The Trouble with Trump’s ‘Alternative Facts’


THEIR VIEW

By Peter Certo - Guest Columnist



This column was written shortly after Trump’s inauguration.

About an hour after Donald Trump was sworn in, I was having lunch with my wife and our five-month-old. As we picked at our food outside my office in D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, groups of tourists trickled by in Trump regalia.

Early the next morning, as I dumped a pail of diapers in the trash can out front, I ran into a much different crowd: throngs of people wearing pink and carrying anti-Trump signs, passing through my neighborhood on their way to the Women’s March.

It was scarcely 7 a.m., yet already I’d seen more pink hats than I’d seen red ones the day before. Surprised — and still in my pajama pants — I scurried inside.

DC’s Women’s March alone attracted three times as many visitors as Trump’s inauguration, crowd experts quoted by The New York Times estimate. According to ridership data from the DC Metro system, only one other event topped it: Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

This was obvious to anyone who lives here, and to anyone who’s seen aerial photos of the crowd.

Of course, whose crowd is bigger matters only a little more than whose hands are bigger, among other appendages Trump likes to size up. But sometimes he can’t help himself.

At a moment you’d expect a new president to be busy with other things, Trump directed his press secretary to announce that his crowds had been “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” Any media outlet that told you differently, he said, was lying.

It was laughably untrue. But it wasn’t a lie, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told NBC. It was just an an “alternative fact.”

If that doesn’t set your Orwell alarm off, I don’t know what will. Yet almost immediately, Trump’s version of events started circulating through conservative news sites and social media outlets.

The Trump administration, in short, used its inaugural press conference to tell bald-faced, easily falsifiable lies — and many Americans believed them. Aerial photos, crowd experts, Metro data, even TV ratings be damned — all that mattered were the “alternative facts” of the Trump team.

There’s more at stake here than a “whose is bigger?” contest — including for millions of Trump supporters. To see how, let me tell you something else about Trump’s first day in office.

Shortly after announcing that “every decision” will be “made to benefit American workers and American families,” Trump retreated to the Oval Office to sign his first directives as president.

The first raised mortgage fees for working families, including many who probably supported Trump. Another began the process of dismantling a health care law that’s helped 20 million people get insurance.

Trump voters in red states could be especially hard-hit.

From Florida to Pennsylvania, in fact, over 6 million people getting health insurance subsidies live in states that Trump won. Combined with the law’s Medicaid expansion and protections for people with preexisting conditions, that’s helped deep-red states like Kentucky and West Virginia cut their uninsured rates by half.

But here’s the question: If Trump can tell you your own eyes are lying about a simple aerial photograph of his inauguration, can he also convince you your mortgage fees didn’t just go up? Or that you’ll still have health care after he axes your subsidy and gives your insurer permission to drop you?

Talk about “alternative facts.” If those things slide, what else can he get away with?

Trump voters are famously skeptical of Washington. Of all people, I hope they’d agree that watching what a politician does tells you more than hearing what he says. If they shut their eyes now, they’re going to get sucker-punched.

(March 29)

Are You Watching Iraq? You Should Be. Under Trump, the U.S. may now be killing more civilians in the Middle East than the Russians.

In a desolated patch of Mosul, Iraq, people are still digging through the rubble. Rescuers wear masks to cover the stench, while anxious family members grow desperate about missing loved ones.

The full story of what happened in the al-Jidideh neighborhood isn’t yet clear, but the toll is unmistakable. A New York Times journalist reported stumbling across charred human limbs, still covered in clothing, while a man stood nearby holding a sign with 27 names — extended family members either missing or dead.

All told, 200 or more civilians may be dead there following a U.S. airstrike on the densely populated neighborhood. The military has acknowledged the strike, but says it’s still investigating the deaths. If the allegations are true, this was by far our deadliest attack on innocents in decades.

The carnage comes amid a push by the U.S. and its Iraqi allies to reclaim Mosul, Iraq’s second most populous city, from the Islamic State (or ISIS).

That’s making life terrifying for the city’s residents, who’ve endured years of depredations from ISIS only to fall under U.S. bombs — and to face possible human rights abuses from Iraqi soldiers they don’t trust. “Now it feels like the coalition is killing more people than ISIS,” one resident told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper.

Unfortunately, that may not be so far from the truth. AirWars, which tracks civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria, counted over 1,300 reports of civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes in March alone. That’s about triple the count from February.

In fact, AirWars estimates, more U.S. coalition strikes are now causing civilian casualties than strikes by Russia, which was loudly (and appropriately) accused of war crimes for its bombing of Aleppo, Syria last year.

Is this the simple result of the fight heating up in Mosul? Not quite.

In the same month, at least 30 civilians were reported killed by a U.S. airstrike outside Raqqa, Syria — where the real battle with ISIS hasn’t even begun yet — and up to 50 more may have died when the U.S. bombed a mosque in Aleppo.

Instead, some observers suspect the Trump administration is relaxing Obama-era rules designed to limit civilian casualties in war zones. They deny this, but the Times reports that field commanders appear to be exercising more latitude to launch strikes in civilian-heavy areas than before.

During the campaign, Trump himself famously promised to “bomb the s—” out of ISIS. That sounds extreme, and it is.

But it’s only a few steps beyond the Obama administration’s approach of gradually expanding our air wars outside the public eye. Trump’s just taking it to another level by putting virtually all key foreign policy decisions in military hands, while gutting resources for diplomacy and humanitarian aid.

The human costs of this will be enormous. The political costs will be, too.

The U.S. has been “bombing the s—” out of Iraq for decades now, which has consistently created more terrorists than it’s killed. Extremists are flourishing in Iraq. The same can’t be said for the civilians now burying their dead in Mosul.

Of course, ISIS is guilty of its own innumerable atrocities. But the war-torn sectarian politics that gave rise to the group are a direct result of this military-first foreign policy. There’s simply no reason to believe that reducing Iraq’s cities to rubble will give way to less extremism in their ashes.

Iraqis will still have to wrest their country back from ISIS. But if it’s ever going to get back on its feet, what the country truly needs is a political solution. That’s going to require a surge of aid, diplomacy, and honest brokering — all of which are in short supply now.

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THEIR VIEW

By Peter Certo

Guest Columnist

This column was written shortly after Trump’s inauguration.

Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of OtherWords.org.

Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of OtherWords.org.