Most people not living under a rock know this by now. But for background, on the first Meet the Press after Friday's inauguration, NBC's Chuck Todd was questioning Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway about the bizarre press briefing given by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. In dressing down the media for allegedly spreading falsehoods about the inauguration's crowd size, Spicer read a prepared statement that itself was rife with falsehoods.
In response to persistent questioning by the understandably incredulous Todd, Conway -- who was avoiding an answer -- finally resorted simply to saying that Spicer was providing "alternative facts." She couldn't help but choke on the words as she said them (entire interview here, jump to 4:15).
The next day in his first meeting with Congressional leaders, Trump repeated his thoroughly debunked claim that millions of illegal immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton in the election. At this point, I think it's completely warranted -- I would say necessary -- to stop couching words and simply call this what it is: a "lie." So kudos to the Times for being very clear in their headline.
So now, well under one week into the Trump administration, we are seeing the unprecedented assault on the truth that we feared. Such things were said by Trump during the campaign, and were also unprecedented then. But that was a political campaign, where distortions and bias (though seldom as blatant as Trump's) are to be expected.
We were warned about this; from the progressive left, from moderates, and even from some on the right. But we've been warned about this sort of behavior long before. Sure, George Orwell's 1984 is the easy "go to" literary reference for such actions. But it's just so apt. Never before has it been so prescient and relevant to modern-day America. Little wonder the term "Orwellian" was used in numerous stories about Conway's words.
What we see the White House engaging in is what by Orwell called "blackwhite." Let's look at the Wikipedia page on "blackwhite" (emphasis mine):
"Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink." — Orwell, 1984
The word is an example of both Newspeak and doublethink. It represents the active process of rewriting the past, control of the past being a vital aspect of the Party's control over the present. The ability to blindly believe anything, regardless of its absurdity, can have different causes: respect for authority, fear, indoctrination, even critical laziness or gullibility... A true Party member could automatically, and without thought, expunge any incorrect information and totally replace it with true information from the Party. If properly done, there is no memory or recovery of the Incorrect information that could cause unhappiness to the Party member by committing thoughtcrime."Control of the past being a vital aspect of the Party's control over the present." This is the goal. And the causes for and nature of the blind belief by Trump's core supporters and loyalists are downright eerie when placed into today's "fake news" perspective: the expulsion of "incorrect information" to make room for the party line, made possible by "respect for authority, fear, indoctrination, even critical laziness or gullibility." The Party relies on all of these.
While Trump doesn't quite have a Ministry of Truth (yet), Spicer is trying to be the loyal editor. Thankfully, thus far, the effort to "edit" the (very recent) past has been so outrageous that the media have been standing up to it. Let's hope this continues. A free press is our best defense against such outright attempts at re-painting reality.
Of course, it's not just about crowd size. That only speaks to Trump's fragile ego. This episode has merely proven that his thin skin will continue now that he has taken office (ironic that he criticizes "snowflakes" when he is the ultimate one). But worse -- much worse -- is that this episode indicates that the Trump administration will have no problem blatantly lying to the media, and attempting to bully them into portraying events the way they want them to be portrayed. This becomes much more important when we get beyond superficial issues like crowd size.
Throughout the campaign, many on the right haven't understood the nature of the resistance to Trump. They wonder why it's been much more vociferous and urgent than, say, to a run-of-the-mill conservative whose politics and worldview progressives may take great issue with. Yes, he's said some horrible things about women and minorities. He's proposed some abhorrent policies. But it's more than that.
For those who still don't get it, it was made plain for all to see as soon as he took office. What we have seen on the first few days of the Trump administration has been a concrete display of exactly what the warnings were about: this man, who many had worried was exhibiting obvious fascistic and authoritarian tendencies in his campaign, just might bring those tendencies to his governance.
It's already started.