Appearing on Sunday television with NBC reporter Chuck Todd, KellyAnne Conway, Counselor to the President, entered a realm of reality that can only be rivaled by George Orwell’s “1984” or possibly “Alice in Wonderland.”
When responding to (well-deserved) criticism of claims that White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, had made the previous day the following remarks (as reported by Politifact among other news agencies) are one of the several exchanges took place between the two:
Todd: “You did not answer the question of why the president asked the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood? Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the White House press office on day one.”
Conway: “No it doesn’t. Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What…You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that. But the point remains….”
Todd: “Wait a minute – alternative facts? Alternative facts? Four of the five facts he uttered, the one thing he got right was Zeke Miller. Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”
Prefaced by Conway’s unbelievably condescending remark to a national reporter ‘Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck” she then went on to complete re-write a concept that has been understood by everyone since the time of Aristotle. Even the noted Merriam-Webster Dictionary tweeted Conway, providing her with the definition “A fact is a piece of information presented as having objective reality.” It’s a pretty sorry state of affairs when you get trolled by a dictionary.
As former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts.” Responsible parents drill this into their children – tell the truth. Schools demand that homework reports contain verifiable facts. Subjects ranging from history to science rely on the use of facts. Even in math, you cannot make up an “alternative fact” to the answer for 2+2=?
The Trump administration is entitled to its own policies, its own worldview, even its own opinions. But it is not entitled to its own facts. No administration is. That is why independent agencies such as the Congressional Budget Office, and Inspectors General exist. To make certain that the facts are presented to the government and to American people, without fear or favor.
Certainly, no administration has been without its failures in truth telling. From Nixon’s “I am not a crook” to “I have never had sex with that woman” to Benghazi being caused by a YouTube video, the people have almost come to expect lies from their government. But no administration in history has started out lying directly from the White House from Day One and in such a blatant fashion.
This is not a question of political spin or fudging unemployment numbers. This is a message that is being sent to our children, from the most important and powerful people in our government, that the truth does not matter. Facts can be whatever suit your needs. Say whatever you need to persuade people to support your point of view. Is this really what we want to teach our children?
The Trump administration also lost an extremely important battle this weekend. Not the battle over the size of the crowd, but the battle to maintain its credibility with the public. And they did it to themselves, without any help from the media. After starting with the lowest approval ratings in modern history, promoting the idea that they can say whatever they like under the cover of “alternative facts” does their cause no good. Not just with Americans, but with our allies and enemies around the world.
German philosopher Frederick Nietzche may have said it best. “I’m not upset that you lied to me. I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” Trust, whether it is in men or in governments, once it is lost, is nearly impossible to regain. No doubt there are many Trump supporters who don’t care about the facts. But the rest of the country and the rest of the world DO care. Which is why alt-facts are alt-wrong.