Scottie Nell Hughes, a CNN political commentator and the political editor of Right Alerts, blithely declares that we’re in a post-truth era, where facts don’t exist apart from opinion:
“It is an idea of an opinion. On one hand I hear half the media saying that these are lies but on the other half there are many people who say, no, it’s true….
One thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts – they’re not really facts….
Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There are no such things, unfortunately, as facts.
So Mr Trump’s tweets, amongst a certain crowd, a large part of the population, are truth.”
One encounters this on Twitter frequently. Consider the following exchange I had there recently:
Adams: Inner monologue replaces epistemology: Claims, With No Evidence, That ‘Millions of People’ Voted Illegally http://nyti.ms/2gvxNOi
Chutzpah (Deplorable) [his handle, not my description]: Quoting NYT defeats your purpose and makes it fiction. Journalists should prove #trump wrong not just yell falsehoods.
One sees three things here: (1) Chutzpah (Deplorable) believes that although Trump can assert what he wants, it’s not Trump’s burden of proof to confirm Trump’s own statements, (2) nothing in the New York Times can be right, and (3) it’s supposedly clever to defend Trump (whose most rabid Twitter followers include a cadre of anti-Semites) while using a Yiddish term and describing oneself as deplorable.
The big issue is that ‘Chutzpah (Deplorable)’ and his ilk (Russian trolls, nativists, etc.) think that those who assert have no obligation to prove their own contentions – it’s others who have to disprove them. This is convenient, because by that standard if they spew twenty baseless claims per hour, they’ll tie up the discourse with no greater effort than the time it takes to make up stories.
This is an attempt to overturn millennia of reasoning by shifting the philosophical burden of proof.
Likewise, although the frequency of baseless claims during the national campaign seems new (and cumulatively vast), it’s not new at the local level, where many communities have listened to glad-handing excuse-makers for years, even as conditions decline. See Fake News Was a Local Problem Before It Was a National One.
Locally, it’s often a choice between whether one believes small-town officials & their sycophantic defenders or one’s own lying eyes.
A fact-free perspective is now a national problem, one that its defenders present as fact that there are no facts, the truth that there is no truth.
We’ll be years fighting this, but better to fight now for a few hard years, rather than many lost decades.