We live at a time, here in the still-early 21st-century United States, when it is not too much to ask whether a more or less firm sense of reality, and of the facts that presumably make it up and help us distinguish true from false propositions about the world, is perceptibly less a common possession of the citizenry than it used to be. Political polarization has led willy-nilly to the construction of “alternate universes” amid accusations of fake news, counter-accusations of shameless lying, resulting in a general derangement, discrediting, and deconstruction of the stock of common knowledge presumed by typical adults. This condition had been visibly progressing and metastasizing in divided and deconstructed societies before the election of the current President, or else, most likely, that person never would have won the job. But his behavior in office has boosted the trend into near-earth orbit.
Perhaps things never were much different, save in the abnormal perceptions of a certain cloistered scientistic elite. Many Americans, after all, have believed some strange things about the world, and about politics, for several centuries now.1 So maybe it should not surprise anyone that probably a majority of those who voted recently for Roy Moore for Senator in Alabama believe that George Soros financed the campaign to defeat him, that he specifically paid the women who came forth to falsely accuse Moore of having sexually harassed them, that the election was variously rigged by “them,” and so on. Perhaps that’s just cognitive dissonance doing its usual labor, reconciling expectations to reality in a way that, as usual, spites reality. In this case, however, the dynamic is playing out in a group setting, one prone to generating the mental acuity of a mob. It’s happened before, and it will no doubt happen again.
It’s true, too, that the White House has been the source for some dishearteningly reality-fuzzing remarks before Donald Trump ran for President. Everyone knows, for example, that Karl Rove infamously told the members of the “reality-based community” via David Suskind in 2004, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too. . . .”
The phenomenon has been politically ecumenical. Ben Rhodes boasted about how he deliberately peddled a false frame about Iran to sell the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal:
All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus. Now they don’t. They call us to explain to them what’s happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing. . . . We created an echo chamber . . . that validated what we had given them to say. . . . We had test drives to know who was going to be able to carry our message effectively, and how to use outside groups like Ploughshares, the Iran Project and whomever else. So we knew the tactics that worked. . . . We drove [the deal’s opponents] crazy.2
Still, for all that has gone before, it’s not old business when the President himself directly and repeatedly attacks the media with accusations of “fake news” whenever they report something inconvenient to his quest to realign American politics. It’s certainly not old business when those who work in the White House speak straight-faced about having “alternative facts,” as Kellyanne Conway did a few months ago. We are at least one order of magnitude further into a la-la land of post-factual political discourse when a Republican White House becomes the vortex of parallel possible worlds according to which several universes co-exist, but, unlike in David Lewis’s multiverse metaphysics where they are separated from each other in space and time, we can pick and choose our truths according to the universe we find most appealing at any given moment. Conway left migration issues between the universes somewhat vague, though it is most likely that with rights to exit and enter universes at will, she is somewhat out of step with the President’s anti-immigration line.
We know the partisan reaction to the new would-be normal: Anti-Trumpers claim that the President is a pathological liar, or worse, is afflicted by a psychological derangement so profound that he usually doesn’t even realize he’s lying when he is, or when he accuses others of lying when they’re not. All that may be so, but it doesn’t explain why Trump is so widely believed—his inner circle of supporters is not composed of a small number of people, after all, and these supporters, apparently, believe everything Donald Trumps tells them, perhaps because he often asks them to “believe me.”
This would be especially curious at a time when the default drive of cynical Americans is to assume that politicians always lie, were it not for their conviction that, despite everything, Trump isn’t really a politician. So what is he then? A secular televangelist, an economics faith healer, a “reality show” star, and, above all, he seems—and may well be—authentic in the sense that, aside from his tax returns, he doesn’t bother to hide who he is or what he thinks. In that he grooves with the meme.
And that, in turn, is why fornicating televangelists and faith healers, especially the self-evidently sincere and authentic ones, who are discovered with earplugs that tell them what ails their supplicants still do not lose the faith of their followers. The people who believe in them are desperate to believe in something or someone, and an abstract and absent God is too difficult and remote for the purpose. It is as G.K. Chesterton said long ago: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they’ll believe in anything.” In reality shows “reality” is scripted and can be changed at will, even at the cost of internal inconsistency from episode to episode—or even within an episode. Viewers who acquire their worldview from this genre may not distinguish virtual reality from the real kind so well.
