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The Evidence of our Eyes and Ears

— January 23, 2017

Will we believe the evidence of our eyes and ears, or will we be loyal to the President?

Trump began his presidency by complaining that the media weren’t reporting the correct news about his inauguration crowd. “Correct news,” of course, meaning the huge crowd size that he wishes had appeared Friday. This represents the inevitable clash of two problems: Trump’s need for aggrandizement, and his historically low approval rating. When you’re not all that popular, no one’s going to come to your party. He could accept this and move on, but he’s choosing to react to media reports of the small crowd as if they were remarking on the size of his …hands. Maybe it was even the inspiration behind Trump’s use of an image of Obama’s inauguration as his Twitter background. While this tantrum may seem petty and inconsequential, though, it is anything but. It is a test. Will we believe the evidence of our eyes and ears, or will we be loyal to the President?

Karl Rove once said, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.” This seems to be the school of thought to which Trump and his counselors, notably Kellyanne Conway, subscribe. Remember, when he announced his candidacy, he paid for a group of actors to pose as bystanders and cheer. He had his staff cheer at his first press conference. Reports that cast him in an unfavorable light are “fake news,” whether or not they really happened.

The success of the Russians and other purveyors of legitimately fake news (!) is measured by how many of us question the evidence of our eyes and ears and by how often we shrug, throw up our hands, and claim that we can’t really know anything anyway. It’s unto this breach that the “reality-based community” must surge. When “everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” however uninformed, and lies are just “alternative facts,” we’re all endangered. The stakes won’t always be as low as the size of a particular crowd.

Kellyanne Conway: Press Secretary Sean Spicer Gave ‘Alternative Facts’ – Meet The Press – NBC News

At least for now, many in the mainstream press are wise to these tricks. The Washington Post and CNN, in particular, have pulled no punches in critiques of the new, fact-challenged administration. We need more watchdogs like them. As time goes by, however, will people find vigilance wearying, especially in the service of an increasingly benighted public? Attacked by both the President and private citizens, will journalists throw in the towel, leaving us to the consequences? The evidence of our eyes and ears is nothing if the mind wants to believe something else.

Senior officials in the Trump administration hinted that the press may be thrown out of the White House entirely. Meanwhile, keepers of facts, such as scientists, archivists, and librarians, busily save key datasets ahead of possible deletion. Journalists and dissenters look into defensive encryption. Suggestions circulate for people to keep lists of events as they change and unfold, to remember what was normal. This isn’t a bad idea, frankly. Because before you know it, we may always have been at war with East Asia.

“The Party told you to reject all evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
George Orwell, 1984


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