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Column Peter van der Heiden Di 31|01|17 Alternative facts | Actualiteitencollege

What is Trump doing?
Dinsdag 31 januari 2017 | 12.45 - 13.30 uur | Hal Erasmusgebouw, Radboud Universiteit

Peter van der Heiden
 is parlementair historicus aan de Radboud Universiteit.

Alternative facts

The best tweet I read lately was the one on the early morning of the twenty-first of January. It only read: ‘What’s taking the impeachment so long?’ It was even better than my own tweet: ‘The Earth seems to have survived the first day of the Trump presidency’. Both tweets can simply have been a bit premature. After the first week of the presidency of the pussygrabber in chief, it seems like we’re running into troubling times. It takes a special sort of indifference, or maybe better, ignorance, or, better still, stupidity, to close the border for people from seven countries, only because they have a faith you don’t like, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Never before have I seen a president sticking up his tiny middle finger to history like Trump – grandson of an illegal immigrant! – did. Earth did survive, I must admit, but I’ve got a feeling that our planet has indeed changed in the past week.

We are rapidly heading into Orwellian times. It’s 1984 and Animal Farm combined at this moment. It’s Animal Farm because it’s clear that all American pigs are created equal, but some – the white, Christian American pigs – a bit more equal than others. Did I say a bit more equal? The difference is yuuuge. America now has a president that tries to make his country more safe by keeping people out from seven Muslim countries whose citizens have never ever attacked the United States, but at the same time lets people in from the countries from which the attackers of 9/11 originated – not incidentally countries where the CEO of the White House Inc. has enormous financial interests. But of course that really is a coincidence, since Trump has completely untied himself from his businesses, which are now run by his two sons –  or so we are told to believe.

And it’s 1984 because there is a ministry of information now that brings Newspeak to the American people – and with them to the world. The truth is something you can either believe in or not, in Trumps America. Publishing pictures of the crowds of his and Obamas’ Inaugurations and stating what everyone can see – that Obamas’ was way bigger –  is fake news according to the Donald and his gang of mouthpieces. Trump keeps insisting that he brought record crowds to Washington. Confronted with the obvious lie, his chief disinformationist – a woman who, born 400 years earlier, would surely be burned on a witches stake (oh, could I only have a time machine for her) - , denies it was a lie. No, it was an alternative fact.

Try for a moment to taste those two words in your mouths. Alternative fact. AL-TER-NA-TIVE FACT. It means that you have a fact – and the opposite to that fact, which is also a fact, an alternative fact. The opposite of the truth is also true, it’s just an alternative truth. You have the fact that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by three million – and the alternative fact that he won if you deduct the millions of illegal votes cast. You have the fact that there was no significant voter fraud – and the alternative fact that there was. You have the fact that Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall – and the alternative fact that they are because Trump says so. You have the fact that there is global warming, and the alternative fact that the Chinese made it up to push America out of the market. What makes something an alternative fact? The fact (or is it an alternative fact, I start to get confusing myself now) that Donald Trump doesn’t want to believe it. Al Gore had his ‘Inconvenient Truth’, Trump has inconvenient facts – and those are fake news, made up by the dishonest media.

We had some really incredible presidents before – think Nixon, think George W Bush -, presidents who were also kind of mad. But there was a system in their madness. With Donald Trump, there is no system in the madness, there’s madness in the system. And the dangerous thing is: it’s working. His voters didn’t care he lied – they believed him anyway, because they didn’t trust the people who told the truth: academics and journalists. In America, the truth is no longer a fact, it’s something you believe in – or you don’t. It’s a choice.

I always thought mankind would evolve to a higher average intelligence. I thought that was a fact. WRONG. Trump and his voters made clear that the alternative fact, that we are getting more stupid and more short sighted over time, makes a stronger point. Poor America. Poor world. And boy, do I miss Obama…