You may think you are prepared for a post-truth world, in which political appeals to emotion count for more than statements of verifiable fact.
But now it’s time to cross another bridge — into a world without facts. Or, more precisely, where facts do not matter a whit.
On live radio Wednesday morning, Scottie Nell Hughes sounded breezy as she drove a stake into the heart of knowable reality:
“There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts,” she declared on “The Diane Rehm Show.”
Hughes, a frequent surrogate for President-elect Donald Trump and a paid commentator for CNN during the campaign, kept defending that assertion, although not with much clarity of expression. Rehm had pressed her about Trump’s recent evidence-free assertion on Twitter that he, not Hillary Clinton, would have won the popular vote if millions of immigrants had not voted illegally.
(The apparent genesis of Trump’s claim was Infowars.com, a site that traffics in conspiracy theories and is run by Alex Jones, who says the 2012 massacre of 20 children and six staff members at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., was a government-sponsored hoax.)
What matters now, Hughes argued, is not whether his fraud claim is true. No, what matters is who believes it.
“Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd, a large — a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.”
One might be tempted, though, to dismiss it as one woman’s opinion: Maybe Hughes, the political editor of RightAlerts.com, was just having a hallucinatory day.
But at a high-profile event the next evening, two other Trump surrogates echoed this sentiment. Ousted Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, speaking during an election post-mortem at Harvard University, blamed journalists for — yes — believing what his candidate said.
“You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally,” said Lewandowski, who was another ill-advised CNN hire. “The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes — when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar — you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”
Yes, but Trump is not a guy at a bar; he was the Republican nominee for president of the United States and will soon be the leader of the free world, such as it is.
So, how should Trump’s statements during the campaign have been covered? Should reporters have added something like this in the second paragraph of every news story? “Trump probably didn’t mean that he would appoint a special prosecutor/build a wall/deport millions of immigrants. His statements are not meant to be taken literally but rather as broad suggestions of a feeling he was experiencing on a particular day.”
There was more from the Harvard event. When CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway about the same election-fraud claim discussed above — specifically, whether disseminating misinformation was “presidential” — it was clear that she and Hughes got the same memo.
“He’s the president-elect, so that’s presidential behavior,” Conway said, using mind-bending pseudo-logic, reminiscent of the Nixonian “When the president does it, that means that it’s not illegal.”
These surrogates’ disdain for facts should not be surprising, given Trump’s own casual relationship with verifiable truth.
It’s time to dust off your old copy of “1984 ” by George Orwell and recall this passage: “The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.”
And be vigilant.
For more by Margaret Sullivan, visit wapo.st/sullivan