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War on Facts

by Adrian Lobe Wednesday, Feb. 01, 2017 at 1:25 PM

Trump's War on Facts may leave behind greater damage than Bush's War on Terror. While Bush and Rove created a fantasy world, Trump created a never ending nightmare. Trump is a semi-fictional figure. His election promises were fictional like his deportment as self-made man.

The media that should have upended and embarrassed the propagandist legitimated him with billions of free advertising (translator's note).



By Adrian Lobe

[This article published on January 26, 2017, is translated from the German on the Internet, Adrian Lobe is a journalist in Stuttgart.]

As everybody knows, US presidents wage war. So Richard Nixon declared war on drugs and George W. Bush the war on terror. As his first official act, Donald Trump now moves to the war on facts – undeclared but clearly manifest. Right after the inauguration, Trump started an argument with the facts and denied the weak public interest in the festivities and his swearing in. His advisor created the term "alternative facts" for smooth-talking undeniable facts – as though there are different versions of facts.

Lies have always been part of politics since time immemorial. Cicero stormed: "The captains lie, the blameless community authority lies, and all Sicily lies." The rule of facts was always an ideal. Politicians twist facts, dish up lies and pull the wool over the eyes of people. The former US Secretary of State Colin Powell justified the Iraq War before the United Nations with manipulated evidence that he later publically repented. However, no president has ever lied as brazenly as Donald Trump. In a one-hour speech that he gave as a candidate, the "Huffington Post" documented 71 factual errors. At a press conference before his official installation, he grumbled to CNN reporter Jim Acosta: "You don't ask a question, you are Fake News!" Fake News is a combative term with which a political opponent's credibility can be denied.

The claim of a "post-factual age" misjudges three central points. Firstly, the phenomenon is not new. In 1893, the Connecticut legislature passed a law that punished persons who sent "fake" news (sic!) to newspapers. After the US politician and Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan was defeated in the 1896 presidential election, he founded his own daily paper "The Commoner" that crusaded against the "epidemic of fake news." Secondly, the problem is in the reception and not only in the production of fake news encouraged by monetary incentive systems and the algorithmic automation of selecting news stories. Many news consumers are receptive for assembled reports because they prefer simple and plain explanations to complex arguments. And thirdly, fake news is an epistemological problem and not only a theoretical media problem. The new US president wages a war against reality and not only a war against the media revealed in his lust for fighting.

Trump is a semi-fictional figure from reality television. The announcement of his presidential candidacy was the continuance of the sequel "The Apprentice." As he rode down the elevator with his wife Melania like a demigod in his pompous tower, entered the stage with his entourage and was acclaimed by "thousands of fans (in reality only a few hundred), this was like a soap opera or scripted reality. His start in politics was a single staging, a fake. From the agency Crowds on Demand, Trump hired a few Claqueure who clapped for for three hours in white t-shirts inscribed "Make America Great Again." They were only the props of a show. From the beginning, Trump was something fictional. His election promises were fictional like his deportment as a Self-Made Man who bangs his fist on the table, negotiates deals and incidentally scraps the political class in Washington. All this was fake.

For Trump, politics is a reality show in which he copies reality and invents a reality. His tweets are merely the script. For the US president, there is only the great gesture and the story, not real freedom. When Trump ended his scurrilous press conference before his assumption of office with the sentence "You're fired" (the saying from the TV show "The Apprentice" was its brand-name), a viewer asked: Was that the continuation of Reality TV, scripted reality or real satire? No wonder some television critics brood over genuine and played life.

The Facebook investor Peter Thiel, one of the few digital entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley who supported Donald Trump in the election campaign said in October before the National Press Club in Washington: "One important distinction is that the media take Trump literally. Many voters who voted for Trump took him seriously but not literally." That is a fine distinction. Therefore every fact check gets nowhere because it sets out on the wrong plane. Everyone knows scripted reality shows like "The Apprentice" or wrestling e vents in which Trump was involved are posed. Every attempt to deconstruct this plot and reduce it to its component parts seems ridiculous. Unmasking Trump as a liar is like exposing the TV show "Germany chooses a star." The efforts of the "New York Times" and other media to refute Trump's "alternative facts" are helpless.

Trump's war against reality consists in subjecting his politics to the logic of Reality TV where the established and tested rules of the game of the political enterprise (loyalty to the constitution, respecting basic rights, esteeming minorities) are no longer in force and the media is only a spectator. The consequence is the lie becomes an accepted stylistic lubricant of his show-politics.

In a brilliant article for the news blog "Think Progress," the journalist Ned Resnikoff wrote: "While Bush (and his advisor Rove) constructed a fantasy world with a clear internal logic, Trump created something like a never ending nightmare. Facts are inconstant and transient in his political universe." He is more Kafka than Lord of the Rings. "When Fake News becomes omnipresent, all news becomes suspicious," Resnikoff warns. "Everything looks like a lie."

The problem cannot be solved by filtering Fake News with the vacuum cleaner and risking removing satire and disagreeable opinions. Rather politics should be returned to a realm where the distinction between truth and lies is intensified both substantively and linguistically. Trump's statements should be understood for that they are: fiction.

"Only an artist can question Trump's use of fiction as a government instrument," Justin Davidson recently wrote in "The New York Magazine." "He has changed foreign plot twists into pale imitations and makes every imagined grotesque farce appear soft." The author notes disillusioned: "There is no position, no ideology, and no strategy. There is only Donald Trump, an invented character polished over years of public presentation. This person has no use for realities behind the scenes." Trump rejects climate change because it is science, not because it runs counter to his short-term interests.

The philosopher and physicist Eduard Kaesar wrote in the NZZ (Neue Zuricher Zeitung) newspaper: "The subversion of democracy begins with the subversion of its epistemological foundations." Trump's War on Facts may leave behind even greater damage than Bush's "War on Terror."


2017 Human Rights Report, 704 pp link

The Dangerous Rise of Populism

Global Attacks on Human Rights Values

By Kenneth Roth,

Executive Director

Human rights exist to protect people from government abuse and neglect. Rights limit what a state can do and impose obligations for how a state must act. Yet today a new generation of populists is turning this protection on its head. Claiming to speak for "the people," they treat rights as an impediment to their conception of the majority will, a needless obstacle to defending the nation from perceived threats and evils. Instead of accepting rights as protecting everyone, they privilege the declared interests of the majority, encouraging people to adopt the dangerous belief that they will never themselves need to assert rights against an overreaching government claiming to act in their name.

The appeal of the populists has grown with mounting public discontent over the status quo. In the West, many people feel left behind by technological change, the global economy, and growing inequality. Horrific incidents of terrorism generate apprehension and fear. Some are uneasy with societies that have become more ethnically, religiously and racially diverse. There is an increasing sense that governments and the elite ignore public concerns.

In this cauldron of discontent, certain politicians are flourishing and even gaining power by portraying rights as protecting only the terrorist suspect or the asylum seeker at the expense of the safety, economic welfare, and cultural preferences of the presumed majority.

They scapegoat refugees, immigrant communities, and minorities. Truth is a frequent casualty. Nativism, xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia are on the rise.

This dangerous trend threatens to reverse the accomplishments of the modern human rights movement.

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