The totalitarian Soviet Union where I grew up tried to dominate the truth, to distort it and control it. Reality was whatever the Party put out on the nightly news, or in the official newspapers, Pravda, which means “Truth” and Izvestia, which means “News.”
It was increasingly obvious back then, even to communist true believers, that what we were being told didn’t match the world we saw around us. As the joke went, “there is no news in the truth and no truth in the news.” Eventually the disparity between truth and lies became too great; life wasn’t improving and more and more information was making it through the Iron Curtain. Denying reality became too grave an insult to our dignity, an underestimated ingredient in the spirit of revolution.
I have lived through several world-changing upheavals. I’m a post-Soviet citizen; the country of my birth ceased to exist in 1991. We enjoyed less than a decade of tenuous freedom in Russia before Vladimir Putin launched its post-democratic phase. My ongoing attempts to fight that tragedy led to my exile in the United States. Now my new home finds itself locked in its own perilous battle — a battle to avoid becoming the latest member of the post-truth world.
President Donald Trump and his Republican defenders in Congress have followed his lead in declaring war on observed reality. Critical reports are “fake news,” journalists reporting the facts are “enemies of the people,” a phrase of Vladimir Lenin’s, debunked conspiracy theories are repeated, and public servants testifying under oath about documented events are dismissed as Never Trumpers.
Unable to change the facts, Trump and his supporters instead try to shift the debate into an alternate universe where the truth is whatever they say it is today. [Continue reading…]