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Disconnection from Reality

After asking how it is possible Trump may become president, Roger Cohen says

It is possible because spectacle and politics have merged and people no longer know fact from fiction or care about the distinction.
- Roger Cohen, The Trump Possibility, NYT, Oct. 3, 2016


President-elect Trump's falsehoods are so frequent it appears he does not care whether what he says is true. Thus Mark Danner writes of Trump's "blithe lack of respect for speaking the truth".

- Mark Danner, The Real Trump, New York Review of Books, Dec. 22, 2016


A CNN/ORC poll this month found that by a margin of 15 percentage points, voters thought Donald Trump was “more honest and trustworthy” than Hillary Clinton. Let’s be frank: This public perception is completely at odds with all evidence.

On the PolitiFact website, 13 percent of Clinton’s statements that were checked were rated “false” or “pants on fire,” compared with 53 percent of Trump’s. Conversely, half of Clinton’s are rated “true” or “mostly true” compared to 15 percent of Trump statements.
- Nicholas Kristof, When a Crackpot Runs for President, NYT, Sept. 15, 2016


Perhaps if close to 40 percent of newspaper journalists hadn’t also lost their jobs in the last decade, we might have a more realistic, better informed public.
- Sheila Sorvari, Austin, Tex., Letter to the New York Times, Sept. 14, 2016


But be wary of polling on this issue. When Americans are asked how the economy is doing, many of them just repeat what they think they heard on Fox News: By large margins, Republicans say that unemployment is up and the stock market is down under Mr. Obama, the opposite of the truth.
- Paul Krugman, Obama’s Trickle-Up Economics, NYT, Sept. 16, 2016


Consider how far Donald Trump is estranged from fact. He inhabits a fantastical realm where Barack Obama’s birth certificate was faked, the president founded Islamic State (IS), the Clintons are killers and the father of a rival was with Lee Harvey Oswald before he shot John F. Kennedy.
Mr Trump is the leading exponent of “post-truth” politics—a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact. His brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power. And he is not alone. ... Turkish politicians claim the perpetrators of the recent bungled coup were acting on orders issued by the CIA. The successful campaign for Britain to leave the European Union warned of the hordes of immigrants that would result from Turkey’s imminent accession to the union. ...
Dictators and democrats seeking to deflect blame for their own incompetence have always manipulated the truth; sore losers have always accused the other lot of lying.

But post-truth politics is more than just an invention of whingeing elites who have been outflanked. The term picks out the heart of what is new: that truth is not falsified, or contested, but of secondary importance. ...
Feelings, not facts, are what matter in this sort of campaigning. ... And if your opponents focus on trying to show your facts are wrong, they have to fight on the ground you have chosen. The more Remain campaigners attacked the Leave campaign’s exaggerated claim that EU membership cost Britain £350m ($468m) a week, the longer they kept the magnitude of those costs in the spotlight. ...
Many voters feel let down and left behind.... They are scornful of the self-serving technocrats who said that the euro would improve their lives and that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Popular trust in expert opinion and established institutions has tumbled across Western democracies.

Post-truth has also been abetted by the evolution of the media (see Briefing). The fragmentation of news sources has created an atomised world in which lies, rumour and gossip spread with alarming speed. Lies that are widely shared online within a network, whose members trust each other more than they trust any mainstream-media source, can quickly take on the appearance of truth.
- Art of the lie, Economist, Sept. 10th, 2016


When it comes to rebutting Donald Trump’s idiotic observation that Vladimir Putin is a strong leader — “far more than our president has been a leader” — it is hard to top the assessment of Russian-born Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion, which The Times’s Andrew Higgins quoted in his story from Moscow: “Vladimir Putin is a strong leader in the same way that arsenic is a strong drink. Praising a brutal K.G.B. dictator, especially as preferable to a democratically elected U.S. president, whether you like Obama or hate him, is despicable and dangerous.”

Indeed, Kasparov’s point cuts to the core of what is so scary about a Trump presidency: Trump is what The Economist has called “the leading exponent of ‘post-truth’ politics — a reliance on assertions that ‘feel true’ but have no basis in fact,” and, sadly, “his brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power.” When politics becomes “like pro-wrestling,” society pays a huge cost, The Economist added, because any complex explanation of any problem is dismissed as experts just trying “to bamboozle everyone else.”

So Trump just skips from blaming Mexican immigrants for high murder rates, to President Obama for inventing ISIS, to China for creating the concept of global warming, to thousands of Muslims in New Jersey for celebrating 9/11, to Obama for really having been born in Kenya, to an I.R.S. audit for preventing him from showing us his tax returns — which would probably show that he paid no taxes.

Every word of it is a lie that most in his own party won’t call out. ...
Since Putin invaded Ukraine to shore up his faltering domestic popularity, and then got hit with Western economic sanctions, the dollar-ruble exchange rate has gone from around 36 rubles to the dollar to 65 rubles to the dollar. Russia’s economic growth fell 3.7 percent in 2015 [What Friedman means is that Russia's GDP (economic output, not economic growth) declined 3.7% in 2015 - see http://www.focus-economics.com/country-indicator/russia/gdp.], and the I.M.F. predicts it will fall 1 percent in 2016. Inflation in Russia doubled to 15.4 percent in 2015, compared with 7.8 percent in 2014. [Inflation can be measured various ways, not all of which give such an extreme result - see http://www.focus-economics.com/country-indicator/russia/inflation-eop and http://www.focus-economics.com/countries/russia.] A World Bank report quoted by the BBC in April said “the number of Russians living below the poverty line will grow at its fastest pace in more than 17 years in 2016.”

It takes a strong leader to shrink his currency by 50 percent, double inflation and vastly accelerate poverty in just two years. A weak leader could never do that.
- Thomas L. Friedman, Donald Trump’s Putin Crush, NYT, Sept. 14, 2016


Remarkably often, favored medical treatments turn out to be ineffective. Blood letting is a historical example. More recently, removal of tonsils was in fashion in America in the mid to late 20th century. Caesarean sections seem to often be performed without justification. Much surgery for spinal pain appears to lack evidence of effectiveness.

Ultrasound is often performed to help speed the healing of broken bones. But a randomized trial reports the procedure is ineffective.
A team led by Canadian researchers recruited 501 patients with fractures of the tibia.... After standard care to repair their fractures, the patients were randomly assigned to low-intensity pulsed ultrasound... or to a sham treatment. ...
“There does not appear to be any evidence for ultrasound in the management of tibia fracture,” said the lead author....
- Nicholas Bakalar, Ultrasounds Do Little for Broken Bones, Oct. 26, 2016


Not only has the number of full-time journalists dropped significantly, the real news is increasingly mixed up with fake news:

“It’s the biggest crisis facing our democracy, the failing business model of real journalism,” Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri and a longtime critic of fake news, told me on Saturday. ...
It does not augur well for the future. Martin Baron, the Washington Post executive editor, said when we spoke last week, “If you have a society where people can’t agree on basic facts, how do you have a functioning democracy?”
- Jim Rutenberg, Media’s Next Challenge: Overcoming the Threat of Fake News, NYT, Nov. 6, 2016


Any claim that changed policy positions will win elections assumes that the public will hear about those positions. How is that supposed to happen, when most of the news media simply refuse to cover policy substance? Remember, over the course of the 2016 campaign, the three network news shows devoted a total of 35 minutes combined to policy issues — all policy issues. Meanwhile, they devoted 125 minutes to Mrs. Clinton’s emails.

Beyond this, the fact is that Democrats have already been pursuing policies that are much better for the white working class than anything the other party has to offer. Yet this has brought no political reward.
Consider eastern Kentucky, a very white area which has benefited enormously from Obama-era initiatives. Take, in particular, the case of Clay County, which the Times declared a few years ago to be the hardest place in America to live. It’s still very hard, but at least most of its residents now have health insurance: Independent estimates say that the uninsured rate fell from 27 percent in 2013 to 10 percent in 2016. That’s the effect of the Affordable Care Act, which Mrs. Clinton promised to preserve and extend but Mr. Trump promised to kill.
Mr. Trump received 87 percent of Clay County’s vote.
- Paul Krugman, The Populism Perplex, NYT, Nov. 25, 2016


The long-running Republican war against the right to vote has now gone national at the instigation of President-elect Donald Trump, who has promoted the lie that millions of illegal votes were cast in the presidential election.

There is not a scintilla of evidence for this claim, and Mr. Trump’s own lawyers have admitted as much, stating in a court filing opposing a recount in Michigan that “all available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud or mistake.”

Yet one after the next, leading Republicans are spreading this slander of American democracy, smoothing the way to restrict voting rights across the country.

On Sunday, Vice President-elect Mike Pence told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that it was Mr. Trump’s “right to express his opinion as president-elect.” When pushed to admit that the illegal-voting claim was not true, Mr. Pence shifted the burden of proof away from Mr. Trump, even though Mr. Trump has accused millions of Americans of committing a crime. “Look,” Mr. Pence said, “I don’t know that that’s a false statement, George, and neither do you.”
- Editorial, Why Does Donald Trump Lie About Voter Fraud?, NYT, Dec. 5, 2016


The disregard for truth — and indulgence of fantasy — among people at the pinnacle of power right now is chilling. Beyond Trump there’s Michael Flynn, his nominee for national security adviser, who has tweeted pure bunk about Clinton’s ties to pedophilia and money laundering. Flynn’s son, who was his chief of staff, perpetuated the whole “pizzagate” madness. And then of course there’s Ben Carson, the housing secretary to be, with his conviction that the pyramids were grain silos.
- Frank Bruni, Paul Ryan’s Dangerous Silence on Donald Trump, NYT, Dec. 7, 2016


Toward the end of “Against Empathy,” Mr. Bloom concedes that “rationality in political domains often does seem to be in short supply.” He theorizes that this is because people treat politics like sports — their opinions are based on team loyalty, not objective merit. “Political views share an interesting property with views about sports teams — they don’t really matter,” he writes, then further explains: “Unless I’m a member of a tiny powerful community, my beliefs have no effect on the world.”
- Jennifer Senior, Review: ‘Against Empathy,’ or the Right Way to Feel Someone’s Pain, NYT, Dec. 6, 2016


Hacking is not only a good way to get real information, like the emails of the D.N.C., but a relatively easy and usually untraceable way to plant fake information. For example, when unidentified hackers last year broke into the computers of a government research center in Lithuania, they stole nothing, but planted bogus reports on its website that the country’s stoutly pro-American president had worked as an escort and K.G.B. informer while a student in Leningrad during the Soviet era. ...
This blurring of all boundaries between truth and falsehood in the service of operational needs has created a climate in Russia in which even the most serious and grotesque accusations, like those involving pedophilia, are simply a currency for settling scores.
- Andrew Higgins, Foes of Russia Say Child Pornography Is Planted to Ruin Them, NYT, Dec. 9, 2016


The C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the White House may all agree that Russia was behind the hacking that interfered with the election. But that was of no import to the website Breitbart News, which dismissed reports on the intelligence assessment as “left-wing fake news.”

Rush Limbaugh has diagnosed a more fundamental problem. “The fake news is the everyday news” in the mainstream media, he said on his radio show recently. “They just make it up.” ...

But conservative cable and radio personalities, top Republicans and even Mr. Trump himself, incredulous about suggestions that fake stories may have helped swing the election, have appropriated the term and turned it against any news they see as hostile to their agenda.

In defining “fake news” so broadly and seeking to dilute its meaning, they are capitalizing on the declining credibility of all purveyors of information, one product of the country’s increasing political polarization. ...

