Think About It: Post-truth and alternative facts

Trump is not the first political leader in the democratic world to use facts flimsily, or use outright lies.

By
January 29, 2017 21:21
4 minute read.
A PHOTO compares the inauguration of Donald Trump this year and Barack Obama in 2009

A PHOTO compares the inauguration of Donald Trump this year and Barack Obama in 2009. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Post-truth and alternative facts During the American election campaign the term “post-truth political culture” was introduced into the political lexicon. Since Donald Trump became president, a second term joined it: “alternative facts.”

Post-truth political culture suggests that much of the public political discourse is based on an emotional approach and personal opinion, rather than truth. “Alternative facts” suggests that there are no absolute ones, rather than that in certain situations the known facts can be interpreted in different ways, as in the case of the aerial photographs of the recent Umm al-Hiran incident in the Negev.

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Both terms have been used in connection with Trump’s flimsiness with facts.

Presumably, not all the falsehoods were deliberate lies.

Some were probably the result of ignorance, others might have been the result of not bothering to check on alleged facts included in statements made by various biased sources.

A fourth category might have been the result of honest mistakes in identifying the true facts in real time. All the alleged falsehoods were used by Trump in his approaches to his potential voters, and they appear to have been effective.

Trump is not the first political leader in the democratic world to use facts flimsily, or use outright lies.



Where he stands out is in that lying is a constant practice with him, and he doesn’t seem to feel any qualms about it.

Consequently, he never apologizes for the falsehoods he spreads. For example, even when he finally admitted in September 2016 that president Barack Obama was born in the United States, and was therefore a legitimate president, he did not apologize for his persistent denial of the fact, but rather blamed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for starting the birtherism controversy.

Given the fact that he himself is so flimsy with facts, it is quite remarkable how emotional Trump gets when he accuses others (especially the media) of lying or cheating, when he perceives himself or his interests as being the victims of this alleged lying and cheating.

Thus, Trump claimed that reports that during his inauguration ceremony the National Mall in Washington, DC, was not as crowded as it had been during Obama’s first inauguration back in 2009 – reports corroborated by real-time photographic evidence and other data – were lies spread by the media.

It was against this background that the term “alternative facts” was first used, by Trump’s senior aid, Kellyanne Conway, in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd. Trump was so demonstratively offended by what he termed systematic lying by the media that he has displayed photographs that show a crowded National Mall in the press center in the White House (none of them showing the whole mall, just the part closer to Capitol Hill) – the alternative facts.

There are those in Israel who have suggested that the two terms “post-truth political culture” and “alternative reality” can also be applied to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political conduct and style. Though I am no fan of Netanyahu, I believe one should be careful with such claims.

I am inclined to believe that as a general rule Netanyahu does not lie deliberately, though in the case of his accusation, on the last day of the 2015 election campaign, that “the Arab voters are moving in vast quantities to the polling stations. The left-wing associations are bringing them in buses,” he certainly crossed the line, apparently out of panic that the Likud was in danger of losing the election.

But what about his citing the example of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia as an example for a successful autonomy arrangement (in the 1988 election campaign), his statement, in October 2015, that the grand mufti of Jerusalem had convinced Hitler to exterminate the Jews, and his statement that most of the fires were ignited by nationalistically motivated Arabs in November 2016? I would associate the first falsehood to ignorance, the second to an unreliable source or to the irresponsible use of facts from a reliable source, and the third to a conclusion drawn before the facts were substantiated (the same applies to the Umm al-Hiran incidence).

What connects all these incidents is that they are somehow related to the Palestinians. Apparently Netanyahu believes that in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the truth is not sacred – whether one is talking about the Palestinians as individuals or a group, or of those sections of the Land of Israel that are not part of the sovereign territory of the State of Israel.

It is interesting to note that with regard to the various investigations being carried out against Netanyahu, as a rule he does not seem inclined to deny the facts, but rather to offer an alternative interpretation of their meaning and significance, or ignore those aspects of the facts that are inconvenient to him.

It should also be noted that unlike Trump Netanyahu does not accuse the media of straight-out lying, but rather of bias against him. It appears that even in the case of the recorded conversations between Netanyahu and Yediot Aharonot published and owner Arnon Mozes, Netanyahu didn’t accuse Mozes’s media outlets of writing lies about him, but of bias, and seemed willing to make do with a reduction of the hostility toward him “from 9.5 [out of 10] to 7.5.”

Though it is tempting to identify similarities between Trump and Netanyahu, I don’t believe that these include identical approaches to post-truth and alternative facts. I hope I shall not be proven wrong.

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