The Babel of Facts
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein)
In a 19th century edition of Specimens of the Table Talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of the phrases in the preface that was filled with otherwise overwrought and turgid prose was, "the Babel of Facts." It struck me as perfectly applicable and relevant to the Arabian bazaar of ideas and alternative facts to which we've been subjected since this traveling psychological roadshow known as the Trump campaign finally pounded stakes in the Rose Garden of the White House.
In case you haven't realized it (and, admittedly, only English majors or the homemade equivalent would likely know this), Table Talk also contains a phrase beloved of novelists and their readers- "willing suspension of disbelief."
Yet what we're seeing today is the willing suspension (or unwilling, depending on who you voted for and the degree of your sticker shock) of belief.
Now, it's a given that administrations lie to the people all the time. It's what they do. They need to, or so they think, because they know that if We the People knew precisely what was being done in our good names, they'd be fending off an endless sea of pitchforks and torches stretching all the way back to Arlington. But what we're seeing here with the Trump administration is a kind of artless disingenuousness that isn't even going for plausible deniability.
It's a kind of palpable lying mixed with a strain of viciousness and hostility one only reads about in history textbooks detailing the propaganda campaigns of totalitarian regimes. And usually, when the American government lies to us, it often takes the shape of massaged facts, artful deletions and omissions, some attempt at that sought-after quality of plausible deniability. There's none of that here. And those who dare question the Germanic strongman in the Oval Office will be swiftly denounced on Twitter and on TV.
It's a brand of dishonesty that relies on the brute size and power of the federal government to keep its detractors at bay, a kind of lying that is completely unmoored from facts, reality and the intractable truths we hold to be self-evident. It's an administration that bellows at the people, against the people and despite the people.
And the most galling characteristic of this administration, one more galling than the lies themselves, is through its countless flaks such as Conway and the shrill, strident Sean Spicer is its demand for respect from the people to whom it ceaselessly lies about the most trivial things. Trump has yet to learn that respect has to be earned and a major step in doing so is to be honest and frank with the people.
"It's Really So Stupid!"
Let's start with Anderson Cooper's delightful breaking up at hearing Kellyanne "Baghdad Barbie" Conway's explanation of the "alternative facts" dished up by Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Cooper's helpless giggling at Conway's spin of stubborn facts that were at stark odds with the administration's official line was more viscerally satisfying than even Seth Meyers' deft, rapier-like deconstruction of her lies, Chuck Todd insisting "alternative facts" were flat-out "falsehoods" and Jake Tapper's volcanic indignation at the same.
We could start with Keith Olbermann's unofficial countdown of the 50 Craziest Things Trump Has Done as President, which inevitably includes some of his countless lies. Or we could do our own cataloguing and analysis of some of the more egregious lies vomited from the Trump administration upon the heads of the American people:
Kellyanne Conway "misspoke", several times, about the fictional Bowling Green Massacre because she apparently can't distinguish the word "terrorists" from "massacre." Trump continues to lie about the size of the attendance of his inauguration that was visibly dwarfed by that of the Woman's March the very next day. Even as recently as two days ago at a meeting with Senators, Trump was doubling down on his easily-provable lie that 3.5 to 5 million people illegally voted for Hillary.
Then, in what is perhaps the vilest contortion of the truth was Trump's first military action, the underreported raid on Yemen (Yes, please, let's talk about underreported acts of terrorism) that Sean Spicer called "a successful operation by all standards." Despite the MSM dabbing away at the story and harumphing their way through the casualty list, apparently even in the first few days after the raid, the worst news to come out was actually soft-pedaling it. Yes, we lost a Navy Seal in the botched operation, CPO William Owens.
Yet, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which had interviewed reporters who were on the ground at the time, nine children, all under the age of 13, were killed and five more wounded. In the act of killing 14 AQAP militants, Seal Team Six had killed 25 civilians, essentially shooting anyone who opened their front door (including the first casualty, an 11 year-old boy). Included in the juvenile deaths was Nawar Anwar al Awlaqi, an eight year-old American girl who was a niece of Anwar al Awlaki, the American-born al Qaeda propagandist we'd killed during the Obama administration (and his 16 year-old son a week and a half later).
To ramp up the egregious nature of these lies, the Pentagon hastily did an internet search and produced a video that was purported to have been filmed of the raid when in fact it was footage that had been on the internet for a full decade. To make matters worse, the militant we were after, Qasim al Raymi, later publicly taunted Trump in a 12 minute audiotape.
The myth of the Tower of Babel is a parable of God's revenge on us for attempting to reach heaven with a post-deluvian tower. We were forced to speak different languages and dispersed so we could no longer understand each other. Yet, what we're seeing here and now is a "Babel of Facts", a hodge-podge of lies, spin, falsehoods and half truths. If there truly is a Supreme Being, perhaps this is His or Her revenge on us for being stupid enough to elect Trump. Because if we're stupid enough to elect as leader of the free world such an oaf, then perhaps we don't deserve the truth, however ugly it is.