“We now live in this fragmented media world where you can block people you disagree with. You can only be exposed to stories that make you feel good about what you want to believe,” Mr. Ziegler, the radio host, said. “Unfortunately, the truth is unpopular a lot. And a good fairy tale beats a harsh truth every time.”
- Jeremy Peters, Wielding Claims of ‘Fake News,’ Conservatives Take Aim at Mainstream Media, NYT, Dec. 25, 2016


“Rationality seems to have fallen out of vogue,” said Brooke Binkowski, Snopes’s managing editor. “People don’t know what to believe anymore. ..."
- David Streitfeld, For Fact-Checking Website Snopes, a Bigger Role Brings More Attacks, NYT, Dec. 25, 2016


One challenge was commercial pressure as news organizations in all platforms — print, digital and TV — scrambled for a business model. Everyone knew that Trump was ratings gold, while a segment on poverty was ratings mud.

As Leslie Moonves, the CBS president, said in February about Trump’s run: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
- Nicholas Kristof, Lessons From the Media’s Failures in Its Year With Trump, NYT, Dec. 31, 2016


The nauseating but profitable fair-and-balanced ploy that is now the media’s favorite eyeball-grabbing strategy is helping to make fake news more dangerous. When outrageous nonsense is given equal time with real news, it makes nonsense seem equally worthy of our attention. It blurs the distinction between real and unreal, especially when viewed by a population whose IQ is scraping bottom. The result is that a moron with a rifle invades a pizza restaurant, looking for Hillary’s child sex lair.

Not to be outdone by commercial TV and legitimate newspapers, the Internet has turned into a viral meme delivery system, funneling outrageous nonsense to millions of people with short attention spans and an appalling lack of discernment. Questionable “news” sites pop up like poisonous mushrooms, eagerly consumed by the drooling masses.

There’s an advantage to getting news quickly. But completely unfiltered, real-time reporting, with no time for experienced journalists to parse, analyze or put events into context, is apt to spin out of control. It promotes spectacle rather than understanding. No matter how quickly it is delivered, the real story doesn’t emerge any more quickly than it did years ago, before the Internet existed.

As long as the current model is profitable, thoughtful news analysis and rational reporting doesn’t stand a chance. In the same way that Citizens United polluted politics, big money is polluting what we know, muddying the waters and leaving us at risk.
- gemli, Comment on Kristof's Lessons From the Media’s Failures in Its Year With Trump, NYT, Dec. 31, 2016


When New Jersey lawmakers blocked a vote last month on a bill backed by Gov. Chris Christie that would have ended the requirement that legal notices be published in newspapers, it was a rare good news story for the state’s press corps. ...
The Star-Ledger, which almost halved its newsroom eight years ago, has mutated into a digital media company requiring most reporters to reach an ever-increasing quota of page views as part of their compensation. ...
Current and former [Star-Ledger] reporters and editors, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid damaging relationships and future job prospects, said that their salaries had generally been cut by 10 percent in the past year or so, but that they earned bonuses if they met a quota for online page views. As a result, slide shows, surveys and brief stories with alluring teasers, like the 20 most famous people to attend Princeton, a quiz on Santa Claus, and polls on a “Lion King” remake and a “must-win” game for the Jets, have become legion. ...
Kevin Whitmer, who was The Star-Ledger’s editor but is now called the vice president for content, said he understood that “the idea of growing your digital audience comes with a lot of adjustments for everyone.” ...
“Our business is about growing audience,” he [Whitmer] said.
- David Chen, In New Jersey, Only a Few Media Watchdogs Are Left, Jan. 3, 2017


While publishers typically have nonfiction books vetted by their legal departments, most do not check for plagiarism, fabrication or factual inaccuracies. As a result, nonfiction books often contain errors and, every so often, plagiarism.

These types of offenses once signified the end of an author’s career. But publishers have seemed more willing to give writers a second chance. Last year, Simon & Schuster published a book by Jonah Lehrer, whose previous books for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt were recalled after it was revealed that Mr. Lehrer had plagiarized passages, recycled his own work and fabricated quotations. James Frey, who fabricated portions of his memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” about his drug addiction, made a comeback as a young-adult novelist and publisher.

In Ms. [Monica] Crowley’s case, the evidence seemed clear enough: CNN highlighted many instances where text had been lifted from other sources and presented passages with the original material to stress similarities.

HarperCollins’s decision to withdraw the book put it at odds with Mr. Trump’s transition team, which vigorously defended Ms. Crowley and dismissed the charges of plagiarism as “a politically motivated attack.”

“Monica’s exceptional insight and thoughtful work on how to turn this country around is exactly why she will be serving in the administration,” Mr. Trump’s transition team said a statement to CNN. “HarperCollins — one of the largest and most respected publishers in the world — published her book, which has become a national best seller. Any attempt to discredit Monica is nothing more than a politically motivated attack that seeks to distract from the real issues facing this country.”
- Alexandra Alter, HarperCollins Pulls Book by a Trump Pick After Plagiarism Report, NYT, Jan. 10, 2017


Crowley has been accused of plagiarism before. In 1999, Slate reported a column by Crowley in the Wall Street Journal mirrored a 1988 article in Commentary, the neoconservative magazine.
"Had we known of the parallels, we would not have published the article," a Journal editor’s note said at the time. Crowley denied the charge at the time, saying, "I did not, nor would I ever, use material from a source without citing it."
- Andrew Kaczynski, Trump national security pick Monica Crowley plagiarized multiple sources in 2012 book, CNN Money, January 7, 2017


Monica Crowley, President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s pick for a top National Security Council job, plagiarized numerous passages in her Ph.D. dissertation, Politico Magazine has found.

An examination of the dissertation and the sources it cites identified more than a dozen sections of text that have been lifted, with little to no changes, from other scholarly works without proper attribution. In some instances, Crowley footnoted her source but did not identify with quotation marks the text she was copying directly. In other instances, she copied text or heavily paraphrased with no attribution at all.

This finding comes on the heels of CNN’s Saturday report that Crowley, the conservative author and commentator whom Trump tapped as senior director of strategic communications for the National Security Council, plagiarized more than 50 passages in her 2012 book What the (Bleep) Just Happened, copying directly from conservative columns, news articles, Wikipedia and in one case a podiatrist’s website.

Despite the news, the Trump team continues to support the appointment. “Any attempt to discredit Monica is nothing more than a politically motivated attack that seeks to distract from the real issues facing this country,” a transition spokesperson told CNN.
- ALEX CATON and GRACE WATKINS, Trump Pick Monica Crowley Plagiarized Parts of Her Ph.D. Dissertation, Politico, January 09, 2017


The Brexit win thrilled Donald J. Trump, who saw in that blow to elite complacency and hierarchy a model for his presidential campaign. And it was Mr. Banks who exchanged ideas on tactics with Mr. Trump’s team throughout their campaigns, making visits with Mr. Farage to Trump rallies.

“Never apologize,” he said he had told Mr. Trump. “Facts are white noise,” and “emotions rule.”
- STEVEN ERLANGER and KIMIKO de FREYTAS-TAMURA, Godfather of ‘Brexit’ Takes Aim at the British Establishment, NYT, Jan. 20, 2017


The dismal picture of the American economy President Donald J. Trump painted in his Inaugural Address on Friday is at odds with the economic reality of most Americans.
Mr. Trump described a nation depleted, despairing and in decline. ...
In fact, the United States is in the midst of one of the longest sustained economic expansions in the nation’s history. ...
Mr. Trump, both before and after his election, has often described the entirety of America as if it were Youngstown, Ohio, with its factories gone and its residents embittered. And on Friday, as so often in the past, he blamed foreign trade for that decline. ...
But it is a misleading diagnosis of the reasons for the decline of factory work.
There were more than 17 million factory workers in the United States two decades ago; now there are slightly more than 12 million. Some kinds of manufacturing, like textiles and furniture, have largely disappeared. And increased foreign trade did play a role in the decline.

But most economists agree that technological progress is the primary cause. The value of America’s industrial output is at the highest level in history, but those goods are produced by fewer workers, a trend that cannot be reversed by changes in trade policy.
- BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, Trump’s Grim View of the Economy Ignores Most Americans’ Reality, NYT, JAN. 20, 2017




Trump's speech to the CIA repeated his crazy claim that the U.S. should have taken Iraq's oil.

The president repeated his belief that the U.S. should have taken Iraq’s oil, ominously adding that the CIA may “have another chance.”
- CONOR FRIEDERSDORF, How Trump's Speech to the CIA Endangered America, JAN 24, 2017

"Insofar as Mr. Trump's proposals [about the U.S. taking Iraq's oil] are coherent enough to be subject to analysis and judgment, they appear to be practically impossible, legally prohibited, and politically imbecilic," said Barnett Rubin, associate director of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation.
- Louis Jacobson, Should the U.S. have kept Iraq's oil, as Donald Trump argues?, Politifact, September 9th, 2016



Breitbart News, a far-right website until recently run by Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, is setting up outposts in Paris and Berlin, which French and German officials worry will propagate “fake news” to try to swing the elections. Germany has already been targeted by fake news operations, which officials believe emanate mostly from Russia. ...
“Conspiracy theories and disinformation put out by America’s detractors gain greater currency once the distinction between fact and false claim is eroded at the American end,” Mr. Haqqani said.

Presidents, to be sure, have long dissembled on matters of national security. Lyndon B. Johnson was known for his “credibility gap,” the historian Robert Dallek pointed out, while Richard M. Nixon once ordered a devastating South Vietnamese military defeat in Cambodia to be presented to the public as a victory. These falsehoods have a cumulative effect on a president’s credibility, Mr. Dallek said, particularly when they involve war and peace. ...

For some foreign policy experts, Mr. Trump’s falsehoods are not themselves a cause for panic. Some recall the line attributed to the 17th-century English diplomat Sir Henry Wotton: “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” It is instead Mr. Trump’s stubborn adherence to assertions that are so easily disproved that worries them.

“People can understand the tactical lie,” said Eliot A. Cohen, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University and a vocal critic of Mr. Trump. “What’s unnerving is the sense that when he lies, he actually believes it — the sense that he is fundamentally unmoored from reality.”
''- MARK LANDLER, Trump’s Falsehoods Make Foreign Leaders Ask: Can We Trust Him?, NYT, JAN. 31, 2017


The American people are confused and benumbed by a flood of fake news and misinformation. Reading in Zweig’s memoir how, during the years of Hitler’s rise to power, many well-meaning people “could not or did not wish to perceive that a new technique of conscious cynical amorality was at work,” it’s difficult not to think of our own present predicament.
- George Prochnik, WHEN IT’S TOO LATE TO STOP FASCISM, ACCORDING TO STEFAN ZWEIG, The New Yorker, February 6, 2017


The Nazis, in Hett’s account, were above all “a nationalist protest movement against globalization.” Even before the Great Depression brought huge unemployment to Germany, the caprice of the global economy offered an opportunity to politicians who had simple answers. In their 1920 program, the Nazis proclaimed that “members of foreign nations (noncitizens) are to be expelled from Germany.” ... As Goebbels put it, “We want to build a wall, a protective wall.” ...
Hitler believed in telling lies so big that their very scale left some residue of credibility. The Nazi program foresaw that newspapers would serve the “general good” rather than reporting, and promised “legal warfare” against opponents who spread information they did not like. They opposed what they called “the system” by rejecting its basis in the factual world. Germans were not rational individuals with interests, the reasoning went, but members of a tribe that wanted to follow a leader (Führer).
- Timothy Snyder, How Did the Nazis Gain Power in Germany?, NYT, June 14, 2018



As the world changes more rapidly, and becomes more complicated, people become unable to understand issues sufficiently to make good judgements about what should be done. For instance, voters deciding whether to support or oppose Obamacare may lack sufficient understanding of it to judge wisely:


A sizable minority of Americans don’t understand that Obamacare is just another name for the Affordable Care Act.

