I think that a lot of people blame Trump for the acceptance of lying or “alt.facts” in politics, but the reality is that Trump is just a manifestation of the real problem. Trump could never become President or stay President without a willingness to accept flagrant lying and denials of reality. Somewhere along the way to Trump winning the Electoral College vote, the importance of facts and reality was lost to the importance of feeling right. When large parts of the population refuse to accept scientific facts, or the clear evidence of reality, then no solutions to any problems will ever result. Observing verifiable facts and using them to define the problem is the essential prerequisite to solving problems.
We seem to be at an important point in our country’s history. When an individual fails to distinguish between what they want to believe from reality it is often diagnosed as a psychiatric problem. What happens when an entire country has the same problem? This not only scares us, it scares the heck out of allies who depend on our leadership.
When confronted with reality, Trump supporters go through a predictable, if infuriating, process. They deny the fact initially claiming it is “fake news”. When confronted with irrefutable proof of what Trump said (e.g. an actual recording of the comments), they will say he meant something different. If that fails, they claim someone else did something else (usually Clinton or Obama). There is a tolerance for a pattern of lying that defies reality and common sense. That is a far greater threat than any lie from Trump. This problem began long before Trump ran for President.
Rush Limbaugh has been denying the scientific evidence on climate change for over a decade. Sean Hannity has been talking about the “shadow government” for years. Not to pick on Fox Cable News, but people who listen to Fox and Friends exist in a universe of alt.truth.
Certainly, the devolution of the news media into corporate shills marketing to consumer groups contributed. People who watch Fox Cable News exist in a different universe from those who watch MSNBC. The lack of information being reported absent commentary by the reporters is amazing. News is less news than a few facts, in or out of context, used to become a platform for commentary. It seems like even those traditional news outlets have adopted a concession to alt.truth by qualifying each report by offering the alt.version from the other side, no matter how divorced from reality. Qualifying facts with political spin, or diluting reality with a false sense of fairness to the non-reality is now the journalistic attempt to assuage people who want to believe non-reality?
The media program is clear though: generate fear and outrage (facts or the truth is not necessary – rumors or even outright fabrications will do (e.g. the alleged Bowling Green Massacre). Once fear and outrage is accomplished it becomes easy to placate with false explanations and solutions. Conspiracies are one of the tools of media fear mongers and the enemy of reality. Conspiracies rooted in fiction becomes convincing to people confused by fear. The more facts come into conflict with a fake conspiracy, the more people cling to the conspiracy it seems.
As tempting as it is to blame the commercialization of the news media, the reality is that we are all vulnerable to fear and confusion. Its then that our values have to be the anchor. If we value facts, if we value solutions based on facts as more important than our comfort level, we would be more comfortable in general.