Welcome to the Post-Factual World

BY BOB BARR

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking Glass,” 1872

Although appearing in a satirical novel nearly a century and a half ago, this statement by Humpty Dumpty in many respects describes the post-factual world in which we now live.  

“Reality shows” are anything but; substantive courses of study like history and civics increasingly are overshadowed by such drivel as “transgender studies”; and “fake news” has become the common currency of those who make news just as for those who report on it. Examples of all this are disturbingly easy to catalog:

THE PATHETIC: “Hillary would have won, if…” – If there is a gold medal moment for the left’s inability to accept reality, it would be the 2016 presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton —  from beginning to end an example of hubris overshadowing fact. The charade continues to this day, with Democrat pundits, analysts, and Clinton herself continuing to spout a litany of excuses for why she lost – the “Comey letter,” Russian hacking, sexism – rather than the obvious fact that hers was a poorly-run campaign headed by a candidate tone-deaf to reality.

THE PREDICTABLE: “[Insert Anything From White House.]” – Since Richard Nixon’s famous maxim that, “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” to the Obama White House’s wildly ridiculous assertion the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks were prompted by a YouTube video, to the now almost daily spin coming from the Trump administration (even regarding “Covfefegate”), it has become reflexive to dismiss virtually any “fact” given to us by the Executive Branch. The atmosphere of misinformation puts a renewed emphasis on the old Ronald Reagan aphorism, “Trust, but verify” – even regarding something as benign as census numbers.

THE LAUGHABLE: “People will die.” – When it comes to the Democratic agenda, truth almost always takes second place to hyperbole, especially when it concerns saving former President Obama’s disastrous health care plan. To be sure, Republicans have failed miserably in providing an alternative that looks much different from what already exists. However, this has not stopped Democrats like the self-fictionalized Elizabeth Warren from “waving the bloody scrubs” about their proposals. “These [healthcare] cuts are blood money .  .  . people will die,” Warren declared shrilly last month on the Senate floor. Does Warren actually believe her words? Is there any factual basis for such a dire prediction? It hardly matters; all that does matter is that it fits the alarmist model of rhetoric that passes for “debate” in today’s post-factual political world.

THE ARROGANCE: “The world should know that Americans don’t align with Trump.”– This was the headline the unapologetically left-leaning Washington Post used to describe New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s speech in Germany last week at a socialist rally. In presenting his opinion-disguised-as-fact, Hizzoner declared that Trump’s Washington is “unrepresentative of the views of the American people.” The reality is that leftists like de Blasio have to believe this is true – and to keep repeating it — in order to maintain their egos inflated in the face of a recent string of electoral losses and President Trump’s rising popularity.  

THE ELITISM: “I didn’t get any sun today.” – The post-factual world is not inhabited only by Democrats and left-leaning media. Its citizenry includes a wide range of elitists who think themselves apart from the real world in which we mere mortals must live. Chris Christie, New Jersey’s lamest of lame duck governors, is a paradigm of such delusion. Despite shutting down New Jersey beaches over the July 4th holiday due to a budget showdown, the “Guv” was photographed lounging on a state park beach with his family and friends, unbothered by any unwashed masses, thanks to the shutdown. The Governor tried to duck the horrible optics with his signature blustering; but photos forced his spokesman to supplement his boss’s bloviating with his own rather creative post-factual dismissal of the criticism leveled at his boss, declaring simply that all was well because, after all, Christie did not get any sun since he had “a baseball cap on.”

Clinton, the White House, de Blasio, Christie, and legion of their political and media cohorts from across the ideological spectrum, illustrate for us a world in which facts no longer are “stubborn things,” as the oft-quoted Proverb reminds us. Facts today are malleable “things” whose meanings are as fluid as the meanderings of a country stream; or for which “alternative facts” (to use a term coined by a Trump Administration official earlier this year) suffice when “real” facts happen not to fit the occasion.

Examples of this phenomenon may engender laughs, but it actually reflects a reality that sooner or later will have serious, if not tragic consequences for the rest of us.


Self-Educated American Contributing Editor, Bob Barr, represented Georgia’s 7th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 -2003 and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986-1990.