This finding, from a poll by Morning Consult, illustrates the extent of public confusion over a health law that President Trump and Republicans in Congress hope to repeal.
In the survey, 35 percent of respondents said either they thought Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act were different policies (17 percent) or didn’t know if they were the same or different (18 percent). This confusion was more pronounced among people 18 to 29 and those who earn less than $50,000 — two groups that could be significantly affected by repeal.
- KYLE DROPP and BRENDAN NYHAN, One-Third Don’t Know Obamacare and Affordable Care Act Are the Same, NYT, FEB. 7, 2017


The Affordable Care Act, and Governor Pence’s decision to... expand Medicaid under the law, may well have saved Mr. Kloski’s life. ...
Medicaid has paid for virtually all of his cancer care, including a one-week hospitalization after the diagnosis, months of chemotherapy, and frequent scans and blood tests.
But Mr. Kloski and his mother, Renee Epperson, are still not fans of the health law over all. They believed that it required that Mr. Kloski be dropped, when he turned 26, from the health plan his mother has through her job at Target — not understanding that it was the law that kept him on the plan until he was 26.
- Abby Goodnough & Robert Pear, After Obama, Some Health Reforms May Prove Lasting, NYT, Jan. 2, 2017



Krugman points out that Republican economic projections ignore reality:

According to press reports, the Trump administration is basing its budget projections on the assumption that the U.S. economy will grow very rapidly over the next decade — in fact, almost twice as fast as independent institutions like the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve expect. There is, as far as we can tell, no serious analysis behind this optimism; instead, the number was plugged in to make the fiscal outlook appear better.

I guess this was only to be expected from a man who keeps insisting that crime, which is actually near record lows, is at a record high, that millions of illegal ballots were responsible for his popular vote loss, and so on: In Trumpworld, numbers are what you want them to be, and anything else is fake news. But the truth is that unwarranted arrogance about economics isn’t Trump-specific. On the contrary, it’s the modern Republican norm.
- Paul Krugman, On Economic Arrogance, NYT, FEB. 20, 2017



It was not just Mr. Trump’s debunked claim about how many people attended his inauguration, or his insistence (contradicted by his own Twitter posts) that he had not feuded with the intelligence community, or his audacious and evidence-free claim that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote only because millions of people voted for her illegally.

All week long, news organizations chased down one Trump tall tale after another. ... The Philadelphia Inquirer found that Mr. Trump was incorrect when he said the city’s murder rate was “terribly increasing.” (The murder rate has steadily declined over the last decade.) The indefatigable fact checkers at The Washington Post cataloged 24 false or misleading statements made by the president during his first seven days in office.

But for students of Mr. Trump’s long business career, there was much about President Trump’s truth-mangling ways that was familiar: the mystifying false statements about seemingly trivial details, the rewriting of history to airbrush unwanted facts, the branding as liars those who point out his untruths, the deft conversion of demonstrably false claims into a semantic mush of unverifiable “beliefs.” ...

Deception, dissembling, exaggeration — what Fortune magazine called his “astonishing ability to prevaricate” — has deep roots in Mr. Trump’s business career. In innumerable interviews over the years, Mr. Trump glibly inflated everything from the size of his speaking fees to the cost of his golf club memberships to the number of units he had sold in new Trump buildings. In project after project, he faced allegations of broken promises, deceit or outright fraud, from Trump University students who said they had been defrauded, to Trump condominium buyers who said they had been fleeced, to small-time contractors who said Mr. Trump had fabricated complaints about their work to avoid paying them.
- DAVID BARSTOW, ‘Up Is Down’: Trump’s Unreality Show Echoes His Business Past, NYT, JAN. 28, 2017




Peter Goodman's discussion of the trade deficit raises interesting issues:

In the world according to President Trump, trade deficits are among the clearest indication that Americans have become habitual chumps in the global marketplace. The United States sells fewer goods and services than it buys from the rest of the planet, and this is supposedly evidence that Americans are getting rolled. ...
But Mr. Trump’s portrayal of trade deficits entails crucial departures from economic reality. ...
Obsessing over the balance of trade with any single country misses all of that. It also distracts from the force that, by many accounts, is the real threat to employment: automation. The decisive problem facing American workers is that making more products has not translated into sufficient numbers of new jobs, leaving millions of people searching for full-time work at wages high enough to pay the bills.'' ...
In the case of the United States, trade deficits with the world have been a feature of economic life for more than three decades, a sweep of time that has seen economic booms, the worst downturn since the Great Depression and plenty of events in between. ...
The only thing one can say with certainty is that the deficit reflects how Americans have consumed more than they have been willing to save, purchasing from foreigners who have in turn invested in the United States. To the degree that this is a problem — and opinions vary — .... ...
The American trade deficit with the world contracted sharply in 2008 and 2009, but this was not the result of a sudden resumption of old-school saving. It reflected a cratering of consumer spending in the midst of the Great Recession. Calling that progress would be like applauding a nation gripped by famine for limiting its intake of saturated fats. ...
Politicians use trade deficits — money departing the nation! — as a handy, if flawed, explanation for why paychecks are inadequate. ...
Liberalized trade has proved punishing for lower-skilled factory laborers clustered in the American South and Midwest. Entire industrial communities have been upended by joblessness, mass foreclosure and attendant ills like substance abuse, domestic violence and depression.
But trade has proved a boon to bankers, executives and multinational corporations that harness low-wage labor in distant lands to make their products. ... American consumers have grown accustomed to low prices for clothing, shoes and other goods. ...
“Trump hugely mis-frames it,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, who is a persistent critic of trade deals. “We have U.S. companies that are hugely profiting by having access to low-cost labor in China. Portraying that China won and we lost is 180 degrees wrong. Factory laborers are the losers.”
- PETER S. GOODMAN, Behind Trump’s Trade Deficit Obsession: Deficient Analysis, NYT, APRIL 5, 2017




Difficulty Recognizing Reality Regarding Syria:

Scott Adams, the cartoonist who created Dilbert, wrote on his website on Thursday before the missile strike that the chemical weapons attack was a “manufactured event.”
- MATTHEW HAAG, Trump’s Far-Right Supporters Turn on Him Over Syria Strike, NYT, APRIL 7, 2017


According to the mainstream media – that has been wrong about almost everything for a solid 18 months in a row – the Syrian government allegedly bombed its own people with a nerve agent.

The reason the Assad government would bomb its own people with a nerve agent right now is obvious. Syrian President Assad – who has been fighting for his life for several years, and is only lately feeling safer – suddenly decided to commit suicide-by-Trump. Because the best way to make that happen is to commit a war crime against your own people in exactly the way that would force President Trump to respond or else suffer humiliation at the hands of the mainstream media. ...
I’m going to call bullshit on the gas attack. It’s too “on-the-nose,” as Hollywood script-writers sometimes say, meaning a little too perfect to be natural. This has the look of a manufactured event. ...
Watch now as the world tries to guess where Trump is moving military assets, and what he might do to respond. The longer he drags things out, the less power the story will have on the public. We’ll be wondering for weeks when those bombs will start hitting Damascus, and Trump will continue to remind us that he doesn’t talk about military options.

Then he waits for something bad to happen to Assad’s family, or his generals, in the normal course of chaos over there. When that happens on its own, the media will wonder if it was Trump sending a strong message to Assad in a measured way. Confirmation bias will do the rest.

- SCOTT ADAMS, The Syrian Gas Attack Persuasion, posted April 6, 2017 at 9:07 AM. On April 6 at 5:30 PM EST, America struck a Syrian airbase; Trump announced the strike at 9:43 PM EST. For timeline, see 63 Hours: From Chemical Attack to Trump’s Strike in Syria by MICHAEL D. SHEAR and MICHAEL R. GORDON, NYT, APRIL 7, 2017. For a different analysis of Assad's motive, see The Grim Logic Behind Syria’s Chemical Weapons Attack by ANNE BARNARD, NYT, APRIL 6, 2017.


Some political analysts are concerned about his seeming mental confusion, as Mr. Trump appears to be detached from reality and history....
- KEN DEROW, SWARTHMORE, PA., Letter to the Editor, NYT, MAY 2, 2017


And from the moment he took office, Mr. Trump has shown a despot’s willingness to invent his own version of the truth and to weaponize the federal government to confirm that version, to serve his ego and to pursue vendettas large and small.

When Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million votes, for instance, he created a Voter Fraud Task Force to back up his claim that the margin resulted from noncitizens voting illegally (the task force has done nothing to date). When there was no evidence for his claim that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower, Mr. Trump demanded that members of Congress put their work aside in order to dig up “facts” to support it.
- THE EDITORIAL BOARD, An Open Letter to the Deputy Attorney General, NYT, MAY 11, 2017


And — how else to put this? — he has waged war on truth. These days, any relationship between White House statements and accuracy seems coincidental.
- Nicholas Kristof, Is President Trump Obstructing Justice?, NYT, MAY 13, 2017





Trump has appointed Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach as vice chairman of the new Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Kobach is a notorious proponent of the misconception that voter fraud in America is a significant problem.

Academic studies regularly show — and most state election officials agree — that fraud is rare, and that the kind of fraud Republicans seek to address with voter ID laws is minuscule.

Mr. Kobach promised an impartial inquiry into election vulnerabilities during an interview on Friday, saying the commission would “go where the facts take us.” But in Kansas, the facts appear at best mixed, and critics say he is one of the most partisan and polarizing figures imaginable to preside over a fair inquiry on voter fraud.

Since taking office in 2011, he has persuaded the Kansas Legislature to enact some of the nation’s most rigorous voting restrictions and to give him special authority to enforce them. The result has been a campaign against supposedly unchecked voting fraud, particularly by immigrants.

Most fraud claims, however, have proved vaporous, and convictions are sparse — nine since 2015 and only one of them a foreigner — and placed a heavy burden on ordinary citizens. In striking down some of Kansas’ voting rules in 2016, a federal court said restrictive registration requirements had denied more than 18,000 Kansans their constitutional right to cast ballots.
- MICHAEL WINES and JULIE BOSMAN, Advocate for Tough Voting Rules to Steer Trump’s Elections Commission, NYT, MAY 14, 2017


Kobach appears to be deluded or dishonest; he fails to recognize reality or lacks respect for the truth. It would not be surprising to learn he was a poor student who transferred from a small college in Missouri to a community college in Florida, and wrote of his high school days,

"I was a frequent disruptive force in the classroom. One teacher wanted me out of his class so badly, he promised to give me a C minus if I didn't come to class, and threatened to give me an F if I showed up again. I finished my senior year with a 2.1 grade point average."


However, those descriptions apply to Kobach, but to Florida's U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. (the quote is from Marco Rubio, An American Son: A Memoir)

Kobach had a much more distinguished academic career:

He was a state champion debater in high school and class valedictorian. He made summa cum laude studying government (and heading the Republican Club) at Harvard, earned a Ph.D. in political science (and a place on the rowing team) at the University of Oxford and in 1995 earned a law degree (and was a law review editor) at Yale.
- MICHAEL WINES and JULIE BOSMAN, Advocate for Tough Voting Rules to Steer Trump’s Elections Commission, NYT, MAY 14, 2017

Serious disconnection from reality is not confined to the uneducated, but seems to be infecting some of the intellectually elite.


