After White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, stood in front of the American people and inaccurately described the attendance at President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Kellyanne Conway quickly came to his and the entire administration’s defense. But she didn’t offer an apology or even a correction of facts. Instead, she used the term “alternative fact” to describe the falsehoods put forth by the administration.
This statement is much more than an oxymoron. Rather, the concept is deeply rooted in a much darker past. It dangerously serves an administration by completely releasing them from any accountability while also empowering them with the ability to decide what is and isn’t true.
This ability is something that could be and has been used in order to cause an irrational fear that can quickly permeate a society. Throughout this entire political season, fear has been proven a very powerful concept. It has motivated action and beliefs, unjustified or not.
Fear has the power to manipulate common misconceptions into large falsehoods that carry no factual weight. Then these falsehoods are used as justifications for sweeping actions with drastic and painful consequences. Multiple historical events have shown this same trend. On May 10, 1933 over 25,000 books were burned in Nazi Germany.
Powerful minds and important ideas filled these writings. Works by authors such as Albert Einstein, Karl Marx and Ernest Hemingway, were among those destroyed; some of which were never replaced. The action was born out of a decision from up top. It did not serve to protect the German people. There was no threat.
Chancellor at the time, Hitler used this tactic of erasure, which had not been seen since the Middle Ages, in an attempt to completely rid Jewish humanity from history. He had complete control after having instilled a fear and hatred throughout his society. He had insisted on a fear of those who were different than the majority, spreading misconceptions, lies, and fallacies. The administration was in complete control of the truth. And they certainly did not use it to better society.
Jews are satanic. Mexicans are rapists. Muslims are terrorists. These are all statements of falsehood, but there are people living with these as their truths. We have moved into a society where the truth is up for debate. President Trump did not shy away from pulling these falsehoods into a realm of truth. He pulled stereotypes and misconceptions onto the national stage, galvanizing a deep fear in the American people.
He said whatever he needed to say in order to amass more power. It worked. He now holds the highest office. Yet the falsehoods have not stopped and he has not taken any steps to rid the nation of its fear of others. Rather, he has continued to fuel this hatred by keeping the American people away from the truth.
By attacking the media and using the phrase “alternative facts”, President Trump is allowed to make his own truth. Have you ever heard of the Bowling Green Massacre? Neither had anyone else. But when a majority of Republicans obtain their news and facts directly from the White House and not the press, these falsehoods become their truth and no questions are asked.
The constructed massacre is much more than a lie or a slip-up. It was used to justify an executive action. By insisting that Muslim refugees had committed a horrific massacre, the Trump administration played directly into the falsehoods and dangerous fears they had fostered during their campaign to gain support for their immigration ban. The sweeping action has real and dangerous consequences. The administration created a justification for these policies by creating a new truth.
Without information and without the truth the American people cannot hold our administration accountable. Rather, they will fall in line with any executive actions or decisions regardless of logic, sensibility, or concern for humanity.
If we don’t demand the truth, the books will burn. We will keep families on opposite sides of an airport. We will fear and hate others for no reason at all. We will believe his hair is real.
We cannot let alternative facts become an alternative reality, because as Washington Post columnist and editor Bob Woodward warns, “Democracy dies in darkness.”