Electronic Frontier Foundation
 Electronic Frontier Foundation
 Electronic Frontier Foundation
 Electronic Frontier Foundation

Hundreds of thousands of women descended upon Washington D.C. over the weekend in protest of the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Huge crowds also gathered at rallies in municipalities throughout the United States as well as other cities across the globe. In the meantime, White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway offered something called “alternative facts” and newly minted Press Secretary Sean Spicer lashed out at reporters from his dais in the White House press room. Mr. Trump spent the morning following his inauguration ceremony attending a prayer service at the National Cathedral. Surprisingly, despite his lying, disingenuous, misogynistic, xenophobic and bankrupt ways, he was not struck down by a bolt of lightning from the heavens. The Secret Service is to be commended for protecting the Commander in Chief from God’s wrath. Neat trick.

 

The spark of contention over the weekend had to do with crowd sizes. Turnout for the various protests around the country exceeded expectations, and estimates of the crowd in the nation’s capital reached as high as 500,000 people. These protests followed a day of empty spaces in the national mall during President Trump’s inauguration ceremony and video shots of near empty bleachers along the route of the ensuing parade. Not surprisingly, the White House pretended that the protests didn’t exist, or were at least unworthy of official mention. Instead, the White House focused upon the attendance at the inauguration, claiming that it was the largest in history. Mr. Spicer stuck to that story, despite all evidence to the contrary. Ms. Conway later defended the press secretary by explaining that he had simply been presenting alternative facts.

 

The new administration, with the term “alternative facts,” is not directly quoting George Orwell, but they are certainly channeling Big Brother. It is becoming increasingly clear that President Trump intends to have a contentious relationship with the press. This is nothing new when it comes to elected officials and the First Amendment, but it’s a matter of degree. The furniture in the White House is probably still being arranged, but Mr. Trump and his administration have already let fly a smelly whopper that is easily refutable by anybody paying even a modicum of attention. What happens when the issue at hand isn’t the size of a crowd, but rather a trade agreement, a legislative endeavor, or a potential military conflict? What does a nation make of alternative facts in a post-truth environment then?

 

There is a worry that the weekend’s dispute is more than just an administration trying to make themselves look better by spinning facts and massaging numbers. The fear is that this may be the opening salvo in an effort to discredit the press and instill doubt in the public eye over what the truth really is and who, if anybody, can be trusted. It would be a divisive tactic, one designed to separate truth from perception. In a world where the facts become muddied and the veracity of sources is in doubt, the voice that screams loudest is the one that stands out. Everybody knows that President Trump has a loud voice. It may be a voice with the vocabulary of a fifth grader and the venom of an adolescent, but it certainly stands out.

 

It has been said that perception is reality, or, more precisely, that one’s perception is one’s reality. The thinking behind this is that if somebody is unaware of something, then that “something” doesn’t exist in their perception of reality. It’s an old and quaint psychological and metaphysical argument, and it’s not completely without merit. It is, however, inherently flawed. When one is getting ready to cross the street, but they don’t perceive that bus barreling down the road, they’re going to get a dose of reality very quickly. It’s wise to look both ways before crossing the street, and it’s prudent to examine all the sides when reading/watching the news, and it is becoming imperative to consider all the factors whenever the President of the United States opens his mouth.

 

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