That Fact/Opinion Thing
1. a thing that is indisputably the case.
"the most commonly known fact about hedgehogs is that they have fleas"
1. a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.
"I'm writing to voice my opinion on an issue of great importance"
“You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”
― Daniel Patrick Moynihan
It’s appropriate that a stage-play adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 has just opened on Broadway in New York City, given the world of “alternative facts” we currently find ourselves in. While we do seem to be living in a world of “newspeak,” “doublethink,” and “malquoted” (which means “flaws or inaccurate presentations of Party or Big Brother-related matters by the press” –wiki – aka, “fake news”) we are not in a totalitarian nightmare but an altered reality for those raised on reading and operating in a world based on objective truth. Hiram Johnson, a California Senator, coined the phrase “The first casualty, when war comes, is truth" as the U.S. entered the First World War and that notion certainly seems to apply to today’s political wars.
With the advent of the Internet the potential for genuine democratic dialogue became reality. The emergence of Facebook and Twitter as major sources for “information” (not necessarily fact-based) and “dialogue” (not necessarily grounded in truth), however, have sidetracked democratic dialogue and substituted the notion that everyone’s OPINION is equally valid, even if it is not based in facts or truth. Enter Donald Trump. History is replete with examples of “the right man at the right time” but in Trump’s case it is more an instance of the “opportunistic man at a vulnerable time.” That our President has probably never read a book from cover to cover (including his own!) and has made a career (and fortune) spinning mythology about himself while blatantly lying to our faces, has given credence to the notion that the “mainstream media,” in fact, are the people who should not be believed or trusted. Trump legitimatizes everyone who has felt put down or condescended to by someone with “book learnin,’” giving license to freely attack anyone who tries to shoot down your opinion with facts!
With “talking points” created by Fox News, Breitbart, and InfoWars, facts are inconsequential to low-information citizens who would rather have their “feelings” validated. So, if you are someone who doesn’t know a Muslim or an African-American, it is easy to believe “they” are all terrorists and criminals and only the “bleeding heart” mainstream media is presenting “them” as real American citizens. Despite the President blatantly lying time and again (He knew “hundreds” who died in 9/11 --- LIE --- that he had a “secret plan” to defeat ISIS in 30 days --- LIE --- that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower --- LIE --- that Comey was taped during their dinner conversation --- LIE --- etc.) we now have a vast swath of citizens who, --- fearful of “others,” or economically struggling, or having difficulty coping with a rapidly changing global environment --- want to believe what Trump is selling. Because the technology now gives everyone a platform, a former television celebrity who can claim millions of “followers” can now become the “leader of the Free World” without having any depth of knowledge of what, in fact, that position entails.
Like his supporters, Trump has neither read widely nor deeply about history, economics, diplomacy, art, literature, or any other subject ---- nor has he given any of those subjects a (first or) second thought. It is far easier to understand how people who rely on television and the internet for their information, who live in communities where they have never met a Muslim or a person of color on a real one-to-one basis, who are struggling economically and fearful about the future, can be misled or fail to grasp the intricacies of the problems the nation faces in 2017. BUT, for a supposed “Ivy League” graduate who claims to be “smart” to demonstrate, day after day, that he is clueless about what he has gotten himself into, is a dangerous situation for all of us. Worse, for him to use “the bully pulpit” to reinforce the misguided notion that opinions are just as good, if not better, than facts is more than irresponsible. It moves us into 1984 territory as we get “audio-only” press conferences & the White House continues to sow distrust in any objective truth or facts, altering reality whenever and wherever it can --- and that’s a fact!