While it’s up to us personally to make interpretations of what we see with our own eyes and judge what that means for ourselves outside of the raw data, we at least have always been able to trust our own eyes to collect this data. For now, it seems.
Over the weekend, the Orwellian phrase “alternative facts” entered our lexicon. Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday, from all verifiable evidence , drew a mere handful of people compared to the ceremonies for Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013, as well as the women’s march on Saturday. That same day, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer was tasked with defending the size of these crowds, making no less than four demonstrably false statements in the process. Governments and government officials have lied to us before, but presenting these statements as “alternative facts”, as counselor Kellyanne Conway did this weekend on NBC’s “Meet The Press”, is something new entirely.
The phrase “alternative facts” might seem to imply that there is something missing from what is being widely covered and described in the media. This isn’t a new idea at all, and it’s certainly a valid one. But you can’t have alternative versions of what has actually happened. A fact is something that you can prove beyond all dispute. While in the first week of the class we discussed what it means to have a history “from above” and “from below”, history is generally based on actual events, on factual data. History subjectively interprets these events, but it is no less real as a result. The Trump White House, however, is asking us to effectively do away with this reality. “Alternative facts” are not an alternative view of history.
Linking more specifically to the course topic and beyond history in general, it’s tempting to draw more and more comparisons between Trump and Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy. At this point in time, it’s not only a huge mistake to do so, but quite offensive when considering the actual impact of these regimes. But the idea of having alternative facts seems to be a way for Trump to do away with reality when he prefers to ignore information unfavorable to him For most of our country’s history, we have been secure in labeling this as propaganda or similar. In WWI-era Germany, the defeat came as a sudden surprise to many, as it wasn’t until very late in the war that the government effectively admitted defeat after outlawing any attitude to the contrary as fatalism. In today’s America, where we as citizens have so much access to information from any angle, but also where the government has almost declared war on the mainstream media, it is interesting to ponder how we will continue to deal with the idea of alternative facts.