An LA Times series focuses on "three troubling traits" of President Trump, including:

His utter lack of regard for truth. Whether it is the easily disprovable boasts about the size of his inauguration crowd or his unsubstantiated assertion that Barack Obama bugged Trump Tower, the new president regularly muddies the waters of fact and fiction. It’s difficult to know whether he actually can’t distinguish the real from the unreal — or whether he intentionally conflates the two to befuddle voters, deflect criticism and undermine the very idea of objective truth. Whatever the explanation, he is encouraging Americans to reject facts, to disrespect science, documents, nonpartisanship and the mainstream media — and instead to simply take positions on the basis of ideology and preconceived notions.
- THE TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD, Our Dishonest President, LA Times, APRIL 2, 2017


Trump and his supporters aren't interested in looking at the truth. This is a period in history when voters choose to live in the darkness of wishful thinking about their situation by listening to the lies... that Trump will be their savior and allow them to continue living a dream.
- Gary Behun, comment on Paul Krugman, Trump’s Energy, Low and Dirty, NYT, MAY 29, 2017


In the middle of his speech trashing the climate accord, President Trump suddenly blurted out that his “tax bill is moving along in Congress.” This was something of a surprise since, A) there is no tax bill and, B) nothing is moving along in Congress.
- Gail Collins, Trauma, Taxes and Trump, NYT, JUNE 2, 2017


Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God's guidance; 15% say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process. ...
Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted May 3-6, 2012, with a random sample of 1,024 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
- Frank Newport, In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins, Gallup, JUNE 1, 2012



Gail Collins on America's president:

He has a minimal ongoing relationship with reality, let alone truth.
- Gail Collins, Trump Talks; America Trembles, NYT, JUNE 9, 2017



Daniel Duane on Alex Honnold's acclaimed free solo ascent of El Capitan:

Reasonable people consider projects like these idiotic to the point of outrage.
- Daniel Duane, El Capitan, My El Capitan, NYT, JUNE 9, 2017


As a political historian who writes mainly about the Republican Party, I’ve often puzzled over why far-right groups during the 1950s and ’60s had such an appetite for obvious falsehoods. Robert Welch Jr., a founder of the John Birch Society, famously maintained that President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, was “a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy.”
- GEOFFREY KABASERVICE, The Great Performance of Our Failing President, NYT, JUNE 9, 2017


“We live in a country where we can’t even agree on a basic set of facts,” said Dan Harris, an ABC news correspondent and “Nightline” anchor....
- ALEX WILLIAMS, Prozac Nation Is Now the United States of Xanax, NYT, JUNE 10, 2017


Of course, Watergate unfolded in a much simpler time in the media industry.

There were three major news networks and PBS... and a political dynamic in which leaders duked it out by day and dined together at night. They did so on a solid foundation of agreed-upon facts and a sense of right and wrong that was shared if not always followed.

The Trump-Russia scandal is breaking during a time of informational chaos, when rival versions of reality are fighting for narrative supremacy.
- Jim Rutenberg, In Watergate, One Set of Facts. In Trump Era, Take Your Pick., NYT, JUNE 11, 2017


A pro-Trump activist notorious for his amateur sleuthing into red herrings like the “Pizzagate” hoax and a conspiracy theory involving the murder of a Democratic aide, Mr. Posobiec wrote on May 17 that Mr. Comey, the recently ousted F.B.I. director, had “said under oath that Trump did not ask him to halt any investigation.” ...
It mattered little that Mr. Comey had said no such thing. The tweet quickly ricocheted through the ecosystem of fake news and disinformation on the far right, where Trump partisans like Mr. Posobiec have intensified their efforts to sow doubt about the legitimacy of expanding investigations into Trump associates’ ties to Russia.

But as the journey of that one tweet shows, misinformed, distorted and false stories are gaining traction far beyond the fringes of the internet. ...
In this fragmented media environment, the spread of false information is accelerated and amplified by a web of allied activist-journalists with large online followings, a White House that grants them access and, occasionally, a president who validates their work. The right-wing media machine that President Bill Clinton’s aides once referred to as “conspiracy commerce” is now far more mature, extensive and, in the internet age, tough to counter. ...
Once Mr. Posobiec pushed the send button on Twitter, the conservative media machinery kicked into gear. Later that day, Breitbart News published an account of Mr. Comey’s May 3 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee under the headline “Comey Under Oath: ‘Have Not Experienced Any Requests to Stop FBI Investigations.’”
- JEREMY W. PETERS, A Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theorist, a False Tweet and a Runaway Story, NYT, JUNE 10, 2017


“I will say that never has there been a president, with few exceptions — in the case of F.D.R. he had a major Depression to handle — who’s passed more legislation, who’s done more things than what we’ve done,” Mr. Trump told a cabinet meeting as reporters looked on. ...

Mr. Trump has yet to sign any major legislation since taking office. ...

After his introductory remarks on Monday, the president went around the table asking for a statement from each cabinet member. One by one, they said their names and paid tribute to Mr. Trump, describing how honored they were to serve in his administration as he nodded approvingly.
- JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, Trump Boasts of ‘Record-Setting’ Pace of Activity, NYT, JUNE 12, 2017



President Trump on global warming:

As a businessman, President Trump was a frequent and scornful critic of the concept of climate change. In the years before running for president, he called it “nonexistent,” “mythical” and a “a total con job.” ...

“Global warming has been proven to be a canard repeatedly over and over again,” he wrote on Twitter in 2012. In another post later that year, he said, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” A year later, he wrote that “global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!” ...
As he opened his presidential campaign, he told Hugh Hewitt, the conservative radio host, that the weather changed naturally over time and that there was not a major problem. “I’m not a believer in global warming,” he said. “I’m not a believer in man-made global warming.”

- PETER BAKER, Does Donald Trump Still Think Climate Change Is a Hoax? No One Can Say, NYT, JUNE 2, 2017


“There’s no relationship between what we’re seeing in the real world and what the Trump administration is doing in terms of energy policy,” said David Victor, a chairman of the Brookings Institution’s Energy Security and Climate Initiative and a professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego. ...
Meantime, Mr. Perry offered an unconventional option for reviving the coal market. “Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand,” Mr. Perry said during his West Virginia visit. “You put the supply out there, and demand will follow.”

The remark, which went viral on social media, was widely derided by economists as at odds with the basic principles of economics — that supply follows demand, not the other way around.
- CORAL DAVENPORT, Perry Praises ‘Clean Coal,’ but Trump Administration Policies Don’t Promote It, NYT, JULY 18, 2017


In Hong Kong, where Bannon went in 2005 to put together a licensing deal involving the video game World of Warcraft, he discovered the teeming community of gamers, millions of “intense young men…who disappeared for days or even weeks at a time in alternate realities.” ...
One lesson was: if you have the dirt, go with it. A second was, if you don’t have it, make it up, since “narrative truth” outweighed “factual truth,” as a former Breitbart writer later explained.
- Sam Tanenhaus, The Making of the Tabloid Presidency, New York Review of Books, AUGUST 17, 2017 [review of Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, by Joshua Green]


It isn’t easy to sort fact from fabrication in the government’s case, and parts of Mr. Ipek’s account of his own life sound nearly as far-fetched. Truth is a slippery, elusive concept in today’s Turkey, a place where the definitions of basic words, like “ally” and “traitor,” keep changing.
- DAVID SEGAL, Turkey Sees Foes at Work in Gold Mines, Cafes and ‘Smurf Village’, NYT, JULY 22, 2017


...I continue to look at the scriptures today for fulfillment and for guidance. Indeed, it is an incontrovertible fact that all the complex and horrendous questions confronting us at home and worldwide have their answer in that single book.
- Ronald Reagan, in Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, 2013, video on Netflix, 53:00


Much more than the other billion or so people in the developed world, we Americans believe—really believe—in the supernatural and the miraculous, in Satan on Earth, in reports of recent trips to and from heaven, and in a story of life’s instantaneous creation several thousand years ago. ...
By my reckoning, the solidly reality-based are a minority, maybe a third of us but almost certainly fewer than half. Only a third of us, for instance, don’t believe that the tale of creation in Genesis is the word of God. Only a third strongly disbelieve in telepathy and ghosts. Two-thirds of Americans believe that “angels and demons are active in the world.” More than half say they’re absolutely certain heaven exists, and just as many are sure of the existence of a personal God—not a vague force or universal spirit or higher power, but some guy. A third of us believe not only that global warming is no big deal but that it’s a hoax perpetrated by scientists, the government, and journalists. A third believe that our earliest ancestors were humans just like us; that the government has, in league with the pharmaceutical industry, hidden evidence of natural cancer cures; that extraterrestrials have visited or are visiting Earth. Almost a quarter believe that vaccines cause autism, and that Donald Trump won the popular vote in 2016. A quarter believe that our previous president maybe or definitely was (or is?) the anti-Christ. According to a survey by Public Policy Polling, 15 percent believe that the “media or the government adds secret mind-controlling technology to television broadcast signals,” and another 15 percent think that’s possible. A quarter of Americans believe in witches. Remarkably, the same fraction, or maybe less, believes that the Bible consists mainly of legends and fables—the same proportion that believes U.S. officials were complicit in the 9/11 attacks. ...
The great unbalancing and descent into full Fantasyland was the product of two momentous changes. The first was a profound shift in thinking that swelled up in the ’60s; since then, Americans have had a new rule written into their mental operating systems: Do your own thing, find your own reality, it’s all relative.

The second change was the onset of the new era of information. Digital technology empowers real-seeming fictions of the ideological and religious and scientific kinds. Among the web’s 1 billion sites, believers in anything and everything can find thousands of fellow fantasists, with collages of facts and “facts” to support them. ...
Not long before Esalen was founded, one of its co-founders, Dick Price, had suffered a mental breakdown and been involuntarily committed to a private psychiatric hospital for a year. His new institute embraced the radical notion that psychosis and other mental illnesses were labels imposed by the straight world on eccentrics and visionaries, that they were primarily tools of coercion and control. This was the big idea behind One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, of course. And within the psychiatric profession itself this idea had two influential proponents, who each published unorthodox manifestos at the beginning of the decade—R. D. Laing (The Divided Self) and Thomas Szasz (The Myth of Mental Illness). “Madness,” Laing wrote when Esalen was new, “is potentially liberation and renewal.” Esalen’s founders were big Laing fans, and the institute became a hotbed for the idea that insanity was just an alternative way of perceiving reality.

These influential critiques helped make popular and respectable the idea that much of science is a sinister scheme concocted by a despotic conspiracy to oppress people. Mental illness, both Szasz and Laing said, is “a theory not a fact.” ...
Roszak spends 270 pages glorying in the younger generation’s “brave” rejection of expertise and “all that our culture values as ‘reason’ and ‘reality.’ ” ...

During the ’60s, large swaths of academia made a turn away from reason and rationalism as they’d been understood. Many of the pioneers were thoughtful.... The problem was the nature and extent of their influence.... That is, they inspired half-baked and perverse followers in the academy, whose arguments filtered out into the world at large: All approximations of truth, science as much as any fable or religion, are mere stories devised to serve people’s needs or interests. Reality itself is a purely social construction, a tableau of useful or wishful myths that members of a society or tribe have been persuaded to believe. The borders between fiction and nonfiction are permeable, maybe nonexistent. The delusions of the insane, superstitions, and magical thinking? Any of those may be as legitimate as the supposed truths contrived by Western reason and science. The takeaway: Believe whatever you want, because pretty much everything is equally true and false.

