My barber is angry at the media.
“Why did ‘they’ have to show a photo of Obama’s inauguration crowd next to Trump’s?” he asked.
“Because Trump’s press secretary said it was the largest crowd ever to witness an inauguration and it wasn’t,” I answered.
“Who cares? He just took office, why don’t they give him a chance?”
“It’s tough to give him a chance when Kellyanne Conway calls his lies ‘alternative facts.’”
“Who cares? It’s the media blowing the whole thing up. Hey, did you hear what Madonna said?”
Yes, I had heard what Madonna said. Her interest in BDSM is well-known. Why hadn’t anyone thought to gag her before she addressed the crowd? By saying that she “thought a lot about blowing up the White House,” Madonna provided Trump supporters with a conversation changer they’ll be able to use to their advantage for the next four years. At best her remarks were embarrassing; at worst they could have incited violence. It’s important that we call her out. Still, the most important story of the weekend is that the White House has adopted Doublespeak, the language of the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984, as its official language:
War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.
Falsehoods are alternative facts.
This is scary stuff because it’s bullshit on a level that we have never encountered before. We are not dealing here with a partial truth or an outright lie, which politicians engage in all of the time. No, this is much worse. It is a sinister kind of obfuscation, the purpose of which is to make everything debatable, even irrefutable truths. I am reminded of the lyrics of an old Graham Nash song, “Man In The Mirror,” in which he sings:
Two and two makes four
They never make five
And as long as we know it
We all can survive…
Well, now two and two just might make five, or 127. I don’t know but there are many people saying it does. In this authoritarian bizarro world a fact isn’t a fact unless Trump says it is and seeing things with your own eyes is not proof of anything.
A classic Richard Pryor standup bit comes to mind. He offers the following advice on what a man should say to his wife when he’s been caught in bed with another woman:
“When you are married, say you don’t fuck around, if you’ve got any brains. My wife (asks), ‘Did you fuck her?’ No, I was not fucking her. I don’t care what you think you saw. I was not fucking her. Now are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?”
It’s great comedy: deny, deny, deny, even when you’ve been caught red-handed in the act of cheating on your wife. Admit nothing. Counter attack (it’s your eyes). Lie until the lie becomes the truth, or at the very least causes a smidgen a doubt. And remember, a smidgen of doubt is all you need, because doubt inspires debate and debate is your friend. Debate means that there are at least two sides to the story worth considering.
Richard Pryor’s punchline is where the discussion with Trump begins. Who are you going to believe, the photos that purportedly show Obama’s crowd was larger than his or your lying eyes? To their credit, New York Times and CNN told it like it was with their respective headlines, “White House Pushes ‘Alternative Facts.’ Here Are the Real Ones” and “Conway Defends False Claim About Inauguration Crowd Size.” But is it too little to late?
While Trump rages against the “lying” media we ourselves are not even sure what the media is anymore. Social media is media too, right? If my Facebook feed is any barometer Trump would have already been impeached and banished to Moscow.
“The media” is simply our digital diet, what each one of us chooses to consume electronically. Who has more influence, NPR or Alex Jones? I can’t say actually and that is what is so troubling about this point at which we have arrived.
My barber’s default position – who cares? – is reflective of his disgust and weariness. He has been worn down by the toxicity of the news cycles. Maybe, just maybe, Trump can fix it. That thought, of course, is fodder for yet more debate and therein lies the paradox.
Debate is essential to a healthy society, however debating whether or not a giraffe can balance a check book somewhat misses the mark. The fact is that Trump has already been revealed to anyone willing to open their eyes:
Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, yet ignore hm at your own peril.
Choose your debates carefully.