“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
— George Orwell, 1984
At a Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Kansas City, MO on Tuesday, President Trump told the audience that they should not believe what they’re seeing or reading in the media about his administration.
“Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening,” Trump said. “Just stick with us; don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news.”
It’s tempting to write off Trump’s words about the media, an entity he has repeatedly dubbed the enemy of the American people, as just another petulant rant. After all, Trump has been railing at the press, ignoring facts, and lying to the American people since well before he was elected president. Trump’s aggressive promotion of the lie that President Obama was not born an American citizen and his refusal to acknowledge DNA evidence exonerating the Central Park Five top a long list of Trump’s pre-campaign deceptions.
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump’s lies and his disdain of a free press grew exponentially. And in his short presidency, he has employed the assistance of proxy-liars and media-bashers in his administration. Who can forget Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s press conference the day after the inauguration when he came to the podium, sweating, spitting, and pugnaciously insisting, despite a lack of evidence, that “this was the largest audience to ever witness the inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”
And now we have Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Huckabee Sanders, unlike Spicer, is a master. She can lie with such self-righteous indignation that (there it is again) you can barely believe your eyes and ears. She scowls and squints with one eye as the opposite brow arches in condescension. She then rips into, and sometimes overtly insults, the reporter who dares to ask a relevant question.
Add to this the thousands of lies Trump himself has told since he ascended to the highest office in the land, and his latest dig at the media might seem like nothing more than business as usual. Yes, Trump qualifies the statement, “what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening” with the follow-up sentence blaming the media and “fake news.” The second sentence may distract from, or soften, his command to deny the evidence of our senses, but don’t be fooled. Trump is not simply decrying media “lies,” but is conditioning Americans to dispense with the notion of objective reality. Don’t trust your own judgment about the evidence in front of you, is what Trump is saying. What you see and what you hear don’t matter.
Trump’s assault on reality, while always disturbing, seems to have taken on alarming proportions with his unilateral decision to meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the July 16 Helsinki Russia Summit.
Not even taking into account the cognizant dissonance created by Trump’s weird deference and affinity to Russia’s top international thug, the secret nature of the private meeting between Trump and Putin literally obfuscates the reality of the situation. What was said? What was agreed upon? Where does the US stand with regard to Russia? Trump has chosen not to divulge that information, seemingly even to his highest-level cabinet members, including Secretaries of State and Defense, Mike Pompeo and James Mattis. More than a week after the summit, any information the American public has received about that secret meeting has come from the Russians, leaving the United States largely in the dark.
What we objectively know of what happened during the Helsinki Summit occurred during the live broadcast of the presidents’ joint press conference. Millions tuned into the live event to witness a reporter ask Trump whether he believed the findings of US intelligence that it was Russia who interfered with the 2016 election. “I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump answered. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
That Trump would utter these words was, in itself, not surprising; he had repeatedly denied that Russia interfered. But that the President of the United States would stand on the world stage and side with a criminal autocrat against his own intelligence community was nearly universally shocking.
What shouldn’t be shocking is the fact that the demonstrably obtuse Donald Trump was blindsided when an almost immediate bipartisan uproar overwhelmed the administration. Under pressure, Trump aides convinced him to back-petal, and in what could be called the double-negative reversal, Trump grudgingly claimed that he misspoke, that he forgot to add a word in his answer to the press. Supposedly, he meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it would [not] be.”
Even if one were to suspend disbelief enough to accept Trump’s excuse, common sense demands contextualization of the explanation. Does this make sense? “I don’t see any reason why it would not be [Russia who interfered in the 2016 election]. President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” It makes no sense.
It’s difficult to make sense of much in the torrent of lies, distortions, and cruel policies coming from the Trump Administration. I sometimes wonder if we err in focusing on the great and terrible Oz threatening war and despotism, and fail to pay sufficient attention to the man behind the curtain taking away public services and protections. But one thing I know for sure is this: we must trust the evidence of our senses. The future of our country depends upon maintaining the liberty of our minds.