These ideas percolated across multiple academic fields. In 1965, the French philosopher Michel Foucault published Madness and Civilization in America, echoing Laing’s skepticism of the concept of mental illness; by the 1970s, he was arguing that rationality itself is a coercive “regime of truth”—oppression by other means. Foucault’s suspicion of reason became deeply and widely embedded in American academia.
Meanwhile, over in sociology, in 1966 a pair of professors published The Social Construction of Reality, one of the most influential works in their field. Not only were sanity and insanity and scientific truth somewhat dubious concoctions by elites, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann explained—so was everything else. The rulers of any tribe or society do not just dictate customs and laws; they are the masters of everyone’s perceptions, defining reality itself. ...
A more extreme academic evangelist for the idea of all truths being equal was a UC Berkeley philosophy professor named Paul Feyerabend. His best-known book, published in 1975, was Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge. ...
In the ’60s, anthropology decided that oracles, diviners, incantations, and magical objects should be not just respected, but considered equivalent to reason and science. If all understandings of reality are socially constructed, those of Kalabari tribesmen in Nigeria are no more arbitrary or faith-based than those of college professors. ...
Even the social critic Paul Goodman, beloved by young leftists in the ’60s, was flabbergasted by his own students by 1969. “There was no knowledge,” he wrote, “only the sociology of knowledge. They had so well learned that … research is subsidized and conducted for the benefit of the ruling class that they did not believe there was such a thing as simple truth.” ...
The notion of an immense and awful JFK-assassination conspiracy became conventional wisdom in America. [This seems untrue.] ... Within a few decades, the belief that a web of villainous elites was covertly seeking to impose a malevolent global regime made its way from the lunatic right to the mainstream. ...
Relativism became entrenched in academia—tenured, you could say. Michel Foucault’s rival Jean Baudrillard became a celebrity among American intellectuals by declaring that rationalism was a tool of oppressors that no longer worked as a way of understanding the world, pointless and doomed. In other words, as he wrote in 1986, “the secret of theory”—this whole intellectual realm now called itself simply “theory”—“is that truth does not exist.”
This kind of thinking was by no means limited to the ivory tower. ... The distinction between opinion and fact was crumbling on many fronts. ...
For most of the 20th century, national news media had felt obliged to pursue and present some rough approximation of the truth rather than to promote a truth, let alone fictions. With the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine, a new American laissez-faire had been officially declared. If lots more incorrect and preposterous assertions circulated in our mass media, that was a price of freedom. ...
A search for almost any “alternative” theory or belief seems to generate more links to true believers’ pages and sites than to legitimate or skeptical ones, and those tend to dominate the first few pages of results. ...
Do you believe that “a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government”? Yes, say 34 percent of Republican voters, according to Public Policy Polling. ...
For a while, Republican leaders effectively encouraged and exploited the predispositions of their variously fantastical and extreme partisans. Karl Rove was stone-cold cynical, the Wizard of Oz’s evil twin coming out from behind the curtain for a candid chat shortly before he won a second term for George W. Bush, about how “judicious study of discernible reality is … not the way the world really works anymore.” ...
“The problem is that Republicans have purposefully torn down the validating institutions,” the political journalist Josh Barro, a Republican until 2016, wrote last year. “They have convinced voters that the media cannot be trusted; they have gotten them used to ignoring inconvenient facts about policy; and they have abolished standards of discourse.” ...
In 2008, three-quarters of the major GOP presidential candidates said they believed in evolution, but in 2012 it was down to a third, and then in 2016, just one did. That one, Jeb Bush, was careful to say that evolutionary biology was only his truth, that “it does not need to be in the curriculum” of public schools, and that if it is, it could be accompanied by creationist teaching. ...
Before the emergence of Fantasyland, Trump’s various enterprises would have seemed a ludicrous, embarrassing, incoherent jumble for a businessman, let alone a serious candidate for president. ...
What connects them all, of course, is the new, total American embrace of admixtures of reality and fiction and of fame for fame’s sake. ...
Trump launched his political career by embracing a brand-new conspiracy theory twisted around two American taproots—fear and loathing of foreigners and of nonwhites. In 2011, he became the chief promoter of the fantasy that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, a fringe idea that he brought into the mainstream. ... He has also promised to make sure that “you will find out who really knocked down the World Trade Center.” And it has all worked for him, because so many Americans are eager to believe almost any conspiracy theory, no matter how implausible, as long as it jibes with their opinions and feelings. ...
The fact-checking website PolitiFact looked at more than 400 of his [Trump's] statements as a candidate and as president and found that almost 50 percent were false and another 20 percent were mostly false. ...
“Do you think that talking about millions of illegal votes is dangerous to this country without presenting the evidence?,” David Muir, the anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight, asked Trump in January.

“No,” he replied. “Not at all! Not at all—because many people feel the same way that I do.”
The idea that progress has some kind of unstoppable momentum, as if powered by a Newtonian law, was always a very American belief. However, it’s really an article of faith, the Christian fantasy about history’s happy ending reconfigured during and after the Enlightenment as a set of modern secular fantasies. It reflects our blithe conviction that America’s visions of freedom and democracy and justice and prosperity must prevail in the end. I really can imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into irreversible decline.... ...
Even as we’ve entered this long winter of foolishness and darkness, when too many Americans are losing their grip on reason and reality, it has been an epoch of astonishing hope and light as well. ... Since 1981, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty around the globe has plummeted from 44 percent to 10 percent. ...
It will require a struggle to make America reality-based again. Fight the good fight.... ...
We need to adopt new protocols for information-media hygiene.

- KURT ANDERSEN, How America Lost Its Mind, The Atlantic, SEPTEMBER 2017


We’re living in an age of anxiety. The country is being transformed by complex forces like changing demographics and technological disruption. Many people live within a bewildering freedom, without institutions to trust, unattached to compelling religions and sources of meaning, uncertain about their own lives. Anxiety is not so much a fear of a specific thing but a fear of everything, an unnamable dread about the future. People will do anything to escape it. ...
The age of anxiety inevitably leads to an age of fanaticism, as people seek crude palliatives for the dizziness of freedom. I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment — the Trump presidency and beyond — is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths. The intellectual virtues may seem elitist, but once a country tolerates dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness, then everything else falls apart.
- David Brooks, How to Roll Back Fanaticism, NYT, AUG. 15, 2017


Every sentence in the above paragraph describing the Cuban missile crisis is misleading or erroneous. But this was the rendition of events that the Kennedy administration fed to a credulous press; this was the history that the participants in Washington promulgated in their memoirs; and this is the story that has insinuated itself into the national memory—as the pundits’ commentaries and media coverage marking the 50th anniversary of the crisis attested.
Scholars, however, have long known a very different story: since 1997, they have had access to recordings that Kennedy secretly made of meetings with his top advisers, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (the “ExComm”). Sheldon M. Stern—who was the historian at the John F. Kennedy Library for 23 years and the first scholar to evaluate the ExComm tapes—is among the numerous historians who have tried to set the record straight. His new book marshals irrefutable evidence to succinctly demolish the mythic version of the crisis. ...
In the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy had cynically attacked Richard Nixon from the right, claiming that the Eisenhower-Nixon administration had allowed a dangerous “missile gap” to grow in the U.S.S.R.’s favor. But in fact, just as Eisenhower and Nixon had suggested—and just as the classified briefings that Kennedy received as a presidential candidate indicated—the missile gap, and the nuclear balance generally, was overwhelmingly to America’s advantage. ...
Only a handful of administration officials knew about the trade; most members of the ExComm, including Vice President Lyndon Johnson, did not. And in their effort to maintain the cover-up, a number of those who did, including McNamara and Rusk, lied to Congress. JFK and others tacitly encouraged the character assassination of Stevenson, allowing him to be portrayed as an appeaser who “wanted a Munich” for suggesting the trade—a deal that they vociferously maintained the administration would never have permitted.
Stern authoritatively concludes that “if RFK had been president, and the views he expressed during the ExComm meetings had prevailed, nuclear war would have been the nearly certain outcome.” He justifiably excoriates the sycophantic courtier Schlesinger, whose histories “repeatedly manipulated and obscured the facts” and whose accounts—“profoundly misleading if not out-and-out deceptive”—were written to serve not scholarship but the Kennedys.
- BENJAMIN SCHWARZ, The Real Cuban Missile Crisis, The Atlantic, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2013


In 1994 John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and a Watergate co-conspirator, confessed this to the author Dan Baum:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
- Charles M. Blow, The Other Inconvenient Truth, NYT, AUG. 17, 2017



In their report on Global Extreme Poverty, Roser and Ortiz-Ospina report that a 2013 survey found that 55% of people in the UK thought that in the last 30 years the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty had increased, and 33% thought the proportion had remained more or less the same; only 12% correctly thought that the proportion had decreased. (They indicate that in fact there was an enormous decrease, with a chart showing that over that 30 year period the percentage in extreme poverty declined from about 40% to about 10%.)
- Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina, Global Extreme Poverty, Our World In Data, 2017.

Days after Donald Trump pulled out his disorienting win, Zuckerberg told a tech conference that the contention that fake news had influenced the election was “a pretty crazy idea,” showing a “profound lack of empathy” toward Trump voters.

But all the while, the company was piling up the rubles and turning a blind eye as the Kremlin’s cyber hit men weaponized anti-Hillary bots on Facebook to sway the U.S. election. Russian agents also used Facebook and Twitter trolls, less successfully, to try to upend the French election. ...
Hillary is right that this $500 billion company has a lot to answer for in allowing the baby-photo-sharing site to be turned into what, with Twitter, The Times’s Scott Shane called “engines of deception and propaganda.”
- Maureen Dowd, Will Mark Zuckerberg ‘Like’ This Column?, NYT, SEPT. 23, 2017


“I just don’t know what to believe anymore,” said Ana Patricia Baliño, a 38-year-old accountant in Buenos Aires. “Everyone seems to be lying.”
- DANIEL POLITI, As Argentine Elections Approach, Two Disturbing Mysteries Loom, NYT, SEPT. 30, 2017


“I don’t know why the president tweets out things that are not true,” he said. “You know he does it, everyone knows he does it....
- JONATHAN MARTIN and MARK LANDLER, Bob Corker Says Trump’s Recklessness Threatens ‘World War III’, NYT, OCT. 8, 2017


Can you recall a single time when Mattis has said something outright untrue? I can’t. That’s how he has retained his dignity in the eyes of so many people.

[Chief White House economic adviser] Cohn and [Treasury secretary] Mnuchin have started to risk theirs. ...
In the early stages of promoting Trump’s tax cut, they have made a series of statements that are blatantly false — not merely shadings of truth or questionable claims but outright up-is-down falsehoods mocked by various fact-checkers.
- David Leonhardt, Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin Risk Their Reputations, NYT, OCT. 9, 2017


There has always been a disturbing strand of anti-intellectualism in American life... but never has an occupant of the White House exhibited such a toxic mix of ignorance and mendacity, such lack of intellectual curiosity and disregard for rigorous analysis....

