Prior to the Trump Administration, the term “alternative facts” was not used as a means to sugarcoat lies. Alternative facts were used primarily by lawyers to describe the facts of a case that could be suitable to use to support either outcome of a case. In this context, alternative facts actually have a valid purpose. However labeling a lie as an alternative fact is simply pathetic and incorrect. Where are the MythBusters when you need them?
As the Counselor to the President, KellyAnne Conway kickstarted this trend when she attempted to defend White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer when he lied about the crowd turnout at Trump’s inauguration. It was immature—although not unexpected of someone affiliated with Trump’s Administration—of her to not hold Spicer accountable for his actions. Yet, once again, this administration chose to continue justifying their poor judgement and wrongful action as something that is acceptable by labeling them as alternative facts.
Opinions should not be mistaken for, or equated to, alternative facts. A “fact” is rooted in truth and is usually a static statement. Although the truth is something that may need to be proven, it is not something that can be easily altered once it is. So when throwing the word “alternative” in front of it, it takes away from the legitimacy of a claim. It just sounds like an overly fancy way to avoid saying something is outright false.
While it may have been initially embarrassing for Conway to admit Spicer was wrong, it could have been resolved and eventually forgotten about. It exposed a lot about the character within this administration and reduces their credibility. A crowd turnout is not even worth lying about in the first place and neither is protecting a lie about it.
In this day and age, it would seem fair to assume that we have an ethical understanding of the value of truth. To support Conway’s idea of the alternative fact is a slap in the face to education and history—especially when it is coming from individuals who are on one of the highest platoforms in running a country. An important role of both educators and historians is to seek out truth and inform others of it. It is discomforting, especially when in an institution of higher education, to hear degree-holding individuals in power attempt to use alternative facts rather than admitting fault. The truth should not have to be altered in an attempt to protect an image that is already problematic. Conway’s decision to distort the truth by wrongfully utilizing “alternative facts” is a small example of the issue at large. This does not contribute to the progress promised, but it definitely exemplifies why progress is needed.
Part of ensuring progress is addressing the issues and ways to improve. While Spicer’s and Conway’s actions may seem like something that we should just act like never happened, it really should have never occurred in the first place. If it were to go unaddressed, this is something that would become acceptable. In an era that relies on fact-checking to determine what is right or wrong, this incident with alternative facts is a reminder that everyone—regardless of what platform they are on—should be held accountable. If the inaugural crowd turnout was deemed worthy to be lied about, what other lies can we expect from this administration?