The past year has been nothing short of bizarre, best summed up by two “word of the year” winners.
Merriam-Webster named surreal its choice “with lookups of the word spiking for different reasons over the course of the year.”
The Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year, meanwhile, is post-truth — an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
On a logical continuum from surreal to post-truth, next year’s likely winner will be “post-accountability.” That is, personal responsibility will no longer matter once reality becomes unreal and facts are obsolete. Case in point: Donald Trump.
Again this year, Trump earned the title “King of the Whoppers” from FactCheck.org, as “the reigning champ defended his title well — once again dominating our annual review of political whoppers.” Suffice to say, the scope of Trump’s disregard for facts was far-reaching — a reality easily validated by a simple Google search. Not that anyone in this post-truth world would believe it.
As the president-elect’s term in office approaches, his post-truth sensibilities are rapidly moving into the post-accountability realm. In other words, it’s irrelevant that Trump’s statements run counter to the truth; his supporters still support him. It then follows that Trump can say — and subsequently, do — anything he wants and never be held accountable.
Whether it’s Trump’s fluctuating opinion on the Electoral College, his false claim about winning the popular vote as well as the Electoral College “in a landslide,” or his disavowal of the CIA’s conclusions regarding Russians hacking the election, nothing seems to cast any doubt among the president-elect’s devotees.
So Trump tweets that millions of people voted illegally, offering no evidence whatsoever. Doesn’t matter.
“There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts,” explained Scottie Nell Hughes, a Trump surrogate and CNN contributor.
“Mr. Trump’s tweet, amongst a certain crowd — a large part of the population – [is] truth,” Hughes continued in her best goobledygook. “When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some — in his — amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up.”
Translation: Trump and his supporters can concurrently lay claim to the facts and the lack of facts — a perfect example of “doublethink,” as coined by George Orwell in 1984:
“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them . . . To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies.”
Thus, Trump acolyte Corey Lewandowski can say, “You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally. The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes — when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar — you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”
Similarly, right-wing pundits don’t bother to refute Trump’s fallacious tweets; they immediately blame his opponents — without irony — for their blind allegiance to ideology.
Breitbart, for example, claimed “the ‘Russian hacking’ story is a sham — a left-wing twist on the red-baiting McCarthyism of the 1950s.”
Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham added, “The left refuses to admit that the fundamental problem isn’t the Russians or Jim Comey or ‘fake news’ or the Electoral College. ‘Fake news’ is just another fake excuse for their failed agenda.”
So now, even fake news is in question, according to the Trump team. Who really creates it, and why? Maybe fake news is real, and real (read “mainstream”) news is fake. As long as Trump strategists stay ahead of the debate and control the argument using classic Orwellian doublethink, Trump is always right. And Trump dodges accountability.
The continuum from “surreal” to “post-truth” to “post-accountability” is in full motion. Clearly, 2017 promises to be a Brave New World. Or even more ominously, 1984.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who also teaches courses in journalism and media literacy at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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