“The experts are terrible,” Donald Trump said during his campaign. “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” It is hardly surprising, then, that his administration is over-stocked with know-nothing fundamentalists. Across the board, he has appointed amateurs who are hostile to science and sport obscurantism as a badge of honor. ... The contempt for evidence-based research was immediately apparent in Trump’s original wish list of budget proposals, which would significantly defund the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health, and even the Census Bureau.
- Ariel Dorfman, Trump’s War on Knowledge, New York Review of Books, Oct. 12, 2017


During the ’60s, large swaths of academia made a turn away from reason and rationalism as they’d been understood. Many of the pioneers were thoughtful, their work fine antidotes to postwar complacency. The problem was the nature and extent of their influence at that particular time, when all premises and paradigms seemed up for grabs. That is, they inspired half-baked and perverse followers in the academy, whose arguments filtered out into the world at large: All approximations of truth, science as much as any fable or religion, are mere stories devised to serve people’s needs or interests. Reality itself is a purely social construction, a tableau of useful or wishful myths that members of a society or tribe have been persuaded to believe. The borders between fiction and nonfiction are permeable, maybe nonexistent. The delusions of the insane, superstitions, and magical thinking? Any of those may be as legitimate as the supposed truths contrived by Western reason and science. The takeaway: Believe whatever you want, because pretty much everything is equally true and false.

These ideas percolated across multiple academic fields. In 1965, the French philosopher Michel Foucault published Madness and Civilization in America, echoing Laing’s skepticism of the concept of mental illness; by the 1970s, he was arguing that rationality itself is a coercive “regime of truth”—oppression by other means. Foucault’s suspicion of reason became deeply and widely embedded in American academia.
Meanwhile, over in sociology, in 1966 a pair of professors published The Social Construction of Reality, one of the most influential works in their field. Not only were sanity and insanity and scientific truth somewhat dubious concoctions by elites, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann explained—so was everything else. The rulers of any tribe or society do not just dictate customs and laws; they are the masters of everyone’s perceptions, defining reality itself. ...
A more extreme academic evangelist for the idea of all truths being equal was a UC Berkeley philosophy professor named Paul Feyerabend. His best-known book, published in 1975, was Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge. “Rationalism,” it declared, “is a secularized form of the belief in the power of the word of God,” and science a “particular superstition.” In a later edition of the book, published when creationists were passing laws to teach Genesis in public-school biology classes, Feyerabend came out in favor of the practice, comparing creationists to Galileo. Science, he insisted, is just another form of belief. “Only one principle,” he wrote, “can be defended under all circumstances and in all stages of human development. It is the principle: anything goes.” ...
Over in anthropology, where the exotic magical beliefs of traditional cultures were a main subject, the new paradigm took over completely.... ... In the ’60s, anthropology decided that oracles, diviners, incantations, and magical objects should be not just respected, but considered equivalent to reason and science. If all understandings of reality are socially constructed, those of Kalabari tribesmen in Nigeria are no more arbitrary or faith-based than those of college professors. ...
Even the social critic Paul Goodman, beloved by young leftists in the ’60s, was flabbergasted by his own students by 1969. “There was no knowledge,” he wrote, “only the sociology of knowledge. They had so well learned that … research is subsidized and conducted for the benefit of the ruling class that they did not believe there was such a thing as simple truth.” ...
Even the social critic Paul Goodman, beloved by young leftists in the ’60s, was flabbergasted by his own students by 1969. “There was no knowledge,” he wrote, “only the sociology of knowledge. They had so well learned that … research is subsidized and conducted for the benefit of the ruling class that they did not believe there was such a thing as simple truth.” ...
Within a few decades, the belief that a web of villainous elites was covertly seeking to impose a malevolent global regime made its way from the lunatic right to the mainstream. Delusional conspiracism wouldn’t spread quite as widely or as deeply on the left, but more and more people on both sides would come to believe that an extraordinarily powerful cabal—international organizations and think tanks and big businesses and politicians—secretly ran America. ...
... in the late ’60s, a convicted thief and embezzler named Erich von Däniken published Chariots of the Gods?, positing that extraterrestrials helped build the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, and the giant stone heads on Easter Island. That book and its many sequels sold tens of millions of copies, and the documentary based on it had a huge box-office take in 1970. Americans were ready to believe von Däniken’s fantasy to a degree they simply wouldn’t have been a decade earlier, before the ’60s sea change. ...
...by the 1980s, things appeared to have returned more or less to normal. ...

The sense of cultural and political upheaval and chaos dissipated—which lulled us into ignoring all the ways that everything had changed, that Fantasyland was now scaling and spreading and becoming the new normal. ...
Relativism became entrenched in academia.... Michel Foucault’s rival Jean Baudrillard became a celebrity among American intellectuals by declaring that rationalism was a tool of oppressors that no longer worked as a way of understanding the world, pointless and doomed. In other words, as he wrote in 1986, “the secret of theory”—this whole intellectual realm now called itself simply “theory”—“is that truth does not exist.”

This kind of thinking was by no means limited to the ivory tower. The intellectuals’ new outlook was as much a product as a cause of the smog of subjectivity that now hung thick over the whole American mindscape. After the ’60s, truth was relative... and everyone was permitted to believe or disbelieve whatever they wished. The distinction between opinion and fact was crumbling on many fronts. ...
America didn’t seem as weird and crazy as it had around 1970. But that’s because Americans had stopped noticing the weirdness and craziness. ...
For most of the 20th century, national news media had felt obliged to pursue and present some rough approximation of the truth rather than to promote a truth, let alone fictions. With the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine, a new American laissez-faire had been officially declared. ...
Before the web, cockamamy ideas and outright falsehoods could not spread nearly as fast or as widely, so it was much easier for reason and reasonableness to prevail. ... In the digital age... every... region of Fantasyland—every screwball with a computer and an internet connection—suddenly had an unprecedented way to instruct and rile up and mobilize believers, and to recruit more. False beliefs were rendered both more real-seeming and more contagious.... ...
Each click on a link is effectively a vote pushing that version of the truth toward the top of the pile of results.
Exciting falsehoods tend to do well... and become self-validating. ...
Before the web, it really wasn’t easy to stumble across false or crazy information convincingly passing itself off as true. ...
Starting in the 1990s, America’s unhinged right became much larger and more influential than its unhinged left. There is no real left-wing equivalent of Sean Hannity, let alone Alex Jones. Moreover, the far right now has unprecedented political power; it controls much of the U.S. government. ...
“I grew up reading Ayn Rand,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has said, “and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are.” It was that fiction that allowed him and so many other higher-IQ Americans to see modern America as a dystopia in which selfishness is righteous and they are the last heroes. “I think a lot of people,” Ryan said in 2009, “would observe that we are right now living in an Ayn Rand novel.” I’m assuming he meant Atlas Shrugged, the novel that Trump’s secretary of state (and former CEO of ExxonMobil) has said is his favorite book. It’s the story of a heroic cabal of men’s-men industrialists who cause the U.S. government to collapse so they can take over, start again, and make everything right. ...
“The problem is that Republicans have purposefully torn down the validating institutions,” the political journalist Josh Barro, a Republican until 2016, wrote last year. “They have convinced voters that the media cannot be trusted; they have gotten them used to ignoring inconvenient facts about policy; and they have abolished standards of discourse.” ...
The Christian takeover happened gradually, but then quickly in the end.... In 2008, three-quarters of the major GOP presidential candidates said they believed in evolution, but in 2012 it was down to a third, and then in 2016, just one did. ...
Donald Trump is a grifter driven by resentment of the establishment. He doesn’t like experts, because they interfere with his right as an American to believe or pretend that fictions are facts, to feel the truth. He sees conspiracies everywhere. He exploited the myths of white racial victimhood. ...
Just as the internet enabled full Fantasyland, it made possible Trump as candidate and president, feeding him pseudo-news on his phone and letting him feed those untruths directly to his Twitter followers. He is the poster boy for the downside of digital life. “Forget the press,” he advised supporters—just “read the internet.” After he wrongly declared on Twitter that one anti-Trump protester “has ties to isis,” he was asked whether he regretted tweeting that falsehood. “What do I know about it?” he replied. “All I know is what’s on the internet.” ...

Trump launched his political career by embracing a brand-new conspiracy theory twisted around two American taproots—fear and loathing of foreigners and of nonwhites. In 2011, he became the chief promoter of the fantasy that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, a fringe idea that he brought into the mainstream. Only in the fall of 2016 did he grudgingly admit that the president was indeed a native-born American—at the same moment a YouGov/Huffington Post survey found that a majority of Republicans still believed Obama probably or definitely had been born in Kenya. ...
The fact-checking website PolitiFact looked at more than 400 of his statements as a candidate and as president and found that almost 50 percent were false and another 20 percent were mostly false. ...
The idea that progress has some kind of unstoppable momentum, as if powered by a Newtonian law, was always a very American belief. However, it’s really an article of faith, the Christian fantasy about history’s happy ending reconfigured during and after the Enlightenment as a set of modern secular fantasies. It reflects our blithe conviction that America’s visions of freedom and democracy and justice and prosperity must prevail in the end. I really can imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into irreversible decline, heading deeper into Fantasyland. ...
Yet because I’m an American, a fortunate American who has lived in a fortunate American century, I remain (barely) more of an optimist than a pessimist. Even as we’ve entered this long winter of foolishness and darkness, when too many Americans are losing their grip on reason and reality, it has been an epoch of astonishing hope and light as well. ...
It will require a struggle to make America reality-based again. ... If you have children or grandchildren, teach them to distinguish between true and untrue.... ...
Progress is not inevitable, but it’s not impossible, either.
- KURT ANDERSEN, How America Lost Its Mind, The Atlantic, SEPTEMBER 2017 ["This article has been adapted from Kurt Andersen’s book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire—A 500-Year History, to be published in September by Random House."]



According to Yuval Harari, a Marxist approach to economics and history has become widely embraced:

In the twentieth century everybody from street urchins to presidents embraced a Marxist approach to economics and history.
- Yuval Harari, Homo Deus, p. 66 (Vintage, 2017; earlier published by Harvill Secker, 2016)


Meanwhile, Bret Stephens seems surprised that even progressives and academics can still take Marxism seriously:

Why is Marxism still taken seriously on college campuses and in the progressive press?
- Bret Stephens, Communism Through Rose-Colored Glasses, NYT, OCT. 27, 2017


I am quoting a few lines from “Red Famine,” Anne Applebaum’s brilliant new history of the deliberate policy of mass starvation inflicted on Ukraine by Joseph Stalin in the early 1930s. An estimated five million or more people perished in just a few years. Walter Duranty, The Times’s correspondent in the Soviet Union, insisted the stories of famine were false. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for reportage the paper later called “completely misleading.”
- Bret Stephens, Communism Through Rose-Colored Glasses, NYT, OCT. 27, 2017


Considered as a scholarly work, written by a college professor and published by a university press, Dean's book is symptomatic of a much deeper problem in American intellectual life. The problem is that a growing number of highly credentialed academics simply do not know how to think. Not what to think... but how to think. Rational argument is no longer the sine qua non of the advancement of propositions among educated people; indeed, rationality is seen in certain circles not as a method of getting at truth but as an instrument of oppression. As Dean writes: "Argument, thought by some to be an important part of the process of democracy, is futile, perhaps because democracy can bring about Holocaust."
- Mark Goldblatt, Learned Nonsense, reason.com, Mar. 1, 1999 [review of Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace, by Jodi Dean, Ithaca: Cornell University Press]


A New York University physicist, fed up with what he sees as the excesses of the academic left, hoodwinked a well-known journal into publishing a parody thick with gibberish as though it were serious scholarly work.

