Your Alternative Facts Should Not Be Protected

I, like many others, wake up every morning to learn about some new ludicrous information Trump or someone from his cabinet spewed out. From a massacre that did not happen to the denial of global warming, there is (ironically) something new to learn that is false. While Trump’s facts have always been called into question there has been an increased scrutiny, However, the biggest catalyst to this was when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer gave false numbers of attendance to Trump’s inauguration to which Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway claimed was an alternative fact. There was a huge outburst and social media mocked this concept of an “alternative fact.” While this is the first time these lies/ falsehoods have been named the idea of alternative facts is not new for the Trump administration nor is it new to any political speech. Before this political catastrophe, there was already criticism of fake news misinforming voters. A lot of new sources have been condemned for providing false information and people who help spread this fake new are labeled as uneducated and misinformed.

However, this new fetish for alternative facts has been protected in the name of free speech. Even the most outrageous claims are supposed to be protected under this free speech narrative. However, this is not how free speech was first constructed to be. Michel Foucault breaks down the original context and meaning behind the idea of free speech. Originally used as parrhesia — meaning someone who speaks the truth is a far cry from the alternative facts that are used today. Looking at each requirement to qualify something for free speech, it becomes clear that American politics are failing to produce or support free speech.

The first factor of parrhesia is the idea of “frankness,” which looks at the relationship between what the speaker says, the speaker, and the audience the speaker is addressing. The first step of free speech is awareness of self and others. A speaker should understand that their version of the truth still is a form of an opinion that is adding to the current discourse of specific issue. This means the speaker is aware of their standpoint and that this will impact the audience in various ways. This first requirement is not being met, as seen with Trump’s tantrum about the Muslim ban. Even after federal courts upheld the lower court’s ruling to stop the ban, Trump felt that his executive order should have been final. This displays little awareness of self or the impact his decisions made.

The second qualification deals with the concept of truth. Foucault quotes Plato when discussing this aspect of parrhesia “characterization of the bad democratic constitution where everyone has the right to address himself to his fellow citizens and to tell them anything — even the most stupid or dangerous things for the city.” When looking at this quote there seems to be a lot of political rhetoric doing exactly as Plato warns against. Several scare tactics have been used and supported by false facts to fulfill a political agenda. This is seen with demonizing of Mexican immigrants and refugees,

The third marker of free speech is there is an actual danger from speaking the truth. Now this danger is specifically cited to be something that puts someone in danger. That announcing the truth would create some type of imminent threat against the person who is speaking the truth. Again, this is rarely the case with Trump’s alternative fact giving. When Trump or his supporters speak falsehoods, they are not putting themselves in any line of danger in fact the opposite, they are putting others in danger by providing false information that could be dangerous or call panic among other people.

The fourth is linked to the idea of criticism. The idea that free speech should be used as a form of critique. The critique should be combined with the previous parts of free speech. Free speech should be used to critique the powers that are oppressive. Again, alternative facts usually do not accomplish this because they are upholding the administration and the abusive power it is unleashing. This can be seen with travel ban when several false claims about Muslim refugees being violent although none of these claims could be supported by actual empirical facts.

The final aspect of parrhesia is the idea of dutifulness. That it is one’s duty to use free speech to critique the oppression and to further the redirect of thought in society. To use free speech is characterized by a responsibility to all citizens of a properly run democracy. A person should speak out against unjust acts and be willing to put themselves at risk for speaking the truth. However, this idea is slowly disappearing with free speech becoming synonymous with that anything should be said and tolerated. There is a narrative going around that all opinions are valid and now facts can bend and create to fit an agenda all in name of free speech. There needs to be constant critique of our government and systematic oppression in order to truly live in a democratic society.

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