Alternative Facts

1: Perhaps the first major news story during Trump’s Presidency was estimates about crowd sizes. Sean Spicer claimed that Trump had “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.” This turned out to be unverifiable at best, and is almost certainly incorrect (the most accurate crowd size estimates come from aerial photographs, which are prohibited during the inauguration, or photographs from tall buildings, of which Washington DC has very few). Most available evidence shows that Trump had a much smaller audience than Obama, perhaps one third the size. When questioned about public transportation numbers in particular, Spicer responded: “At the time the information that I was provided by the inaugural committee came from an outside agency that we reported on. And I think knowing what we know now we can tell that WMATA’s numbers are different, but we were trying to provide numbers that we had been provided. That wasn’t like we made them up out of thin air.”  (So, just for the record, the administration is uncritically repeating information given from a third party it didn’t name).

2: Trump’s bizarre press conference had him, among other things, say that he had the highest electoral college vote since Reagan, which he didn’t, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton (twice), and Barack Obama (twice) have all had higher margins of victory. When called on that, he said he was “given that information.” How is it that Trump could have possibly gotten this wrong? It’s not like it’s an obscure fact; he had to have been studying the electoral maps and attempting to find paths to 270. Not knowing that Obama had 365 or 332 votes (in 08 and 12 respectively) means that Donald Trump is completely unaware of the most basic facts surrounding the task he dedicated about 2 years of his life to.

3: During a conference with the National Sheriff’s Association, Trump said that “the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” which isn’t true, the murder rate in America is much lower than the peak it hit in the 1980’s. What did happen is that the murder rate increased from 2014 to 2015 by a lot, the highest increase in 45 years. Now, I can see how somebody would confuse the two, it’s fairly easy to confuse something and its first derivative. Yet the two things are entirely different, have different meanings, pose different problems, and presumably should be attacked with different strategies. The President cited the correct statistic before, so perhaps it isn’t that bad, perhaps he merely mixed his words. But if he didn’t; if he doesn’t understand the difference between the a number and a change in that number, that speaks to a severe lack of understanding of basic statistical principles.

4: In arguing in favor of the travel ban on ABC news, and then twice more (on MSNBC, and during a press briefing), press secretary Spicer spoke of the terrorist attacks in “Atlanta, San Bernadino, or the Boston bomber.” Spicer later clarified that he meant to say Orlando instead of Atlanta; which again could just be that he misspoke, it’s a fairly easy mistake to make, both cities are in the Southeast, and as words they’re quite similar (each have “lan” in the middle). But on the other hand, Spicer’s only job is to communicate. Furthermore, he used it in the same way each time, alongside the San Bernadino and Boston terrorist attacks. Whether it was a simple mistake or a Spicer really did not know what city the terrorist attack happened in, it raises questions about the way information is gathered and disseminated in the white house.

5: Kellyanne Conway, in arguing in favor of the travel ban, cited the “Bowling Green Massacre.” There of course, was no massacre at bowling green, two individuals were arrested in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with regards to a plot which aimed to send weapons to Al Qaeda, which is of course bad, and its very good that those men are behind bars, but in no way shape or form was there a massacre.

There are many other untrue statements, exaggerations or miscommunication that the Trump administration or Trump himself has spoken about. (Such as Hillary Clinton giving 20% of the US’s uranium to Russia, for instance). However, these are different, in that there is strategic advantage in getting people to believe, (and/or the truth is confusing enough that the simplified statement is easier to understand than the truth. For instance, the State department approved a deal to sell the company which produces 20% of the US’s uranium to a Russian company; however the company is not allowed to export this uranium; the company can profit from uranium mining, it can’t decide where the uranium goes). With these other statements, Trump is essentially lying to us, and lying is, unfortunately, politics as usual.

What really worries me is that the administration is lying to itself, that it can’t seem to separate truth from fiction on something as straightforward as an electoral vote count. Something which should take all of 2 minutes on the internet to verify, and which Trump and his political aides should all have committed to memory. Every person has a tendency to give more weight to facts which benefit themselves or which reinforce a preconceived position. Yet this administration seems to do it on overdrive; its only been a few weeks, but we’ve already seen a number of instances which Trump and his team have not just been wrong, but have been wrong in a way that has no real benefits to himself, his agenda or his country. The basic inability to not just tell, but determine the truth of easily verifiable statements implies a inability to understand the world in complicted matters, and should be truly worrying to us all.  Trump really seems to be living in a world of his own making, while governing the world we live in.

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