You are a journalist assigned to cover the White House. It is the most prestigious journalism post anywhere in Washington (though covering Capitol Hill or the Supreme Court would both be very close seconds).
You go to work each day, trying to tell the best story you can. You know there are obstacles in your way: sources that will try to pass off spin for truth; sources using you to advance their own agendas; information that often cannot easily be verified.
Now imagine you are working in an environment in which deceits occur each day. Imagine also that government officials — going all the way to the top — want nothing more than to publicly vilify you.
NPR reports that journalists who have tried to cover the political machinations in China see many similarities between their time there and the environment being set by the Trump administration. The most important takeaway:
Make false claims to support an alternative narrative. When challenged, threaten reporters — and then try to delegitimize them.
Like the new White House, the Chinese government has tried over the years to convince citizens not to believe their own eyes.
“But Washington is not Beijing,” you are saying. “You are not being fair to Trump when you suggest he is trying to deliberately lie to the media and the public.”
Oh, but I can.
Please explain to me why the President of the United States — on the job for less than one week — has tried to convince journalists and the public that more people attended his inauguration than Barack Obama’s 2009 swearing in.
Only a moron would believe him.
Why even attempt to peddle such baloney? The Times suggests such ridiculous statements gain nonsense in a world in which credibility is too often based on people liking what they hear or read.
Populism is inherently post-modern, even if its most ardent practitioners don’t know what “post-modern” means. It holds that if enough people believe a thing, it becomes true. Thus, Brexit must be a good idea because 17 million people voted for it, and Trump must be a safe pair of hands because 63 million voted for him. For the rationalist these things are nonsequiturs, but enough people no longer care. For the populist, there can always be alternative facts, because there are no facts. Not any more.
Good point, if you think about it. And consistent with an idea I’ve discussed more than once: the debasing of our institutions — from churches to universities, halls to power to civic organizations — that has allowed for us to accept (or at least have a hard time arguing against) a corrosive idea that these groups care almost nothing about the common man and woman.