Explaining how that can be is a labor well beyond this essay’s ambition, besides which a good deal of relevant empirical research on the question is available to anyone who seeks it. We merely want to shed light on the underlying basis for how what is happening can possibly be happening. Basically, we want to ask and propose brief answers to just a few seemingly simple questions: (1) Is the concept of a fact in the West historically constant?; (2) To what extent is the current Western concept of a fact shared among cultures worldwide?; and (3) Are some kinds of facts more susceptible to deliberate undermining or disruption than others, and if so what kind and how? We can dispense with the first two questions quickly; the third is trickier.
The answer to the first question is obviously “no.” It took a long time for the idea of a factto emerge as a part of integrated reality that makes propositions about reality true or false. Many historians of science and ideas have expounded on the process, but it all comes down to giving up the idea of magical efficacy in favor of what came to be understood as an independent objective reality separate from how we or anyone else feels about it. Suffice it to say that this process rested long in the evolution of religious thought, where the notion of human encounters with God shifted from seemingly random immanence, to transcendental design, to a kind of re-immanence in the development of the idea of God within: the soul.
Eventually of course, rigorous forms of religious thinking, having pioneered many uses of human reason, paved the way for the Age of Reason. The emergence of modern science forms the basis for the developing current notions of fact. The scholarly literature in the history of science is vast and disputatious. But even amid the disagreements no one really denies the basic story and timeline.
The transition was not simple or equally manifest in different domains of culture. One way to see this is to consult studies of what a “fact” meant not in early science, but in an English court of law. One scholar has argued that a “fact” or “a matter of fact” evolved from a 17th-century notion meaning something alleged that requires evidence to be proven to a later equilibration of “fact” with “truth”— not exactly the same things.3 If people believe a “fact” true thanks to some evidence, they can be convinced it is not a fact if contrary evidence overweighs the original. Truth, on the other hand, has to do with the intention of testimony: If it is established or believed that a witness speaks the truth, then the witness’s statement is both a fact in itself as the law understands it—but of a slightly different sort from what is really true in the sense that no evidence can change it—and may contain other facts subsumed under a testimonial truth. The legal concept of “reasonable doubt” parries these meanings of “fact” because it uses both empirical evidence and testimony to establish the “facts” relevant to given cases. And it is the appreciation of these multiple meanings, it now becomes clearer, that underlies the famous but rarely pondered phrase, “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
Other cultures? An even simpler matter. Obviously, other cultures that did not find their way to their variation on the “Age of Reason” have different ways of understanding what we call reality. The range of possibilities is wide. Some cultures deny objectivity; they are the original pre-post- and non-modernists—if we bother to define modernity carefully as Enlightenment-born—believing only in the reality of subjective experience.
Even when different cultures believe in facts, the credibility or likelihood they give to new candidate facts may vary radically. For example, take the reported story of the Peace Corps volunteer screening a Spider-Man movie to a group of villagers in rural Cameroon: The audience had no problem with the “fact” that the movie’s hero could zoom around in defiance of gravity and the normal contours of time and speed, because spirits and demons did that all the time; but they refused to believe in the facts of the very tall buildings the film showed. Those were inconceivable.
Let us now come to the gist. There are obviously many different kinds of “facts” as we normally use the term. If we set about unsystematically to list them, we have little problem getting started. That two plus two always equals four is a logical fact derived from the framework rules of mathematics. That we live on the planet Earth, that it is a certain day on the calendar or a certain hour on the clock face, are examples of facts by fiat—arbitrary constructions of language we share for purposes of standard communication that are established by convention and reified culturally through the socialization process. Some facts are obsolete facts: the Ptolemaic positing of an Earth-centered solar system, for example. It was a fact whilst it was believed, we can all agree, but is fact no longer. Facts can have different degrees of precision or accuracy, too, from how far the planet Earth is from the sun (not exactly knowable by empirical means) to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (not knowable for other reasons) or when the end of the world will happen (ditto). So the less accurate the claim of a fact, too, the more probable is it so. There’s a head-scratcher for you.
More important for the purpose at hand, facts are nearly always relational. In ordinary language facts are series of antinomies, because facts are not independent concepts that “tell” us as passive agents of reception of their existence, but always come with a distinction that excludes something else: fact/fiction; fact/speculation; fact/theory; fact/inference; plain fact/hidden truth; fact/value; fact/representation; fact/ perception; fact/language; fact/description; fact/point of view; and so on.