The article, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," appeared this month in Social Text, a journal that helped invent the trendy, sometimes baffling field of cultural studies. ...
The dispute over the article — which was read by several editors at the journal before it was published — goes to the heart of the public debate over left-wing scholarship, and particularly over the belief that social, cultural and political conditions influence and may even determine knowledge and ideas about what is truth. ...
Conservatives have argued that there is truth, or at least an approach to truth, and that scholars have a responsibility to pursue it. They have accused the academic left of debasing scholarship for political ends.

"While my method was satirical, my motivation is utterly serious," Professor Sokal wrote....

"What concerns me is the proliferation, not just of nonsense and sloppy thinking per se, but of a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking: one that denies the existence of objective realities," he wrote in Lingua Franca. ...
To a lay person, the article appears to be an impenetrable hodgepodge of jargon, buzzwords, footnotes and other references to the work of the likes of Jacques Derrida and Professor Aronowitz. Words like hegemony, counterhegemonic and epistemological abound.

In it, Professor Sokal wrote: "It has thus become increasingly apparent that physical 'reality,' no less than social 'reality,' is at bottom a social and linguistic construct; that scientific 'knowledge,' far from being objective, reflects and encodes the dominant ideologies and power relations of the culture that produced it." ...
Professor Ross said it would be a shame if the hoax obscured the broader issues his journal sought to address, "that scientific knowledge is affected by social and cultural conditions and is not a version of some universal truth that is the same in all times and places."
- JANNY SCOTT, Postmodern Gravity Deconstructed, Slyly, NYT, MAY 18, 1996


Facebook and Twitter are just a mirror, reflecting us. They reveal a society that is painfully divided, gullible to misinformation, dazzled by sensationalism, and willing to spread lies and promote hate. ...
Are Americans so easily duped? Or more alarming, did they simply believe what they wanted to believe?
In the last few months of the presidential campaign, a BuzzFeed News analysis concluded, fake news stories got more Facebook engagement than the most widely read stories from major news outlets. ... The real crisis is Americans’ inability or unwillingness to sift fact from fiction.... ...
Twitter could work harder to fight hate speech, but that wouldn’t solve other difficult problems like ideological echo chambers and a general dumbing down of the national conversation.... ...
Facebook’s algorithms may encourage echo chambers, but that’s because the company figured out what users want. ...
Antonio García Martínez, a former Facebook employee who helped create the company’s ad machine, observed that people feel addicted to Facebook, and then hate themselves and the company because of it. He noted that Facebook is extraordinarily skilled at increasing our addiction. Mr. García Martínez acknowledged in a Twitter exchange that yes, Facebook is effectively giving users what they want, but the question is whether to give it to them. Put another way, shouldn’t social media platforms try to make us eat our vegetables, even if we prefer to gorge ourselves on candy?
- EMILY PARKER, Silicon Valley Can’t Destroy Democracy Without Our Help, NYT, NOV. 2, 2017


On Wednesday, Puerto Rico officials, facing increasing questions about the accuracy of the official death toll from the storm, acknowledged for the first time that 472 more people died this September compared with the same month last year. The storm made landfall on Sept. 20. The government’s official death toll is 55.
- FRANCES ROBLES, Puerto Rico Deaths Spike, but Few Are Attributed to Hurricane, NYT, NOV. 8, 2017


On Wednesday, Mr. Summers was back at it, criticizing Mr. Mnuchin in a Politico podcast for suggesting that the tax plan currently being debated by Congress would not add to the federal deficit.

“There is a range of estimates that a reasonable and thoughtful person could have and then there are estimates that if you have them you can really only have them if you were ignorant to the subject or if you were being motivated by politics,” Mr. Summers said of Mr. Mnuchin in a Politico podcast that aired on Wednesday. “And I’m afraid the claims of Secretary Mnuchin that this would generate so much economic growth that it would pay for itself falls into that category.”

He added: “I’m not aware of so irresponsible an estimate coming from a Treasury secretary in the last 50 years.”
- ALAN RAPPEPORT, The New Washington Drama: Treasury Secretary Versus Treasury Secretary, NYT, NOV. 8, 2017


If the point of the Russian campaign, aided domestically by right-wing media, was to get people to think there is no such thing as knowable truth, the bad guys have won.

As we crossed the 300-day mark of Donald Trump’s presidency on Thursday, fact-checkers noted that he has made more than 1,600 false or misleading claims. ... At least five times a day, on average, this president says something that isn’t true.

We have a White House of lies because a huge percentage of the population can’t tell fact from fiction. But a huge percentage is also clueless about the basic laws of the land. ...

Nearly one in three Americans cannot name a single branch of government.
- Timothy Egan, We’re With Stupid, NYT, NOV. 17, 2017


Brexit advocates said leaving the European Union would allow the government to repatriate 350 million pounds a week from Brussels... and spend it on health care. It was a powerful promise, plastered in bold across the side of a campaign bus — but it was false: Britain pays only about £166 million a week net into the European budget and there was little chance that even a lesser amount would go solely to the N.H.S.

“It was clearly the most effective argument not only with the crucial swing fifth but with almost every demographic,” the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings, wrote in The Spectator earlier this year. “Would we have won without immigration? No. Would we have won without £350m/NHS? All our research and the close result strongly suggests No.”
- KATRIN BENNHOLD, Where Brexit Hurts: The Nurses and Doctors Leaving London, NYT, NOV. 21, 2017


Despite his public acknowledgment of the recording’s authenticity in the final days of the presidential campaign... Mr. Trump as president-elect began raising the prospect with allies that it may not have been him on the tape after all. ...
...shortly before his inauguration, Mr. Trump told a Republican senator that he wanted to investigate the recording that had him boasting about grabbing women’s genitals.
“We don’t think that was my voice,” Mr. Trump told the senator, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Since then, Mr. Trump has continued to suggest that the tape that nearly upended his campaign was not actually him, according to three people close to the president. ...
...Mr. Trump has persisted in denying allegations that he, too, made unwanted advances on multiple women in past years. In recent days, he has continued to seed doubt about his appearance on the “Access Hollywood” tape, stunning his advisers. ...
Mr. Trump’s falsehoods about the “Access Hollywood” tape are part of his lifelong habit of attempting to create and sell his own version of reality. Advisers say he continues to privately harbor a handful of conspiracy theories that have no grounding in fact.

In recent months, they say, Mr. Trump has used closed-door conversations to question the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. He has also repeatedly claimed that he lost the popular vote last year because of widespread voter fraud, according to advisers and lawmakers. ...
One Republican lawmaker... said that Mr. Trump’s false statements had become familiar to people over time. The president continues to boast of winning districts that he did not in fact win, the lawmaker said, and of receiving 52 percent of the women’s vote, even though exit polls show that 42 percent of women supported him. ...
He has claimed his signature building, Trump Tower in Manhattan, was several stories taller than it actually is. In his first book, “The Art of the Deal,” he conceded to employing what he called “truthful hyperbole.”
- MAGGIE HABERMAN and JONATHAN MARTIN, Trump Once Said the ‘Access Hollywood’ Tape Was Real. Now He’s Not Sure., NYT, NOV. 28, 2017


Nearly every claim Republicans are using to market their tax plan is at best a distortion, at worst a deliberate falsehood.
- Catherine Rampell, If the tax bill is so great, why does the GOP keep lying about it?, Washington Post, Nov. 13, 2017


On Thursday morning, The New York Times revealed that Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, has been lying for months about Republican tax plans. Mnuchin has repeatedly claimed the existence of a Treasury report that — unlike every independent, nonpartisan assessment — found that these plans would pay for themselves, increasing growth and hence revenues so much that the deficit wouldn’t rise. But there is no such report, and never has been; Treasury staffers weren’t even asked to study the issue.
- Paul Krugman, Republicans’ Tax Lies Show the Rot Spreads Wide and Runs Deep, NYT, NOV. 30, 2017


We represent a much larger number of concerned mental health professionals who have come forward to warn against the president’s psychological instability and the dangers it poses. We now number in the thousands.

We are currently witnessing more than his usual state of instability — in fact, a pattern of decompensation: increasing loss of touch with reality, marked signs of volatility and unpredictable behavior, and an attraction to violence as a means of coping. These characteristics place our country and the world at extreme risk of danger.
- BANDY X. LEE, Psychiatrists Warn About Trump’s Mental State, NYT, NOV. 30, 2017


He said it. “Grab ’em by the pussy.” ...
President Trump is currently indulging in some revisionist history, reportedly telling allies, including at least one United States senator, that the voice on the tape is not his. ...
In the days, weeks and months to follow, I was highly critical of the idea of a Trump presidency. The man who once told me — ironically, in another off-camera conversation — after I called him out for inflating his ratings: “People will just believe you. You just tell them and they believe you,” was, I thought, not a good choice to lead our country.
- BILLY BUSH, Billy Bush: Yes, Donald Trump, You Said That, DEC. 3, 2017


You thought Trump was just performing on that bus. The successful performer creates an alternate reality that the audience can escape into. That is exactly what Trump has done. You are just one unfortunate aspect of that alternate reality. About 1/3 of the nation has been sucked into it. They reject any and all information that would shatter that imaginary world. It's just too comfortable for them to stay there. They have nowhere else to go.

So they cling to their savior. He tells them what they want to hear. He will bring them salvation. In return for their entrance into prosperity, they ignore, dismiss and worst of all, reject all of the molestations and abuse he has committed.
- Bruce Rozenblit, Kansas City, MO, commenting on BILLY BUSH, Billy Bush: Yes, Donald Trump, You Said That, DEC. 3, 2017 (at the same url)


Trump is the very personification of gross and contemptible, but were Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld or Karl Rove ("Bush's Brain") any better?

The U.S. is suffering a paroxysm of soul-searching over an election that was 'probably' influenced by Russia and in which nobody has (yet) died. Yet there has been no serious attempt by the U.S. or any other nation to initiate an investigation into U.S. War Crimes that have resulted in over one million deaths, 10 million wounded and 50 million either displaced or abandoned to the elements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen; with the invasions and bombardments based on either free choice or gross miscalculation.

I wish the U.S. struggle for justice at home were applied equally to its foreign policy.

- Hamid Varzi, Tehran, commenting on Mueller’s Facts and Trump’s Make-Believe, NYT, DEC. 5, 2017 (at the same url)


The Times’s analysis found that in the 42 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm, 1,052 more people than usual died across the island. The analysis compared the number of deaths for each day in 2017 with the average of the number of deaths for the same days in 2015 and 2016.

Officially, just 62 people died as a result of the storm that ravaged the island with nearly 150-mile-an-hour winds, cutting off power to 3.4 million Puerto Ricans. The last four fatalities were added to the death toll on Dec. 2.
- FRANCES ROBLES, KENAN DAVIS, SHERI FINK and SARAH ALMUKHTAR, Official Toll in Puerto Rico: 62. Actual Deaths May Be 1,052., NYT, DEC. 8, 2017


So now we have a "really, really strong economy?"

The non-farm payroll numbers [non-farm payroll employment increased by 228,000 in November] are almost exactly what were reported month after month during Barack Obama's tenure (after the George W. Bush-caused meltdown began to abate). Then, however, the Republican chorus was that Obama was destroying the economy and that all we had during his presidency was anemic economic growth and poor job creation.

What nonsense. The liars on the right continue to fabricate their own reality and their blind followers buy every word of their fantasies.

Under Obama, non-farm job growth grew by an average of 199,000 per month once job growth went into positive territory, depending on your starting point (when he took over as president the economy was LOSING nearly 700,00 jobs per month).

In fact, over Obama's last 7 months, 1,375,000 jobs were created. During Trump's first 7 months 1,189,000 jobs were created, 186,000 FEWER than under Obama's last months in office.

