Trump and the post-truth presidency

January 18, 2017

Truth is under attack. Donald Trump seems to believe that repeatedly shouting falsehoods makes them true. He aims to distort what is and is not truthful so that everyone is left in doubt as to what is factual. Trump’s goal is to convince you that reality is unknowable.

In just the past few weeks, we have seen the president-elect attempt to rewrite the record numerous times.

He mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski by flailing his arms at a campaign rally, and denies that he has ever done or would ever do that.

He sparred with Jim Acosta, pointing at the CNN reporter while saying, “you are fake news,” as paid staffers (at a press conference!) applauded, twisting the meaning of “fake news” to mean anything that casts Trump in an unfavorable light.

He praised Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s denunciation of the dossier outlining how Trump may be compromised by Russia, but Clapper’s statement implies that the dossier was deemed important enough to national security to provide as part of intelligence briefings, and does not denounce it.

He takes credit for companies choosing to keep jobs in the United States, along with the recent increase in the Consumer Confidence Index, implying that he is responsible for positive economic trends that the United States is seeing under President Obama.

He claims that he won the presidency in a “landslide” and that there were millions of illegal votes. In fact, Trump’s Electoral College victory margin ranks among the lowest in United States history, and there is no evidence of millions of illegal votes.

As we’ve observed recently, when the truth is no longer an objective force that can be agreed upon, understood, and disseminated, we begin to see a breakdown in discourse. We have descended to a level where there is less and less substantial debate based on concrete facts. Increasingly, it is the case that when something contrary to our own view is stated, then it is somehow wrong or fake.

It is easy to say that both sides of the political spectrum engage in this kind of information warfare, but doing so ignores the massive uptick in reality distortion from right-wing, Trump-supporting sources—and indeed the president-elect himself—that has been observed during the recent election. Many call it gaslighting, but lying is just as accurate. Trump wants to leave us questioning our own memories as he casually rewrites history through his Twitter account; the goal is to mold reality to fit his narrative.

As George Orwell illustrated in 1984, “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.” It is everyone’s job to search for the truth, no matter how badly Trump and his associates want to convince you that you are in a post-truth world.

This was originally published in The Polytechnic on January 18, 2017.