Facts Don’t Matter
Trump has created a world where the truth is irrelevant. That’s a problem.
This morning, I found myself flicking through the President’s twitter feed while my Keurig groaned and grimaced over my morning cup of coffee. It’s become a sick part of my morning routine: wake up, wince, drink coffee. Trump’s tweets are like those trypophobia-inducing videos of parasite removal; I know I should stop, but I just can’t look away.
At least mango worms can actually be cleaned out. Trump’s tweets seem to ooze from an infinitely-deep pustule of rot.
What caught my eye this morning was a reposted Breitbart headline. “OMB Official: Ukraine Aid Held Up Because Other Countries Weren’t Giving.”
Ordinarily I would have scanned past it without giving it much thought. We all know Mick Mulvaney already admitted on live television that the aid was blocked to pressure Ukraine for political favors. Only, I recognized the name of the Office of Management & Budget official, Mark Sandy, from reporting last night.
Mark Sandy’s deposition was released yesterday, revealing that there was no justification given for the aid block, that the aid block was in fact done illegally, and that two OMB officials had resigned in protest. Only in early September, after the White House learned of the whistleblower report, did the OMB receive an email claiming the aid block had to do with contributions from other countries. Breitbart’s headline goes beyond the usual layering of bias and half-truth into blatant and unadulterated fabrication. This is the Ministry of Truth.
It was the same approach — replacing real headlines with an utterly false narrative — that emerged last week. When Gordon Sondland testified that he and his co-conspirators had negotiated a quid pro quo at the President’s express direction and that the President’s denials only came after he was caught, Trump waddled out onto the White House lawn and tried to quote Sondland’s quote of his own words, as if disavowing a crime after you’ve committed it is somehow exculpatory.
To Trump’s supporters, facts don’t matter. Trump even famously told his followers, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” After decrying the evils of “relativism” and “post-modernism” for decades, conservatives have become their own worst enemies.
The gulf between right and left has become so great that in many cases, there isn’t any need to spin.
About six months ago, I started clicking on Trump ads on Facebook. Knowing how expensive pay-per-click ads are, it was an easy way to directly take money out of the Trump campaign’s budget. Besides, if their algorithm thought I was a good fit for their inane fundraising ads…well, let’s encourage that algorithm, shall we?
In the process, I ended up subscribed to multiple far-right newsletters. I don’t mind terribly much, since they end up buried in my “Promotions” mailbox. The worst offender, World Net Daily, regularly sends me lovely headlines like these:
- “Jury makes profiteering on baby-body parts even more profitable”
- “Are women fit for combat? New test has shocking results”
- “Thousands of witches to cast massive spell on Trump and his supporters”
- “‘More than enough evidence to reopen’ Hillary probe
- “Bombshell discovery exposes ‘Trayvon hoax’”
- “Major magazine yanks global-warming study due to serious ‘errors’”
A few times, however, I’ve noticed a different phenomenon. The headlines I see from these far-right sources don’t always look different from real headlines. Sometimes, the headlines are almost identical.
- “This is the only way mass shootings will cease”
- “Another ‘Steele dossier’? Trump’s accuser releases claims”
- “Nancy Pelosi bolder than ever”
- “U.S. senators call for charges against Kavanaugh accusers”
- “Limbaugh claims Democrat House will never vote to impeach”
- “Trump goes on offense … against Obama”
- “Hannity rails against his own network’s polls”
- “Kellyanne Conway’s husband wants her out of ‘cult’ White House”
- “Christian televangelist: Push to impeach Trump is a ‘Jew coup’”
All sensationalistic, maybe…but the headlines themselves wouldn’t be out of place below the fold for most real media sources. I can already imagine the first few lines of each article, if the headlines were published in the Daily Beast or the Washington Post. Yet these headlines meant exactly the opposite to conservatives. The total redefinition of words and ideas and reality itself has so warped our discourse that the exact same facts and ideas have opposing meanings.
There are two Americas, and there’s nothing we agree on any more.
David MacMillan is a freelance writer, paralegal, and law student in Washington, DC. He writes about science, politics, and culture as he finishes his book about his departure from creationist science denial.