In London and Washington, ‘alternative facts’ cause democratic decay

From the inauguration crowd to the Brexit bus, the truth is worth fighting for


Presenting the ‘alternative facts’.

That was how Donald Trumps’ adviser, Kellyanne Conway, described the farcical first weekend of the new administration in Washington during her interview with NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday.

However trivial the debate over how many people may or may not have been at the inaugural speech on Friday, the debate about truth still matters. The establishment media operation in the White House has forgotten the golden rule of spin, namely that their version of events must at least sound plausible. On that issue they failed abysmally.

First there was the issue of the number of people who heard Trump’s inauguration speech. The photo evidence is so overwhelming that one wonders if the White House was making some sort of perverse joke in asserting that more people came to hear Trump than to hear Barack Obama.

Second, there was Trump’s speech to the CIA on Saturday, a bizarre spectacle in which he blamed the media for somehow twisting his thinking on the intelligence agencies into an attack on them.  This of course from the president who now famously tweeted the following after the intelligence agencies publishes their dossier on Russian interference in the US election:

Media reporting had no part in that — it came direct from the Donald.

To make matters worse, Kellyanne Conway took to ABC’s ‘This Week’ to declare that  it was time for the president ‘to put in his own security intelligence community’. She added:

“We really would prefer the intelligence community that’s going out the door to be much more respectful toward the president and his vision in moving forward.”

And then there was Trump’s declaration during his CIA speech that he was against the Iraq War all along. This despite the revelations that on 11 September  2002, during a radio interview with Howard Stern, asked if he supported taking action against Iraq, Trump responded,  ‘Yeah, I guess so.’

From the vantage point of the UK it is easy to conclude that this all amounts to a joke at the expense of the Trump administration. However, the reality is that Washington’s weekend of madness only follows the bizarre and worrying post-truth age among the establishment in the UK.

There’s the famous red Brexit bus, plastered with the phrase ‘We send the EU £350 million a week let’s fund our NHS instead’, which was was declared ‘potentially misleading‘ by the UK Statistics Authority, although the Brexiteers still claim they didn’t weren’t actually promising additional funding.

Then there is the government’s hubris, perhaps equal to that seen in Donald Trump.

Take as an example Theresa May’s Brexit speech last week, in which she argued that it is somehow possible to leave the Single Market whilst retaining a free trade arrangement with the rest of the EU, as though the European club would be willing to let those leaving enjoy all the goodies without feeling all the difficult aspects of membership as well.

And then there are the personal attacks, similar in tone to Donald Trump, on those who dare to speak truth to power. Take Boris Johnson’s uncalled for attack on President Hollande last week, or the ganging up by the Brexiteers against the UK’s former Permanent Representative in Brussels, Sir Ivor Rogers, for speaking the basic truth that fixing a post-Brexit relationship with the European Union will be a long and difficult process.

In the era of Brexit and Trump, the biggest casualties are truth and fact. For those around the world who marched against the new government in Washington and those who were with them in spirit the most important thing to do is to ensure that truth continues to be spoken to power, be that Government, media or other forum.

In doing so we might just be able to avoid the hubristic world of post-truth or ‘alternative fact’ politics which risks destroying the foundations of our democratic life.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

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