Each of these concepts of a fact is independent of the others because each is based on a different way of dividing the world, of cutting it at the seams, so to speak. Whether cultures have one or more of these concepts depends on how they divide their world. There is almost always some overlap, but it is variable. Some cultures, as already suggested, do not distinguish fact from fiction or from value. What this means, among other things, is that facts tend to gather their meaning in sets that are dependent on these seams. So it is possible that the same fact can reside in different cultures, but be grouped in different sets such that it will not mean precisely the same thing across cultures.
A word to the wise: The social construction of facts does not thereby imply that no physical world exists outside ourselves. It certainly does not mean for any practical purpose, as Walker Percy once playfully ridiculed postmodernists, that the “text” of your order of a pizza for dinner is the same as the pizza. You can try to eat your own words, but they’ll not get you as far toward satiety as a warmed combination of crust, tomato sauce, cheese, and anchovies. But it does mean that we can approach the world armed only with the conceptual tools and categories of our culture and community. As the locus classicus for “fact” in the history and philosophy of science literature—Ludwik Fleck’s Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, published in 1935 (Thomas Kuhn himself wrote the introduction to the English translation, published in 1979, tracing the uncanny similarity between his ideas and Fleck’s, who died in 1961)—shows, we can only discuss phenomena in accordance with how our particular culture cuts the world along its seams, with its collective “style” of representation, as Fleck demonstrated by comparing differing historical medical drawings of the same organs.
Consecutive scientific revolutions since the 17th century have led to a world in which there is greater agreement about reality by very different people who otherwise share few interests, values, or culture and historical traditions than at any time previously in history. These agreements bind together all those who accept the critical cognitive values that underlie the sciences, or at least the potential for an intersubjective shared view of the world.
Think, for example, of how medical doctors and researchers worldwide produce and share professional literature. Fleck demonstrated how styles of thinking affected how medical doctors categorized, described, and even drew diseases and organs; however, as he and later Kuhn agreed, when the dust settles, the scientific community or collective agrees on a paradigm that works at least until enough anomalies accumulate to require a rethink. This is similar in a way to how the Latin language, Roman law, and the classical heritage bound together educated Europeans before the 17th century. Today the binding relies not on premises built into a single shared written language, but on premises expressible in the relation between partly constructed shared facts and its linguistic representations in many languages.
Since the pieces of reality we call “facts” are separated from their pure objective nature by however many degrees of separation our cognitive apparatus ordains, and because the ways we group, understand, and talk about these “facts” are socially/culturally constructed, they are far more fragile—and hence subject to deliberate disruption—than we typically suppose.
Disruption can just happen involuntarily when the facts change, as when during the night an earthquake far upstream changes the course of a river that has “always been there”—that’s a fact; the morning’s fisherman goes out to find that the river isn’t there at all—that’s a fact disrupted. But all experience is vulnerable, at least at some extreme, to deliberate disruption. Others can fool us, take us in, deceive us, “contain” us, pull the wool over our eyes, and so forth.
Not all kinds of facts are equally vulnerable to deliberate disruption in a given culture. You may succeed in persuading me that JFK’s assassination was a Soviet-Cuban plot involving dozens of operatives a lot more easily than you will persuade me that two plus two is something other than four, even if the Party (or Sean Spicer and Kellyanne) says it’s five. And you certainly have a better chance of persuading the roughly three-quarters of American adults who have not graduated from a four-year college that national elections can be “stolen” by conspiring political manipulators than you can convince them not to believe in angels, alien abduction, and that I met Elvis the other day.
This has always been true, but it is not always politically relevant to the same degree. It tends to become politically relevant when the trust ordinary people have bestowed on experts and other elites dissipates, and they consequently lose control over processes of belief formation they typically dominated. There can be many reasons for dissipation, but a clear enough elite record of failing to predict the future or to deliver promised results is certainly one of them (“getting China into the WTO and giving it permanent most-favored nation trading status is a great idea for everyone,” “overthrowing Saddam Hussein is a cakewalk that will bring multiple benefits,” and of course one can go on). It’s really very simple for members of any political elite: Screw up often enough, and the people most gored by the screw-ups will stop believing you.
