caught Justice Alito quietly mouthing the words “not true”, all the New York Times, and other mainstream media, had to say about this was to criticize Alito’s impoliteness. As far as I know, no one in the mainstream media made any suggestion that Obama should have paid some attention to the facts before making his statement. The phrase “alternative facts” was not used then, since it has not been invented yet, but clearly the view the mainstream media took on this was that it was legitimate for Obama to provide alternative facts, and that it was impolite of Alito to treat the facts of reality as more important than Obama’s version.

    This is just the earliest incident I can think of; certainly not the most serious one. Throughout the history of Obamacare, the mainstream media have repeatedly been hiding the problems it was creating; I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve pointed out to an Obama supporter the suffering of people who’ve lost their health plans because of Obamacare, and got a response along the lines of “This is a lie; if it were true, the New York Times would have reported it”. That’s exactly the attitude we’re now seeing from Trump’s supporters.

    Sykes is right regarding the appropriate remedy. The most important weapon against Trump is respect for the facts; that’s what those who oppose Trump need above all else. Sadly, it does not look like the mainstream media recognize this at all; so far the willingness to make up facts to suit one’s purpose seems equally shared by pro-Trump and anti-Trump media. Any attack on Trump based on factual misrepresentations will do him more good than harm, by reinforcing the subjectivism that he depends on; and so far I have seen no signs from the left of willingness to learn that lesson.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      A lot of people on the left have their own “alternative facts.” A day or so ago, I saw a report of police burning tipis to the ground at Standing Rock. It was unsourced, so I was somewhat skeptical, though I really didn’t think much about it. Today I read an article on the Guardian’s website that the story was fake, and confirmed it on Snopes. The picture was lifted from an old movie. I checked just now on Twitter, and people are still claiming the story is true. I mentioned that it wasn’t and gave the Snopes link, but didn’t get any retweets. It’s understandable that people might get carried away by a false rumor; it’s dishonest if they later find out it was false but no one points it out. The Guardian, of course, deserves credit for pointing out the falsehood.

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