Recently author Ursula K. Le Guin wrote a letter to The Oregonian rebutting a claim that “alternative facts” used by the Trump Administration were comparable to science fiction. As a lifelong fan of Le Guin, this reminded me of a revolutionary idea from one of her older books. Trump’s alternative facts can be seen as a logical extension of the falsehoods that Americans have come to accept but the level of his deception has led him to an elevated status.
Le Guin’s letter made it clear that fiction writers “make stuff up” in transparent ways in order to produce art through the use of imagination. Conversely, the alternative facts used by Trump and his minions are simply lies told to mislead people for personal or political gain. That is, fiction is not deception because it begins with the admission that what is said or written is not true. Unlike fiction, Trump’s alternative facts are presented as true but are simply lies that drive a political agenda. His obvious lies and unprecedented public animosity toward the mainstream media, intelligence agencies, and almost everyone else, appear to make Trump either a fool or a great agent of change.
This reminds me of Le Guin’s 1972 book The Word for World is Forest. In the book, Earth men attempt to take over another world in order to cut down the forests for wood. The people of that other world, called Athsheans, ultimately fight back against their enslavement and the pillaging of their world. The revolution is led and won by an Athshean man called Selver.
Both Selver and Davidson—the most brutal of the Earth men—were called gods by the Athsheans. Selver described why. “Sometimes a god comes,” Selver said. “He brings a new way to do a thing, or a new thing to be done. When he has done this, it is done. You cannot take things that exist in the world and try to drive them back into the dream, to hold them inside the dream with walls and pretenses. That is insanity. What is, is. There is no use pretending, now, that we do not know how to kill one another.”
Selver brought a new way of thinking and doing things by showing the Athsheans how to kill people when they were faced with slavery and the destruction of their world. Davidson brought a form of careless brutality and killing for personal gain that Athsheans had never seen before. Once these new ways of thinking were realized, there was no way to go back to an earlier, less violent mindset.
Similarly, it seems that Trump brings a new way of thinking, or more correctly, a way of not thinking. Although he is not the first politician to use deception to drive policy or the first to ask citizens to ignore his lies, he has raised the bar significantly. Trump’s lies are so obvious and absurd that they represent an unabashed mindlessness that has never been considered possible for a U.S. president. If he is successful in holding to a pattern of lies that require no reconciliation with fact, his new form of not thinking could become the norm for American society and the world. Therefore, Trump might be a god as defined in Le Guin’s book.
The fact checking website Politifact has shown that more than 70% of Trump’s public statements, and many other statements related to him, were false. Considering that the same statistic for Obama was only 26%, this is an astounding increase in presidential falsehoods.
Yet Trump’s unapologetic, bald-faced lying can be seen as merely the next step in an evolution of willful ignorance among Americans. That is, years of selective ignorance among large segments of the public have led to the possibility that Americans are ready and willing to be lied to about most everything. And it seems that Trump is ready to test that hypothesis.
Trump’s lies about terrorism demonstrate this well. He and his team lie constantly about threats of terrorism. They made up a “Bowling Green Massacre,” made false insinuations about Swedish terrorism, and claimed that Atlanta was the site of a recent major terrorist attack. Trump claimed that terrorism and terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe “have gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported.” To back up that claim, Trump posted a list of 78 murders and other crimes that had been previously reported, insulting victims’ families in the process.
When lying about terrorism, Trump does what both Bush and Obama did before him—he invokes the crimes of 9/11 as the starting point. Therein lies the root of the deception that Trump’s predecessors fostered and that he is simply manipulating to a mindless crescendo.
Even Le Guin appears to have been caught up in the deception that led to the Trump phenomenon. In her 2003 collection of short stories, Changing Planes, her author’s note talked about the misery of air travel and how it was not helped [after 9/11] by “bigots with beards in caves,” alluding to the myth of Osama bin Laden.
To be fair to Le Guin, in 2003 many people were not aware of the deceptions behind 9/11. Today, however, many Americans are aware of the falsehoods that make up the official accounts of the 9/11 crimes. We cannot forget the many lies about the air defenses that day and the claim that the U.S. military spent years lying to us in inexplicable ways. We know the World Trade Center was destroyed by explosive demolition and we are aware of many other facts about 9/11 that indicate that Americans must have been involved.
Those who are aware of the deception behind 9/11 see its power everyday. For example, we know that the mainstream media lies to us about 9/11 regularly. We also know that people who reveal deception in science cannot see the one most glaring example available today. We know that intelligence officers whose job it is to reveal when people are being deceptive in testimony cannot see the most obvious examples that relate to 9/11. These behaviors could be the result of intentional censorship but it is clear that a significant level of self-deception, and therefore self-censorship, is involved when it comes to the subject of terrorism.
Nonetheless, American’s fear of the truth behind 9/11 has led to a lack of interest in the subject and has allowed government-sponsored terrorism to become a fact of everyday life. Every year we see the same pattern of falsehoods surrounding terrorist acts and the same inability of media or government leaders to address the falsehoods. This has made it easy for Donald Trump to step up the deception.
Perhaps the next terrorist event will make Trump an emperor god and allow him to implement all of his oppressive and isolationist policies without objection. Even so he is not the kind of god that Ursula Le Guin wrote about because he has not brought us a new way of thinking. He has simply proposed elevating our society to a new height of mindlessness that is a natural extension of the path we have followed and accepted for years.
Kevin Ryan blogs at Dig Within.