The process of elite decay is relevant politically now in two ways. The first way is that Trump, Putin, and their ilk are attempting to abolish the distinction between fact and language (or representation) within their own political cultures, and the second way is that Putin, at least, is also trying to reach across borders and confuse things in other political cultures.
As to the former, a little like Karl Rove but without the jocularity, these sultans of surreality expect to generate facts merely by saying them. They create by fiat, as if they had the divine power of declaring “Let there be light”—or at least Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s concept that words can mean anything one says they mean. In other words, they try to intrude upon collective meaning in the same way that linguistic facts become true merely by dint of the act of saying them, as when I say “I am talking now.”
Another variant of the same idea is what some cultural anthropologists have called a “votive act”—a slice out of the intersection of psychology and church ritual—where the stating of an intention to do something works as having actually done it. Something similar can happen in financial markets when panic and exuberance create, at least temporarily, economic reality rather than represent it; Soros has referred to it as the reflexive nature of markets. The best examples before us right now include “the big beautiful Wall” and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nothing actually happens when such declamations are made, and in these cases for all we know nothing ever will. But votive acts are vestigial forms of word magic, and word magic still works pretty well much of the time in an environment—like national and international politics—in which abstractions dominate direct experience for most people.
An extreme version of linguistic acts that J.L. Austin called illocutionary speech acts used to be popular under communism, when a person could wake up to read in the party newspaper that he had defected to the West. The performative meaning was that either he should defect or he will be arrested for trying to defect. The operative meaning of the message was “better defect,” so that the very notional description of the fact generated its own reality.
Some recent “news” about personnel reshuffling in the Trump Administration seems to belong to this genre although, unlike under Communism, they do not seem to always work, or Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson would not still have their jobs. Alas, Conway’s assertion about “alternative facts” looked so absurd coming from the mouth that uttered it that it has not been repeated: Comic relief cannot compete with actual political backstabbing, at least not yet.
It’s another thing altogether when a Putin reaches across his own political culture to anonymously seed “facts” by fiat in someone else’s political culture. Election hacking, in other words. This is certainly politically relevant, both in the United States and in U.S.-Russia and Europe-Russia relations. But everyone knows that. Most people do not realize though that the etymology of the English world disinformation, Latin appearances notwithstanding, is Russian. It entered English from Russian in the early 1950s. The Russian tradecraft is old, but the technology it uses is new and it can augment many fold its traditional effects. Let’s see how.
Philosophers have for centuries distinguished five and only five types of knowledge sources that generate together all knowledge of discrete facts: empirical—from the senses (you see the computer screen); rational—from reason (you know from intuition that two plus two equals four); introspective—from self-knowledge (you have unique access to how you feel, for example if your pinkie toe is tickling you now); from memories (you know or think you know what such-and-such a person said or did to you last week); and testimonial—from what others tell you orally or in writing. To wit: Everything you know about Antarctica or the French Revolution is from testimonial sources, since you have not seen them with your own eyes, were not born with rational knowledge of them, they are not parts of you, and what you remember about them is only from testimonies you read in the past.
There are basically two ways we acquire knowledge from testimonies: We evaluate reliabilities of single testimonies or we trace back the origins of multiple testimonies. We learn to trust what some people tell us and to distrust others, and over time we also learn to distinguish what we want people to tell us from their reliability. For example, I like to believe a broker who promises me 10 percent per annum risk free plus interest, but I also know not to trust such a broker.
What is happening now constitutes a diffuse but identifiable attempt to derange our evaluation of testimonial reliabilities. Historically, we trusted the Washington Post and distrusted the National Enquirer. Today, the powers that be try to reverse that order. The reliable media is repeatedly presented as “fake,” and unreliable sources present themselves as indistinguishable from reliable ones in social media, in many cases by being reposted by people we usually trust and consider reliable and appearing together with, and in the same graphic electronic format, as reliable sources.
With sufficient confusion tossed up between the reliable and unreliable, reliable sources cannot suppress wishful thinking. So people start cataloguing as reality whatever other people say that reflects their emotions and prejudices (for example, so-and-so does not like Hillary, so she must be running a pedophile ring from a pizza shop). Nobody more reliable can counter the wishful thinking because they are not trusted, and those who try just persuade a wishful thinker to trust them even less—around and around and down we go.
