'Alternative Facts' and Us | Sojourners

'Alternative Facts' and Us

Screenshot, whitehouse.gov

What an amazing first few days for the Trump presidency!

I’m not sure if “amazing” is the right word, but it’s a better word than surprising. No one should be surprised by how the Trump presidency is beginning.

Just to recap one Trump scandal over the first weekend of his presidency: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer fought with the over media of the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration. Why? Because Trump is all about size. He likes things big. He wants to be big. I mean, BIG. On Saturday, when members of the press challenged the size of the crowd, Press Secretary Spicer vehemently attacked them, claiming, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration. Period. … These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”

The next day, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway appeared on Sunday morning talk shows to defend Spicer, by claiming the Trump administration had “alternative facts.”

Many of us are scandalized — amazed — by her statement, but no one should be surprised. Trump helped usher in a “post-truth” world where “alternative facts” thrive. There is much to criticize in Conway’s use of the term, but we should also be careful about our response to the Trump administration and its general posture toward telling the truth.

Mimetic theorist René Girard reminds us that “scandal” originally meant “stumbling block.” Whether done intentionally or not, scandals are stumbling blocks placed before us so that we trip. Scandals are usually bright, shiny objects that capture our attention. The more we go after the scandal, the more we stumble over it.

This is a problem because the scandal — the bright shiny object we’re all talking about — distracts us from bigger issues. While we talked about inauguration crowd size, the Trump White House drew attention away from the history-making size of the crowds protesting his harmful language and suggested policies. And while we focused on both, Trump’s staff made changes to the White House website, ones that reflect some of the most disturbing aspects of his campaign.

The Trump administration failed to restore pages devoted to climate change, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and healthcare at whitehouse.gov. They replaced concerns about climate change with an “American First Energy Plan” that says nothing about climate change. Instead, it says, “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule.” The Climate Action Plan seeks to reduce the amount of carbon pollution throughout the United States.

I hoped that Trump would be a friend to the LGBTQ community, given his stated support for LGBTQ individuals. But his choice of Mike Pence for Vice President was alarming in this regard. Pence has a long history of being against LGBTQ rights. That this section of the website — taken down with all other platforms by the outgoing administration, as is customary — was not replaced is a bad sign for those of us who support the American ideal of equal rights under the law.

Other civil rights may be under attack, too. In fact, the former “Civil Rights” page was replaced with “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community.” Personally, I don’t think there is necessarily a rivalry here. I want to stand up for law enforcement, too. But I’m afraid that Trump wants to stand up for law enforcement at the expense of civil rights. American racism is a disease that infects every aspect of our culture — including our schools, housing policies, economics, Trump’s cabinet picks, and yes, even our police departments. To ensure civil rights, we must look at the racism that plagues America square in the face and look for ways to transform it so that we can live into the great American ideal that all people are created equal.

While we were mesmerized by Trump’s tweets and Conway’s insistence on “alternative facts,” we stumbled over scandal — instead of focusing on the issues that we say matter the most to us.

We would do well in the age of Trump to avoid these stumbling blocks. Let us stay focused on fighting for justice and civil rights.