Here's my next newspaper column, to be published Saturday:
In the age of Trump, having only a weekly column makes it challenging to prioritize. By the time this is published, who knows how many more significant issues will have come up? On the other hand, what’s more important than truth? So, displacing about a dozen other topics for now, let’s talk about Sean Spicer, Trump’s official press mouthpiece, and his remarkable appearance one day after inauguration.
In case anyone is unaware, he devoted his first news conference to upbraiding the press for, he claimed, lying about the size of the crowd at the inauguration. Photos taken at the same time, from the same angle, make it clear that the crowd for Trump was enormously less enormous than for President Obama eight years earlier, as do Metro ridership data; but Sean Spicer was having none of it. It was the largest crowd ever, for any inauguration. Period. Yes, he said “Period.” And left without taking questions.
Is this weightier than issuing gag orders on scientists across all government agencies? Does it deserve more attention than his impossible claim he’ll end crime and remove radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth? Offending the CIA by using their Memorial Wall as a backdrop for vainglorious self-promotion and having brought stooges there to cheer and clap? Well, if we have a president who’s untethered from reality, yes. If blatant lies are to be modus operandi from this administration, it deserves unwavering attention, because this level of shameless mendacity is unprecedented.
Although many Trumpites seem okay with being lied to, I believe among them are decent people, thoughtful ones, who prefer truthfulness and reality-testing in a president. People whose patriotism and bravery run deeper than partisanship. Very soon, we’ll all depend on that.
If Sean Spicer believes what he claimed, he’s delusional. If not, if he’s just following orders, we must wonder what demand, if any, he’d consider beyond justifying. Are Trump’s people already afraid to tell him the truth? More pertinent, though, is why Trump ordered him to say what he did. During the campaign we learned to expect lies. But this? Crowd size? When there’s photographic evidence? What does it mean that our president is compelled to such obvious fabrication? There aren’t many explanations, and they’re all alarming.
If Trump sees only what he wants to see, ignoring irrefutable evidence to the contrary, we’re in grave, non-partisan danger. (He’s repeating his discredited claim that millions voted illegally for Hillary; even confabulated about rain and sun during his inauguration. This is disturbingly abnormal.) If he lies intentionally, thinking so little of the people to whom he promised to return the government, we should be both frightened and insulted. Which is the greater threat: a president who’s pathologically unmoored from reality, or one capable of lying whenever he speaks? That’s the no-winners situation we face.
Which brings us to Kellyanne Conway. While many of Trump’s appointees are some combination of inexperience, incompetence, and ethical deficiency, Ms. Conway is a brilliant choice. Never have we seen a more facile propagandist or producer of disinformation, not even on Fox “news.” Asked why Trump sent Spicer out there to lie, her glib response was chilling: he was presenting “alternative facts.” We’ve just learned the motto for the new administration: Alternative Facts.
Accepting the health risks, I check in on right-wing websites. They defended it all, claiming the pictures weren’t from comparable times (they were), blaming the press, seeing conspiracy, exactly as Trump would have them do. But even Chris Wallace, one of Fox “news’” two sometimes fair and occasionally balanced reporters, creating a Sophie’s choice for Trumpists, stated he was there and saw the empty space. Is Trump plumbing the depths of gullibility of his voters, prepping them for even bigger lies, testing what he can get away with? Is that a less disturbing explanation than literal insanity? Joseph Goebbels vs. George III?
How much duplicity can Trump’s supporters rationalize? It’s in their hands, especially those in Congress, to take a stand if he becomes even more unhinged. If they don’t, they will have failed themselves and their county. And, having the temperament, history, and, now, the means to punish “enemies,” what will Trump do if they do?[Image source]