Even more insidious is the use of technologically augmented rumor mills to confuse independent with dependent testimony. Independent testimonies can generate knowledge even when unreliable or when the testimonial sources’ reliability cannot be evaluated. For example, suppose you ask me for the phone number of an acquaintance, and I answer that I do not recall the number. You ask me to take a guess and blurt out the first seven-digit number that comes into my head when I hear our acquaintance’s name. I play along but add that you should not trust me on this, since my intuition of the number is highly unreliable. We can agree that you do not know the number.
But suppose now that you conduct the same exchange with somebody else who could not have overheard our conversation, and he repeats the same number. Irrespective of our self-attested unreliability in this matter, the probability that the coherence between our testimonies is coincidental is one in a million. You still need to eliminate the possibility that we played a practical joke on you, or that we repeated unconsciously some phone number that had nothing to do with the acquaintance (1-800-BUY-BEEF). We do this kind of computation numerous times every day, especially when we learn something that is not obvious from strangers, usually without being aware of it.
Spreading rumors is designed to bombard people with the same disinformation from all directions so as to appear independent and therefore believable in the above sense. Before social media, this could only be done by implanting gossips in select groups orally and in person so as to make it difficult for anybody to trace the rumors back to any single source; they would hear the rumors from many people and even perhaps repeat them themselves, so the rumors appear to come at once from everywhere yet from nowhere. In our own time, social media has technically augmented the old technique of rumor-mongering, much like radio and television once augmented the mob effect of participation in rallies where most people cannot be present.
Social media’s rumor-mongering capacities are significantly augmented by technologically facilitated pervasive anonymity. Gossips, shills, bots, and simply crazy people are all protected from the consequences of deliberate disinformation by the simple “fact” that it’s impossible for all practical purposes to hold anyone responsible for what they say if they want to stay anonymous. Since rumors seem to come from everywhere and yet from nowhere specific, the consumer of rumors cannot trace them back to their sources as intelligence analysts, respectable journalists, historians, and reasonable people do regularly to find if sources are independent of each other. It is no coincidence that the reliabilities of these groups of people, intelligence analysts, serious journalists, and rational elites are now particularly under attack. The old sources of reliable testimonial knowledge are still there, but thanks to social media anonymity the ratio seems to be tilting against them even in our very non-totalitarian society.
An old joke tells of a person who learns from the newspaper that the value of a stock they invested in soared, and so they purchase another copy of the paper, just to be sure. Without tracing the chain of electronic information transmission, we are all in the position of the person who buys not one or two, but countless copies of the same Russian supermarket tabloid, only without realizing it. The algorithms of social media, especially Facebook, are not in comparable position to the proverbial person who screams “fire!” in a crowded theater, nor even of a person who hands the screamer a megaphone; rather, they are in the position of a person who sends a phone message that says “fire” to exactly the group of theater goers who are most likely to believe it and panic upon reading it.
In sum, technological changes have greatly augmented the effectiveness of preexisting disinformation capacities and tradecraft to spread politically manipulative false rumors to appear indistinguishable from information transmitted by reliable source or generated by independently delivered testimonies. When consumers of information cannot distinguish conflicting sources of information, when facts cannot be distinguished from disinformation in a global social media hall of distorted mirrors of testimonies that reflect each other, social media technologies, in the hands of a well-trained and vast army of trolls, are fast becoming weapons of mass delusion. That is how the “fake news” business works across boundaries as well as within them, and it is working.
Our political and legal systems are still in the process of adjustment to these new technological innovations that are doing for disinformation what Model T cars did for transportation—namely, took it much further and made it affordable for nearly everyone. It’s not obvious how to stop this, but since the main problems are in distinguishing reliable from unreliable sources and independent from dependent testimonial sources, tracing the origins of information is essential. Protocol technology that can trace messages to their original servers and possibly to their institutional origins is available and is already being used by law enforcement agencies. Bayesian algorithms that can compare postings to determine their independence and common origins can be developed if they are not already available. The challenge is to convince and failing that to force social media companies, especially Facebook and Twitter, to post that meta-information alongside information that is reposted—assuming they are not willing to block disinformation altogether as an application of the “crying fire in a crowded theater” criterion.
Human minds are complex. Disinformation appeals to our desire for self-deception, to tell us that the world is as we feel most strongly it should be. Our strongest emotions, especially in stressful times, are fear, anger, hate, and anxiety. These feelings compete with reason, an evolutionarily later and weaker mental force. Why the disinformation then? Why do the Russians even bother? Two reasons come to mind.
