Admittedly, this is a concept by which I would have been well served — if only from my own, purely selfish, perspective — at various points in my life. That’s up to and including this very same day, when it would be nice to share with you any number of “facts” that posit a “reality” that is different from that which I know to be true, as well as apparent to anyone with two eyes and enough of what the old folks used to call “walking-around sense” to know up from down. To wit:
- My enviably luxuriant head of hair is neither thinning nor graying, and if you say otherwise, you clearly are in dire need of an eye exam, or else just have something against me personally.
- Scientists have discovered that the best daily diet for maintaining a healthy weight is hot dogs, apple pie a la mode, and Irish whiskey.
- That direction you’ve been referring to as “up” for all these years? You’re wrong: That’s “down.”
- Through the co-ownership of a community newspaper, I have amassed a personal fortune that exceeds even what the current President of the United States claims to be worth.
- I was elated to hear earlier today that both houses of Congress have unanimously passed a resolution agreeing that it is in the national interest to ask Barack Obama to reassume the presidency until a suitable successor can be identified.
- Everything in Birmingham is fine, just fine.
And so on. As probably goes without saying, there would be no means of measuring or expressing my happiness if any or all of these “facts” — with the exception of that up/down business, which would just be maddeningly confusing at this incipient pre-autumnal stage of my existence — were, in fact, facts.
But they are not. They are, at best, wishful thinking, as fanciful as the sighting of a unicorn. At worst, they are outright falsehoods — lies, to use an unvarnished term. What’s more, they are obvious lies, so farfetched as to be laughable to whatever percentage of the population still has a sense of humor (especially those who know me personally, most of whom probably have not stopped laughing at their mental image of me with a luxuriant head of hair).
Speaking of lush coifs, and having made a couple of none-too-flattering allusions to him in a couple of the “alternative facts” I offered above, let’s talk for a moment about our non-alternative President, the eminent Donald J. Trump. Among any number of other things that already are becoming apparent less than a week into the Trump Presidency, it seems a decent bet that the 45th occupant of the Highest Office in Our Land will be remembered as the Father of Alternative Facts — this despite the fact (an actual one) that it was not he, but his erstwhile campaign manager and now chief factotum, Kellyanne Conway, who coined the term, in a characteristic fit of pique at being asked questions relative to actual facts; it’s the blood of the soldier that makes the general able to say whatever comes into his head at a given moment, as the saying doesn’t actually go.
Before pursuing this line of thought to its conclusion, I think it’s important to be clear that what I’m saying is not intended to support or encourage any effort to delegitimize the Trump presidency.
I understand certain feelings about that, and even share some of them, as far as it goes. But I also live in a country where the political party that is now in near-absolute power over our fragile republic spent eight solid years of our time — yours and mine — relentlessly and unashamedly doing absolutely nothing other than work hammer and tongs, night and day, to delegitimize the duly elected president of the United States.
Nothing that came of that entrenchment was good for the country, as nothing good can come from any active and organized and concentrated effort by the nation’s legislative branch to sabotage the ability of the chief executive to execute the constitutional duties of the office (as long as they are executed within the law). And, to be clear, I’m not talking about voting for or against legislation the president proposes; I’m talking about monkey-wrenching the machinery of government and wantonly undermining the foundations of representative government in the name of political opposition.
Actually, it’s eminently fair to say that what came of the last eight years was a poisonous political atmosphere in which the idea of Donald Trump as president of the United States emerged, nothing less than miraculously, as something more than the reliable punch line it had been for three decades prior. That’s an actual fact, and one which, I’m certain, makes my point with some of you and weakens it with others; it’s up to you to figure out which group you fall into.
Regardless, I don’t have to support a single thing that Donald Trump does or says — in actual fact, I can, as I do, oppose with all that is in me just about everything he’s said and done in two years on the stump and two working days on the job — to understand the implications of delegitimizing him. Not if I believe everything — or, for that matter, anything I’ve written or said about Republicans’ treatment of Obama and his family during the years of his presidency (and, if social media in the four days since they left the White House is any indication, for some time to come).
