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In a speech made at the CIA headquarters Saturday, President Donald Trump declared himself to be in a “running war with media.” With this statement, and throughout his rise to office, Trump has pitted himself against journalists, whom he claims to be “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”
But if there is a war being waged against dishonesty, Trump is not on the side defending the truth. He is not fighting this war with honesty, transparency or even a reasonable interpretation of reality. Trump is instead twisting facts to fit a self-serving narrative.
In other words, with the use of what senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway termed “alternative facts,” the Trump administration is attempting to create an alternative reality.
Conway used this terminology in her defense of White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who recently attacked the media for their “deliberately false reporting” of Trump’s inauguration audience size. Besides the fact that targeting journalists and the media in this way is undemocratic, it poses a threat to other core American values. When the leader of the free world intentionally distorts reality, a government that is intended to be of and for the people instead becomes one dominated by lies and mistruths. And once this occurs, the individual’s capacity for freedom, a key characteristic of American life, is greatly diminished.
There is no denying that Trump has time and time again been less than honest with the American public. The most recent examples of this occurred in the aftermath of the inauguration, when Trump and his team claimed that the event drew a larger crowd than former President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration did, and that the rain cleared as soon as Trump began to speak. However, photographic evidence and transit data suggests the opposite; not only was the crowd about a third of the size of Obama’s, the light rain that fell that day began when Trump took the podium.
While the exact size of the inauguration crowd and the day’s weather are of little importance, it is of concern that Trump felt the need to call accurate news reports of the event lies. As Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff told The Guardian, “If Trump can’t handle press on crowd size, just wait until they report on the economy, budget and healthcare … Anything unfavorable he will call a lie.”
The purpose of the media in a democracy is to provide the public with the information necessary to self-govern. There certainly are biases in the press — being biased is an inescapable characteristic of being human, and the press is by no means infallible — as was seen with the persistence of fake news in the election. But the vast majority of journalists attempt to serve Americans by providing them with a fair and valid interpretation of reality. If Trump continues to demean and attack the press and instead present the public with an alternative reality, he is not only threatening journalists; he is threatening the freedom of all Americans.
In 1765, Voltaire wrote that “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” If Trump continues to substitute his alternative facts for the credible work of honest journalists, Americans face an Orwellian future under a leader that behaves more like Big Brother than a democratic president.
At the CIA headquarters last weekend, Trump professed absurdities while standing before a stone wall etched with the Biblical quote, “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” And for this ironic act that is more troubling than it is humorous, Trump should be ashamed — or at the very least, he should be shamed.
Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Emily McPeak at firstname.lastname@example.org.