The Age of the Contrafactual

So I heard this segment this morning on NPR that I found alarming. Like Threat Level Midnight alarming. They devoted five minutes of air time to dissecting their editorial decision not to use the word “liar” in describing the newly ascended Generalissimo of the Contiguous States (the artist formerly known as the United States, that historians will one day refer to as the Breakaway Republic of Red States Just South of What Remains of Civilization, i.e. “Canada”). The fact that such a debate must take place within this and countless other editorial boards across the land ought rightly to be regarded as a shit storm of such blistering power and devastating impact that it might better be characterized as a shit-nado. Or a shit-nami.

I guess maybe the silver lining is that one day soon, the current regime, in its agenda-free fiscal discipline, will do away with public broadcasting altogether (Lackey: How ya gonna do it, Mr. President? Great and Good Business Father Donzo, fluffing ascot, shoots him a squint. Lackey: Sorry. How ya gonna do it, D-Prez? Donzo: Imma privatize it. Lackey: That’s genius, boss! Donzo: I know that, Stupid. Lackey: You’re gonna privatizepublic broadcasting. Donzo: That’s right. Gonna be tremendous. Lackey: [biting tongue till it bleeds] That’s a humdinger of a cravat, boss! Donzo: It’s an ascot, Dumdum. And you’re blood-drooling again. Bring the car around.)

In case you have trouble plucking the low-hanging fruit of why this is alarming:

The current President of the United States has such a demonstrably adversarial relationship to the factual, that journalists have to update their style manuals.

Still confused? How about I try saying it another way:

The Dirtbag Tycoon we’ve installed in the White House lies so much, the people whose job it is to cover him have to hold strategy meetings to keep pace with it.

No? Still nothing? Try this:

Donald J. Trump is a lying sack of shit.

This fellow here.

Got it? Make sense to you? Good. Welcome aboard.

But let’s refine this a little bit. We are not here talking about the kind of dissembling and misdirection common to every politician; we are not talking about the paranoid underhanded Nixon-style shit; we are not talking about the black-ops extraordinary rendition Cheney-style shit, either. We are talking about the Chief Executive of the most powerful (for the moment) nation on earth standing behind podiums, and going on TV, and wearing out his Twitter thumbs by telling lie after lie after lie. Right to our faces. And then — and her is where the shit becomes fully alarming — after he has been confronted with ACTUAL INFORMATION FROM HERE IN THE REALITY WE ALL MUST SHARE THAT CONTRADICTS HIS LIE, he will double down. And tell us the same lie.

Current example:

I’d have won the popular vote if 3–5 million people hadn’t voted illegally.

With. ZERO. Evidence to support this claim. Never mind that the highest elected official in the Republic is publicly denouncing the legitimacy of the election that put him in office. Or that this erodes the already tenuous trust without which our bedrock institutions will crumble. Or even what it reveals about the psychological state of such a person — since it amounts to a, like, revisionist victory, I guess? that points to some deep-seated “Daddy didn’t hug me, for I am Garbage Boy who smells of Shame” type of dynamic at play.

A consensus emerges — among all rational people and all credible news sources — that this claim is entirely without merit, and we can move on to focusing on the “Compulsory Hysterectomies for Feminist Witches” legislation Pence is pushing through, or the “Rectal Thermometer Pipeline Constructed From the Bones of the Sioux Rammed Up the Ass of the American West ” initiative that the EPA is putting together. But, no. We have to circle back.

Because Jefe Trump keeps. Repeating. This identical lie. For a fresh round of refuting.

And the press, in response to being confronted by a Lying Sack of Shit With Nuclear Launch Codes, is compelled to devise a policy about it. NPR has come out with this mealy-mouthed angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin deal where it boils down to intent. The New York Times, has taken to referring, in its fucking headlines, to Trump’s lapses in veracity as what they are: LIES. I feel confident that, if we can dodge the extinction-level event that a Trump tantrum might get us, and there remain historians in the future, they will be far, far kinder to the Times than they will to journalists so spineless and weaselly that they must tie their ethics in elaborate knots in order to retain the favor of a Lying Sack of Shit.

All those Orwell memes that are circulating? This shit is what those are about. The truth may be made of steel, but it’s just come out of the fire, glowing orange, and we, the anvil, should remain very, very wary of collaborating with the hammer that seeks to reshape it.

Founder of WRITE CLUB. Essays, satire, criticism in The Rumpus, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, American Theatre Magazine, etc.