Editorial: Will facts be irrelevant?
Under Donald Trump’s presidency, American voters will face a stark choice: They’ll have to decide if facts matter more than Trump’s lies mixed with his deliberate distortions.
What we know is that Trump will attempt to recast the news to fit his version of reality, because if he can get away with it, he controls the problem and the solution.
In his dark and ominous inauguration speech, for example, he painted an unrealistically pessimistic view of the state of the nation, cast his opponents as incompetents, and cast himself as the only one who could make things right again. In his 17-minute speech (extremely short compared to recent times), he purposefully distorted many things, but here are three prime examples:
• When Trump said that supporters “came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before,” he exaggerates greatly. Truth: Clinton had the largest popular vote margin of any losing presidential candidate, according to an analysis by the Associated Press, besting Trump by nearly 2.9 million votes. According to the Washington Post, Trump’s Electoral College win, “was a squeaker. Trump had narrow victories in three key states (and narrow losses in two others). He won Michigan by 10,704 votes, Wisconsin by 22,177 votes and Pennsylvania by 46,435 votes. So if 39,659 voters in those states had switched their votes, 46 electoral votes would have flipped to Clinton — and she would have won 278-260.” In terms of his Electoral College votes, Trump’s margin of victory ranked 46th out of 58 — hardly the sweeping victory he wants the public to believe.
• Trump has long painted the country as being besieged by crime, declaring in his speech that the “carnage stops here and now.” We hope so, but first let’s set the record straight: Violent and property crimes overall have been declining for about two decades. Homicides have spiked in major cities in 2015 and 2016, but the rates remain far below their peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s and below what they were in 2009 and throughout President Bush’s eight years in office.
• On the economy, Trump attributes the loss of manufacturing jobs to trade policy. It isn’t so. The Globe explains: “Trump … attributes all of the decline in manufacturing to foreign trade. The number of U.S. workers engaged in manufacturing is now about 12.3 million, up from 11.5 million in 2010.” And employment under President Obama is on a roll, with unemployment dropping from 10 percent when Obama took office after the Great Recession to 4.7 percent today. There has been a national decline in manufacturing jobs from the 1990s, but the biggest factor in the decline in manufacturing is automation, not jobs going overseas. Finally, jobs have been added for a record 75 months under President Obama, the longest in modern times.
• And why lie about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration? Visual overhead pictures show crowds much smaller than Obama’s inauguration (see for yourself here). The number of trips taken on the Metro, Washington’s mass transit system, on Friday by 4 p.m., was the lowest for an inauguration day since 2005, and half the number seen during Obama’s 2009 inauguration (1.1 million) and less than the 782,000 in 2013. And according to the Nielsen rating, fewer people watched it on television. Some 30.6 million people watched Trump’s inauguration on TV, which is 7 million or so fewer than watched Obama’s first inaugural ? nearly 20 percent less.
The silly thing about the crowd size is that it doesn’t matter. So why lie about something that can be so easily disproven? Ego, and it gives Trump another reason to bash the media — rightly or wrongly. But here is the important point — in the past, the facts haven’t mattered to Trump’s supporters. Whatever he has said, they’ve gone along with, even when they knew it was a lie.
The question all Americans have to ask themselves today is whether facts matter now that Trump is president — or will they allow Trump to change American policy based on lies and misinformation? Here’s one more reality: Lies work to the extent the public is willing to believe them and support the perpetrator.
One final note: More than 1 million people gathered in Washington and in cities around the country and the world Saturday to mount a searing rebuke of President Trump. The march in Washington, D.C., was estimated at a half million people. If the president won’t recognize those voices, and if the GOP turns their backs on them, hopefully the nation’s democracy will respond at the ballot box in two years.
— Angelo S. Lynn