How to Fight Trump’s “Alternate Fact” Reality
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s use of “alternative facts,” as coined by Kellyanne Conway, on Saturday night to describe Women’s Marches throughout the world was not only disgusting and disingenuous, but goes much deeper than debates over crowd sizes.
Spicer’s tactical falsehoods reinforced a Trumpian strategic goal at the core of his campaign and presidency: that a world based on alternative facts eventually builds an alternate reality. Team Trump is not just trying to mislead for the sake of misleading, their goal is to build a fabricated version of America. Why? Their America will not survive without their leadership.
It’s been Trump’s strategy since he peddled the lie that President Obama was not born in the United States. His second act began with chastising the vast majority of Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and then threaten to ban Muslims from entering the country. The country’s collective jaw hit the floor, because those lies were racist and, ahem, simply not true or ridiculous. But Trump’s alternate facts subliminally resonated with a core group of quick converts who were looking to blame their very real economic struggles on… something, anything. When a complex world of economic disaster, off-shoring, and automation shows up at your doorstep, the easiest path is to outsource the truth and blame another group.
Trump didn’t let up. He said Senator John McCain wasn’t a war hero (a man tortured for five years in the Hanoi Hilton who refused freedom to stay with his fellow servicemembers), questioned Judge Curiel’s impartiality because of his heritage, and accused Senator Ted Cruz’s father of helping assassinate JFK. His tactics were obnoxious but fed a grand strategy: Trump was dividing America as a means of building an alternate reality.
He planted the flag on the alternate reality moon during his Republican National Convention speech, infamously proclaiming “I alone can fix it.” Just before, Trump complained of illegal immigrants systematically murdering Americans, Third World airports, and spiralling debt. All are alternative facts— except LaGuardia, the man is right about LaGuardia — but he wrapped it in the bow of truth: “Here, at our convention, there will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth, and nothing else.”
His ensuing assault on the media’s credibility, Inauguration Day declaration of “American carnage,” and repeated assertion that three-to-five million illegal voters cost him the popular vote might be paranoia, but are also the bricks and mortar of Trump’s Alternative Reality Tower. America has problems to be sure, but by fashioning himself as the sole arbiter of truth, Trump wants lead the country out from the demented, fabricated horror he’s forcing us to see.
If he succeeds, he could do lasting damage to America’s core institutions and values. But the greatest harm could be to the very idea of what truth and trust means to Americans.
So what are we to do?
There are signs — good signs — that the media is taking him to task. The Washington Post has used the words “repeatedly debunked” and The New York Times “lie” in describing a days-old administration. The Emoluments Clause lawsuit concerning Trump’s foreign business empire brought by bipartisan ethics lawyers Norm Eisen and Richard Painter is another. But using the courts to redress a political question — Trump repeatedly says that the issue was litigated during the campaign — is always tricky, subject to an interpretation that may place Trump on thin constitutional ice but neither apply a fix nor terminate his presidency.
So I’m starting by taking Jennifer Hoelzer’s advice:
Start supporting candidates who are brave enough to be honest with you, even when that means telling you you’re wrong. I guarantee if enough people start supporting those candidates, more and more politicians will follow suit.
We need a political solution, and we should start by shedding the notion that these are matters of right vs. left. Defeating Trump must be a bipartisan effort that includes truth-seeking Republicans.
Congress can do something. Elected officials, particularly swing state Republicans who have been luke-warm on Trump, are front and center. Will they be strong enough to be honest and truthful in the face of Trump’s alternate reality? Or will they put politics first?
Here’s an idea: Trump’s foreign business holdings — which he refuses to sell — are not only constitutional violations but post real threats to national security. At the very least, every Trump building is now a terrorist target. If one is attacked, how would he react? His thin skin should make us worry that he’d deploy the military in an act of personal revenge.
Forcing Trump to sell his business assets would throw a bucket of cold water on his fabrications. I’m a proud progressive, but I believe that recruiting GOP Members to co-sponsor legislation recently introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) requiring Trump to divest of his business assets and resolve his foreign conflicts of interest is a crucial step. It would place the issue, literally, on Trump’s desk. Would he veto a bill and dare Congress to override it?
Either option would cut through Trump’s alternate reality very quickly.
The #PutUSFirst campaign is leading a petition drive to target vulnerable Republicans and tell Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to allow a vote on Senator Warren’s bill. Please sign the petition here.