In other words, I can in good conscience oppose Trump only up to the point that my opposition becomes damaging to the general welfare. Of course, by the same token, I hope that those who supported Trump reluctantly, along with some who supported him enthusiastically, will carry their support only to that same point. Perhaps we’ll meet there, and discover that we have more in common than we know or acknowledge.
Now, as always, I’m speaking only for myself, and am the first to acknowledge that the location of that oppositional boundary is a judgment call. But it’s one that I believe that many, if not most, Americans are going to be called upon to make at some point over the next four years.
And what if, merciful heavens, Trump does something, or even some things, that turn out to be — no other way to say it — good? As in good for the country, as in good for the people who need it the most? As in something that reasonable people on both sides of America’s political divide — along with the growing number of people of all races, creeds, and persuasions who have come to feel that they are hopelessly stuck in the middle — can come together and agree is worth the best try we can give it?
What if Trump succeeds? As in, the country is working better at the end of his four years in office than it was when he got there?
That’s a question worth asking, even if I’m almost certain I know the answer. I’d say that I’m absolutely certain, but as a Trump-supporting friend (yes, I have a goodly number of those, and hope to keep them) took delight in reminding me in an online conversation yesterday, I was certain on the night of November 7. That’s when I predicted in a Facebook post that the next day, Hillary Clinton would win the Presidency with 303 electoral votes (and, I have to add, was publicly upbraided by a few folks who told me I was giving Trump way too much credit, and that a Hillary near-landslide was in the offing).
Regardless, it suffices to say that I will be the first to acknowledge any success of the new administration that I can define as progressive and broadly inclusive of the American people. It also suffices to say that I am not optimistic.
One reason for my highly dubious outlook — a brand-new one, delivered just this past weekend, while the president did whatever he did between the inauguration on Friday and reporting for what he termed “Day One” of his new job on Monday morning — is this whole business of “alternative facts.” It is, as others have observed, utterly Orwellian, the notion that just because something is demonstrably true, that doesn’t make it a fact. The Trump Administration is telling us that the only source of facts — of what the American people are supposed to believe and believe in; of Truth its ownself — is the Trump Administration.
If that doesn’t chill you to the bone, then I cannot help but wonder what it is that you find remotely American about it. It’s a slippery slope, and one I’m eager to know how the Trump-supporting parents of teenagers will navigate when confronted with “alternative facts” about dented car fenders, late-night escapades, and how sexual abstinence resulted in unwanted pregnancy.
I have a newly minted teenage son of my own. He’d not yet turned 12 when, in the winter of 2015, he became interested in politics for the first time, and began to follow the presidential election. Not long afterward — and with no idea yet of whom I might be supporting — he approached me with an incredulous question about one of the candidates.
“Dad,” he said, “how could anybody vote for Donald Trump? He lies about everything.”
Beyond the fact (actual) that I could only agree, I told him that it was incumbent on him not just to be against a particular candidate, but also to find one that he could be for. Which he did, though his dislike of Trump remained the focal point of his engagement with politics. Likewise after the election, when I told him pretty much what I said above, that it was incumbent on us to give Trump more of a chance than President Obama’s political opponents gave him.
That tempered him some. At least until Sunday afternoon, when he happened to be looking over my shoulder as I watched the Chuck Todd interview of Conway on my laptop, and the ensuing argument over the nature of truth, as discerned by what we see with our own eyes, hear with our own ears, and know in our own hearts.
As the clip ended, my son turned to me.
“Dad,” he said. “Facts are facts.”
Again, I could only agree.
And to which I can only add now that facts are important, that the flow of facts into the public ambit is crucial to the preservation and perpetuation of democratic government at all levels, and to the optimal fulfillment of our roles as citizens. Which is a great place to end this particular column and look forward to picking up on that last statement next week, with a decidedly more local focus.