Truth has kicked the bucket. Facts have shuffled off this mortal coil. Reality has met its maker.
Up is down, the president says. And isn’t the sky a fetching shade of green? Yes, yes, yes, say the grovelers on Capitol Hill. As plain as day, aver the Fox News flunkies. Tens of millions more believe Donald Trump’s word over their own lying eyes, for they voted for him, and will again.
And so, more than 12,000 deceptions and outright lies into his fact-free reign, the president who would be king naturally declares that an inspector general’s report finding that there was no FBI “witch hunt” against him actually concluded the opposite.
A 400-page report based on millions of documents and interviews with more than 100 witnesses is no match for Trump’s tweeting thumbs, or for the vast machine that profits from his unhinged leadership.
“This was an overthrow of government, this was an attempted overthrow — and a lot of people were in on it,” Trump asserted on Monday. Never mind that he wasn’t even in government when the probe into Russian election interference began. And his lies are being parroted, and embellished, across the land. Vindication, cry the cultists: All we foretold has come to pass!
“Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it,” Jonathan Swift wrote, “so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late.” It turns out the merciless satirist was too optimistic for our age. The truth no longer comes late, and limping. For millions of Americans, it doesn’t show up at all.
To be fair, this crisis began before Trump became president, and will continue after he is gone — if there is an after. Rupert Murdoch built a media empire and a vast fortune on deceiving viewers and cutting them off from the real world. Propaganda profiteer Mark Zuckerberg and others preside over vast machines that disseminate misinformation in a digital instant. They know there are fortunes to made off the falsehood flood.
A Pew survey in December 2016 found that nearly a quarter of Americans had shared fake political news online, and that about half of those had shared made-up news they knew to be false. Imagine what those numbers would show now!
What might it take to free us? Here, as with so many of the things we’ve ruined, it pays to look to our youths. And to the teachers trying to save them from the dangerous hoodwinking that took hold of their elders. There is a growing national movement among educators to teach students media literacy, to give them tools to pick out the facts from the toxic sludge coming through their smartphones.
Late last year, Massachusetts enacted legislation mandating civics education in schools, and made media literacy part of the history and social science curriculum frameworks.
Andover High School teacher Mary Robb has been teaching civics and media literacy since 2001 — back when the biggest challenge was spotting bias in the way media presented the facts, rather than disagreements over whether those facts were facts at all. She demands a great deal more of her students now than she did 19 years ago, sending them to primary sources, like the study on which an article is based, to fact-check even outlets they consider more reliable. During the first week of the impeachment hearings, she had them watch witness testimony for themselves and consult the relevant section of the Constitution to guide their watching.
It’s a harder slog than it used to be, given the sheer volume of bunkum that technology enables, and advances that make it harder to spot fakes. But despite all that, her lessons work, Robb said, enough of her students learning to screen out some of the noise, and the falsehoods, to give her faith in the future.
“This is not the first time propaganda has been used, not the first time politicians have flat-out lied,” she said. “Humanity has shown over and over again that we can do better.”
But, as with climate change, you have to wonder how much damage will be done before these kids get old enough to bring the country to its senses. And whether the notion of truth will be too far gone by then to be saved at all.