That truth should be silent I had almost forgot.
Antony and Cleopatra,  Act 1, Scene 2

Unsilent Truth
February 6, 2017

The interrogation of Kellyanne Conway

“Alternative facts”? Send her to Room 101!


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Over and over, people keep making fun of the Trump administration's "alternative facts," and frankly ... I shall never forgive them for forcing me to defend Kellyanne Conway.

Heaven and all the saints know that the lies and enormities of politicians and their surrogates are as common as cell phones and pieces of furniture. We should be able to cite them and object to them with words and lampposts without having to create any charges from whole cloth or even synthesizing them from the materials they give to us of their bounty. And I do not relish the need to clarify what should not need clarification, or to defend Trump's Eteocles against NBC's Polynices.

I refer, of course, to the now–annoyingly famous exchange between Chuck Todd (a grown-up, despite the cute name) and Kellyanne Conway (also a grown-up, despite the cute name). "Why did President Trump choose yesterday to send out his press secretary to essentially litigate a provable falsehood, when it comes to a small and petty thing like Inaugural crowd size?" Todd asked Conway on NBC's "Meet the Press," on January 22.

Conway was, of course, according to the conventions governing these shows, evasive in her first answer. And her second. And her third. And Todd simply would not let up. Over and over, with ingratiating smile and Leonard Bernstein-like gestures, he demanded of her, "You didn't answer my divinely inspired question in terms that my superior wisdom, Thomistic judiciousness, and smug erudition require of you." Okay. He didn't actually say that. But you get the point.

Objection the first: When did the word "litigate" escape the judicial context to become a word to be applied to any disagreement no matter how (dare I say it?) "petty"? The next time I ask Strakon to indent the paragraphs of my Unsilent Truth columns, will I be litigating his decision? Even though I do it without an attorney and without attempting to dive into the deep pockets of TLD and demanding reparations?

Objection the second: If it was so petty, why harp on it so? Why was Todd being such a bulldog with a bone about so "small" a matter? May we suspect that it was because it really was the only bone he was able to scrounge up?

Initially I heard it on the radio, and it became simply painful. It was painful because Conway was so apparently determined to be polite and evasive (as, I have indicated, we have grown to expect political surrogates on the Sunday talk shows to be). What was especially grating was Todd's repeated use of the phrase "provable falsehoods" in the endless reiterations of his question. When has Todd ever used such a phrase to anyone on his show about the obvious and easily refuted lies, evasions, and misrepresentations of a press secretary? When was the last time anyone at NBC demanded proof of anything? or even broadcast any evidence that he knew what a proof might look like?

And may I say that I am affronted by the faux attachment to the mantle of truth the media are attempting to claim for themselves. I have no doubt that the fabrications of Donald Trump and his campaign were but a prelude to what we can expect from his administration. But I simply refuse — now and for the next four years — to believe that what the major media have to say about them will be true. They are, after all, the same people who lied to us throughout the campaign about Hillary Clinton's poll numbers and about the violence at Trump rallies. They are the same people who refused to send any of their award-winning investigative teams after any of the scandals (too numerous to list here) of Hillary Clinton or the crimes of the IRS or ... no, I can't do it. It's just exhausting. You would think that the boundless deceptions of the last eight years that the media left untouched were merely the good-natured tales of a Will Rogers or a Mark Twain.

Of course, the so-called women's movement was silent on the obvious bullying by a man, who imagines himself to be an opinion-shaping powerhouse, of a woman. Their delicate sensibilities were not constructed for non-leftist women such as Conway. Is "bullying" too strong a word? Well, just try to imagine Chuck Todd's grilling someone like John McCain in a similar way. Or Donald Rumsfeld. Or any of Barack Obama's press secretaries. Go ahead: just try it.

In her attempt to keep the discussion civil and to suggest mildly to Todd that she thought his approach was not watering the gardens of press–White House relationships, Conway said that in response to claims by the major media, press secretary Sean Spicer had given (ouch!) "alternative facts."

Even over the radio, I could almost smell Todd's endocrine system give way, as a broken dam releasing a flood of dopamine and other pheromones of delight. And all the media have since employed the term as it were a balm to the inflamed nerve endings so sandpapered by the electoral loss of Hillary Clinton. At last they had something to feed their hunger for bile.

I am not going to get into the discussion of the crowds at the Inauguration, whether the photos for Trump were morning photos and the Obama photos were afternoon photos and all that. But it was perfectly obvious what Conway meant and what she needed to say: "We have facts that dispute your claims." That's it. Nothing more. Nothing phantastical. Nothing even Orwellian.

Just a simple, "We disagree with your assertions. They are not provable. And your reporting is not immune to disagreement or dispute."

That's it. Is there a soul in the world who cannot see it?

What am I saying? Of course there is. Because we have entered a stage in the Decline of the West in which people cannot so much as repeat an argument of a side they disagree with, not even 35 seconds after it has been made. We live in an age in which rational discourse has given way to shouting obscenities, jeering, and flinging "gotcha" excrement. The terms, conventions, and methods of rational discourse and disagreement are no longer valued, and like all unvalued intellectual achievements they have simply been forgotten. And since now everyone is pretending to have rediscovered Orwell (would that they did read him! but they would probably find his prose as difficult as a treatise on optics by Huygens), let us say anyone who looks for those achievements will discover that he has found his way into a Memory Hole.

Well, that's what happens when you try to be nice to people who don't want to be nice. Miss Conway, please do me a kindness, and do not make it necessary for me to do this again. Ω

February 6, 2017

Published in 2017 by WTM Enterprises.

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