Like so many people across the country and around the world, I marched this weekend. My husband and I joined the crowd of about 200,000 men, women, and children in Denver. We walked and chanted and laughed and waved as we ran into people we knew from various places. We failed to meet up with others, because the crowd was too large and cell service was spotty. It didn’t matter. We were all there together, whether we found each other or not.
I know many people were skeptical about the march. Some questioned the value of walking through the streets. Others were opposed to the message. But after witnessing the first weekend with the new president’s spin doctors talking at warp speed, I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of something that felt honest and real. (See how I used the word “felt” there? That’s a clue that I’m expressing a personal opinion rather than a verifiable fact. Was the march honest? It felt that way to me, but there is room for dispute.)
The new president declared the sun came out as he began to speak on inauguration day, when in fact it started to rain. It was not a downpour, but there was enough rain that people were pulling on ponchos and putting up umbrellas throughout his remarks. The rain is indisputable. It was caught on tape. It is also meaningless. There is nothing supernatural about water falling from the sky no matter what some preacher says. It’s not a blessing. It’s not a curse. God was not weeping. That sort of symbolism is great for novels and bible stories, but this is real life. Nonetheless, if he will lie about the weather, what won’t he lie about?
There was the continued gnashing of teeth and lying regarding the size of the inaugural audience. We can only estimate the number of people in attendance at the inauguration, but we know the crowds were significantly smaller than the inaugural crowds four years ago and eight years ago. This is a fact. It is verifiable and (again) on tape. We can see the empty space from the aerial photos. We can check the number of riders on the Metro this year (570,557) against the number of riders on inauguration day in 2013 (782,000).
There is no such thing as an “alternative fact.” Even Kellyanne Conway can’t spin that nonsense. The New York Times seems to be labeling these untruths as falsehoods. I think it would be better to call them lies. Why use a long word when a shorter word will do?
There may be legitimate differences of opinion about why a crowd was larger or smaller, but the facts don’t change. The fact is that this inaugural audience was smaller than audiences in recent history. The marchers in Washington, D.C., on Saturday far outnumbered the people in attendance at the inauguration on Friday. The millions who marched in cities around the world on Saturday made Friday’s inaugural audience look like a church picnic on a rainy day. And the only thing the current administration needs to do to get these inconvenient facts out of the news cycle is to stop lying about them. If they didn’t double down on every lie and resort to double-speak at every opportunity, most of this reporting would fade away. That’s how news works. Only when people who ought to know better throw lies at the wall as if to see which one will stick, does reporting about mundane things such as crowd numbers and the weather grow to outsized proportions.
What does it say about the judgment of the people running the current administration that they don’t understand this? Or is it more nefarious than a simple case of bad judgment?
Are we witnessing the rise of a real-life Ministry of Truth, where politicians rewrite the news to fit the narrative they want to project? Is history being rewritten as it is being reported? It’s time to re-read George Orwell’s 1984. Orwell may have been off by about 33 years when he predicted the dystopian future of “Newspeak” and “doublethink” and “thought police,” but this weekend was 1984 playing out in real time.
The lies fell as easily as the rain during the inaugural address. They lied about divesting corporate interests. They lied about the ongoing feud with the intelligence community. They lied about the tarps laid to protect the grass. They lied about the crowd size. They lied about the Nielsen ratings. They lied about the weather. Lies on top of lies on top of lies. Big lies and small lies. Pretty soon, it was hard to tell what was important and what was just noise. Maybe that was the point.
Here’s a fact: There are liars on both sides of the aisle, but we’re only three days in to the current administration and there are more lies than truths being spread. We must continue to tally the lies and insist upon the truth. If we don’t, we’ll find ourselves shoving facts down a memory hole and then we are well and truly doomed.