So much for reality from the most dishonest administration in American history.''

- Steven Mt. Pleasant, S. C., in response to BEN CASSELMAN, Job Growth Signals Robust Economy, With Gain of 228,000, NYT, DEC. 8, 2017 [see data at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf ][as of 12/9/17, headline changed to "After 7 Years of Job Growth, Room for More, or Danger Ahead?"]


Economists almost universally say Mr. Trump has had little to do with the rebound, which began long before he was elected and has not accelerated meaningfully since he took office. But with unemployment low and wages beginning to creep upward, voters may be more inclined to give credit.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said on Friday that the jobs report was evidence that “President Trump’s bold economic vision continues to pay off.”
- BEN CASSELMAN, After 7 Years of Job Growth, Room for More, or Danger Ahead?, NYT, DEC. 8, 2017


In almost all the interviews, Mr. Trump’s associates raised questions about his capacity and willingness to differentiate bad information from something that is true. ...
Other aides bemoan his tenuous grasp of facts, jack-rabbit attention span and propensity for conspiracy theories. ...
Mr. Trump’s insistence on defining his own reality — his repeated claims, for example, that he actually won the popular vote — is immutable and has had a “numbing effect” on people who work with him, said Tony Schwartz, his ghostwriter on “The Art of the Deal.”
- MAGGIE HABERMAN, GLENN THRUSH and PETER BAKER, INSIDE TRUMP’S HOUR-BY-HOUR BATTLE FOR SELF-PRESERVATION, NYT, DEC. 9, 2017


Pressed by Congress and tax policy experts to prove the Trump administration’s claims that its $1.5 trillion tax cut would pay for itself by stimulating economic growth, the Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Policy released a one-page memo that shows it can’t do it.

It projects a budget surplus created by 2.9 percent annual growth in gross domestic product over 10 years — that’s more than 50 percent faster than the most recent forecast by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. ...
No other analysis — not from Congress, bipartisan tax policy groups, economists, past Republican Treasury secretaries — supports these claims. Instead, most experts say the bill would add at least $1 trillion to the debt. ...
While Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was publicly claiming that more than 100 people in the office were “working around the clock on running scenarios for us” on the economic impact of the tax cuts, career tax experts inside the office said that they had been largely shut out of the process and that such an analysis didn’t exist.
- THE EDITORIAL BOARD, Mr. Mnuchin’s Magical Math on Taxes, NYT, DEC. 11, 2017


Some analysts say Mr. Trump’s success at creating an alternative reality and disparaging an adversarial media both copies and augments the tactics of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, noting that Mr. Putin’s propagandists “create a barrage of fake facts” on politically sensitive topics such as the conflict in Ukraine in order to sow public cynicism and uncertainty. Russia and China also create “positive” fake news on social media to inspire patriotism at home.

“People accept these versions or are confused by them, unclear as to what is correct,” said Mr. Lloyd, author of “The Power and the Story: The Global Battle for News and Information.”
- STEVEN ERLANGER, ‘Fake News,’ Trump’s Obsession, Is Now a Cudgel for Strongmen, NYT, DEC. 12, 2017


Mr. Schumer’s decision to file a police report is a new tactic to fight personal smears and the spread of fake news. It comes at a moment when activists have tried to feed news organizations false information in hopes of getting it published.
Last month, a woman with ties to a right-wing activist group tried to convince The Washington Post that she had been impregnated by Roy S. Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate from Alabama. The Post had written a series of stories about sexual assault and child molestation accusations against Mr. Moore. The newspaper found numerous inconsistencies in her story and concluded that she was part of an effort to undercut the earlier reports by convincing reporters to publish untrue accusations.
- EILEEN SULLIVAN, Schumer Files Police Report After Fraudulent Document Emerges, NYT, DEC. 13, 2017



On the New York Times Op-Ed page, Dec. 13, 2017 (National Edition, p. A27):

1) Thomas Friedman states that the Republican party has lost its mind:

The G.O.P. has totally lost its mind and soul.
- Thomas Friedman, Political Parties or Tribes, NYT, Dec. 13, 2017


2) Professor of English Jennifer Boylan speaks favorably of how her favorite Christmas movie's leading character distances himself from reality, saying, for instance,

“Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.”

She seems to support his preference for pleasantness to smartness:

“Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world... you can be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.
- Jennifer Finney Boylan, My Favorite Holiday Movie Involves a Giant Rabbit, NYT, DEC. 12, 2017


3) Frank Bruni writes that

From the time he commenced his bid for the White House to the present, Trump has encouraged people to reject inconvenient and unsettling facts, dwell in an idealogical reality of their own customization and regard America as a pitched battle between beleaguered guardians of vanishing traditions and the scheming, condescending agents of globalism and multiculturalism. ...
Moore, his aides and his surrogates waged a post-truth campaign for the post-truth era, vilifying mainstream journalists as much as they did his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.
- Frank Bruni, Moore is Trump's Spawn, NYT, Dec. 13, 2017, National Edition, p. A27 (not available online; it appears to have been replaced following Moore's defeat with Thank Heaven for . . . Alabama?


An editorial on the preceding page, after describing the attacks of Fox News propagandists on special prosecutor Robert Mueller as "insane", states that

When the propagandists say, “Get rid of Mueller,” it’s not the truth they’re trying to protect; it’s Mr. Trump himself. Any genuine interest in objective reality left the building a while ago, replaced by a self-sustaining fantasyland. If it’s hard to understand how roughly three-quarters of Republicans still refuse to accept that Russia interfered in the 2016 election — a fact that is glaringly obvious to everyone else, including the nation’s intelligence community and Mr. Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson — remember that a majority of the same people continue to believe that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
- THE EDITORIAL BOARD, Fox News v. Robert Mueller, NYT, DEC. 12, 2017 (Dec. 13th National Edition, p. A26)


A substantial part of the American public seems to have lost interest in ideas, therefore in substantive controversy. This worrisome depletion has affected the whole of society, universities included. ...
To be painfully candid, I consider a great part of what is offered to students as intellectual discourse, at least in the humanities and social sciences, to be a sort of higher twaddle. This so-called learning, most recently “theory,” seems harmless in so far as it has no meaning outside the classroom, or beyond the journals and conferences that sustain it and establish the hierarchy of its practitioners. But it is deeply harmful in that it wastes time and teaches students to think and write badly, to master as they can the terms and assumptions of twaddle. ...
Obviously, it is not possible to consider our competence in the skills of democracy, logic, and argument, for example, without reference to the way we educate ourselves. When we have grave public issues to debate, post-deconstructionism is no help at all. This is not the case because only an elite is fluent in it, but because no one is fluent in it.
- Marilynne Robinson, Year One: Rhetoric & Responsibility, NY Review of Books, November 14, 2017


“We’re going to easily see 4 percent growth next year,” the National Economic Council director, Gary D. Cohn, said. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, declared the tax plan would generate enough growth to more than pay for its $1.5 trillion cost.

But those pronouncements are at odds with estimates from the former employer of both men, Goldman Sachs. The bank projected that the tax bill will add just three-tenths of 1 percent of growth in the next two years, before its impact peters out.

The firm’s annual growth estimate of 2.5 percent for 2018 matched the one issued this week by the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, while the latest median Wall Street forecast hovered close by. And in 2019, growth is expected to drop to 1.8 percent, Alec Phillips, chief United States political economist for Goldman, said Wednesday after the Senate vote.

“We note that the effect in 2020 and beyond looks minimal and could actually be slightly negative,” the company said in a recent published summary. ...
“The clear consensus among independent economists is that the impact of the tax cuts on growth is nowhere close to what the administration is talking about,” said Mr. Desai of Harvard.
- PATRICIA COHEN, In Tax Overhaul, Trump Tries to Defy the Economic Odds, NYT, DEC. 20, 2017


“We’re deluged with information even as pressure has grown to make snap decisions,” Professor Partnoy said. “People see a TED talk. They hear this amazing story of a 30-something-year-old woman with a wonder procedure. They see the Cleveland Clinic is on board. A switch goes off and they make an instant decision that everything is fine. You see this over and over: Really smart and wealthy people start to believe completely implausible things with 100 percent certainty.”
- JAMES B. STEWART, The Narrative Frays for Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes, NYT, OCT. 29, 2015


“One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.”
- Barack Obama, quoted by CEYLAN YEGINSU, When Harry Met Barry: The BBC Obama Interview, NYT, DEC. 27, 2017


Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama by telephone on Sunday that after speaking with Mr. Putin she was not sure he was in touch with reality, people briefed on the call said. “In another world,” she said.
- PETER BAKER, Pressure Rising as Obama Works to Rein In Russia, NYT, MARCH 2, 2014


“These are the info wars,” said Robert J. Brulle, a Drexel University professor of sociology and environmental science who has studied climate advocacy and misinformation. “It’s becoming harder and harder for the individual to find unbiased information that they can trust, because there’s so much other material trying to crowd that space.” ...
The climate denial ads on Google come amid a wider effort — backed by wealthy conservatives, fossil fuel companies and right-wing think tanks — to discredit the prevailing science on global warming and to prevent action. ...
The proliferation of climate disinformation, both online and off, has coincided with an effort to undermine measures to combat climate change. Republican leaders regularly question climate science and President Trump has called climate change a hoax. He announced plans to withdraw from the global Paris accord on climate change and is aggressively rolling back environmental regulations.

Fewer than a third of registered Republicans nationwide say that climate change is caused mostly by human activities, according to a new study published in the journal Climatic Change by researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara, Yale University and Utah State University.
- HIROKO TABUCHI, How Climate Change Deniers Rise to the Top in Google Searches, NYT, DEC. 29, 2017


“We now have a model that can generate faces that are more diverse and in some ways more realistic than what we could program by hand,” he said....

But new concerns come with the power to create this kind of imagery.

With so much attention on fake media these days, we could soon face an even wider range of fabricated images than we do today.

“The concern is that these techniques will rise to the point where it becomes very difficult to discern truth from falsity,” said Tim Hwang, who previously oversaw A.I. policy at Google.... ...

In August, a group at the University of Washington made headlines when they built a system that could put new words into the mouth of a Barack Obama video. ...
The results are not completely convincing. But the rapid progress of GANs and other techniques point to a future where it becomes easier for anyone to generate faux images or doctor the real thing.
- CADE METZ and KEITH COLLINS, How an A.I. ‘Cat-and-Mouse Game’ Generates Believable Fake Photos, NYT, JAN. 2, 2018


The president no longer seems to be able to distinguish between truth and fiction.
- BARRY BERKE, NOAH BOOKBINDER and NORMAN L. EISEN, Did Trump Obstruct Justice?, NYT, JAN. 5, 2018


No one knows what might come next. Europe has entered the unknown.

In 1929, as it happened, people entered a murderous decade without even knowing.

“That’s what’s so eerie looking back,” said James Hawes, a historian and author of The Shortest History of Germany. “Right up to 1931-32, no one realized what was about to happen. They thought they were just entering another decade.”

What might future historians write about the Europe of 2018?

Antony Beevor, author of a numerous best-selling history books, is pessimistic. The moral dilemmas of the future will undo European liberal democracy, he predicts. The migration crisis of 2015 was only a foretaste of what is to come.

“Future waves of migration are inevitable and Europe is their main destination,” Mr. Beevor said, pointing to the disruptive forces of poverty and climate change in developing countries as the main reasons.
- Katrin Bennhold, Can Europe’s Liberal Order Survive as the Memory of War Fades?, NYT, Nov. 10, 2018


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