First, the imaginative faculties of some of the victims of disinformation are too poor to come up even with the ridiculous recycled narratives that Moscow’s poorly educated disinformation experts come up with. They have strong emotions and weak reason, and so need somebody else to tell a story that translates their emotions into virtual reality. Is it not an amazing coincidence that each and every politician who opposes Putin’s favorites and policies turns out to be a gay Freemason pedophile in cahoots with immigrant Moslem rapists?
Second, in some minds there may be a more delicate mental balance between emotion and critical reason. Left to its own devices, critical reason may sometimes trump emotions and wishful thinking. Mutual deception may then serve to suppress reason. If I lie to you and you lie to me, we may come to believe in something so ridiculous that we would be unable to individually deceive ourselves about it. This is how mass rallies have worked at least since the ancient Greeks and still work today; it’s the aforementioned acumen of a mob. The social media networks and algorithms have added a new advanced technological augmenting aspect to it: “LIKE!” We no longer need to stand in large public spaces to listen to a demagogue and cheer him in order to deceive each other; we can do it from the comfort of our smart phone.
Apart from wishful thinking, defined well enough as the narrative expression of strong emotions, disinformation appeals to what Freud called the pleasure principle against the reality principle. We know it is impossible to lead a debauched life and yet have a strong loving family. We know it is impossible to vulgarly deride and offend most of humanity and still be respected and able to project soft power. We know it is impossible to reduce all taxes and not either increase government deficits or decrease the value of the currency—or both. We know it is impossible to have protectionist trade policies and at the same time develop a competitive innovative economy with long-term economic growth. Yet how pleasurable it would be to avoid the trade-offs that reality forces on us. It would be great to live in a convincing fantasyland, in virtual reality, in a reality TV show, where all the contradictions built into reality are reconciled without tradeoffs.
Reconciling the inherent internal contradictions of the pleasure principle is the work of defense mechanisms, most notably rationalization. Socially, that is where the enablers, excusers, PR experts, and lately the Wall Street Journal come into play. They do not invent or initiate the inner contradictions. But once they’re out there, they attempt to systematize them, make them look coherent with each other and less inconsistent with reality. Historically, this is what intellectuals did for authoritarian regimes, explicitly in Marxist dialectics. Today, the services of intellectuals are not required; party hacks, hangers on, relatives of people in power, opportunists of all stripes, and self-deceivers who convince themselves it is for the higher good of the country fulfill that function instead. The result is the systematic corruption of language, discourse, and reasoning.
One remedy for dealing with Russian disinformatsia tradecraft is fairly obvious: What they do to us (and others), we can do to them (and others) in spades, the idea being to exact a price and then cash it in as a form of deterrence. Some in our government have proposed such ideas, and in readiness against extreme circumstances having such capabilities at the ready may be prudent. We wouldn’t even have to make stuff up; there are enough real facts about Putin’s kleptocratic ways and his easy associations with a who’s who of Chechen thugs that inventing stories about his running a pedophile ring manned by ex-KGB operatives from a pirogi shop in Moscow simply isn’t necessary. But short of extremities, it’s a bad idea. One does not clean a house by adding filth hither and yon, after all; defense without the threat of offense remains possible.
One remedy for the problem here at home, as always, is for the child who is too naive not to live in the immediacy of truth to cry out that the king is naked. In other words, in a useful repurposing of a by now common phrase, if you see something, say something. We all should, as often as we can.
But one other remedy seems both obvious and attainable. We have a President who openly expresses disdain for truth, and like it or not, Presidents embody and empower the aspects of culture they can project. It follows that we therefore need to get this man out of office, as soon as it can be legally achieved; and until that is done, we must never allow the normalization of his demeanor. Let us close by quoting that sage of 20th-century common sense, James Thurber: “A wolf doesn’t look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge.” Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise
1A useful if incomplete list may be found in Kurt Andersen, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History (Random House, 2017).
2David Samuels, “How Ben Rhodes Rewrote the Rules of Diplomacy for the Digital Age,” New York Times Magazine, May 5, 2016.
3Barbara Shapiro, “Beyond Reasonable Doubt” and “Probable Cause”: Historical Perspectives on the Anglo-American Law of Evidence (University of California Press, 1991).