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The facts aren’t everything

<p>Robertson Hall, home of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.</p>
<h6>Photo Credit: Zane R. / <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodrow_Wilson_School_of_Public_and_International_Affairs#/media/File:Woodrow_Wilson_School_of_Public_and_International_Affairs_-_Robertson_Hall.jpg" target="_self">Wikimedia Commons</a></h6>

Robertson Hall, home of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

Photo Credit: Zane R. / Wikimedia Commons

It’s easy to chortle dismissively at the verbal incompetence of Donald Trump. From his slurred words to his haphazard rants, he perfectly embodies the ineptness and bombast that liberal institutions have come to associate not only with him, but more generally with a lack of proper credentials and senatorial composure.

For the guardians of respectability in academia and the media, Trump’s misanthropic temperament and compulsive dishonesty are his greatest faults. But these vices do not have the significance that a mainstream discourse of civic normality desperately tries to ascribe to them. Furthermore, the people given a platform to berate Trump should hesitate to throw stones, residing as they do, not only in a glass house, but indeed in one that is on the verge of tipping over and shattering.


The authority imbued by credentials from esteemed institutions is not the only thing under assault by a cultural strain that mistakenly casts Trump as its champion of the alienated. Facts themselves, we are told, are under attack and in need of the most hyper and vigilant rhetorical defense. This presupposes, of course, that reality is uniquely biased in favor of liberalism; even when the facts are “on the side” of Trump’s liberal detractors, this mindset remains disturbing.

It is perfectly true that Trump regularly makes things up, and he is indifferent to the truth at best. But the elevation of fact-checking to the status of an intellectual deity does the public discourse no favors.

This is, first and foremost, because of the selective character and inherent bias of fact-checking agencies. Imagine that you support or are in some sense sympathetic to a particular point of view, and the most prominent person seeming to advocate it is daily assigned “Pinocchio” by some pointy-headed nitpick. It’s not just that there is such a thing as a contested fact; the recent caucuses in Iowa alone are evidence of that.

This is a question, even more so, of narrative and emphasis. Sure, maybe my guy got a number or two wrong, but is that really what we’re focusing on here, when the entire discourse on an issue such as healthcare has been based on outright falsification?

The pedantic wiles of evasive technocrats are cold comfort, even when contrasted with the harsh toxicity of Donald Trump. The reliance on technicalities in the heat of political conflict comes up short from strategic and substantive perspectives alike.

But the liberal fetish for itemized facts is questionable not only by virtue of neglecting their context. It is additionally betrayed by the very elite who rely on them and preach their unambiguous merits. It is no less absurd to say that Sanders inadequately supported Clinton in 2016 than it is to say that Trump’s inauguration crowd was the largest of its historic kind. Yet liberals regularly indulge the former fantasy and demean the latter one; they are guided more by ideology than by any disinterested devotion to fact. They tend to have no real, existential stake in the matter; others cannot say the same. The construct of democratic civility illustrates this point nicely.


When Trump recently dubbed Michael Bloomberg “Mini Mike,” this was, of course, hilarious. I myself am likely shorter than Bloomberg, yet I can recognize the difference between Trump’s mockery of his wealthier opponent and his more vicious attacks on less well-connected adversaries. Bloomberg exemplifies the decadence of the ruling class more so than his equally childlike tormentor. Perhaps standing on a box, though, will help him stand up to Trump. Will he be standing on a box? Of course not; this is fiction created by Trump. And yes, I’m perfectly comfortable referencing it, regardless. Deal with it.

There are some who would argue that, in the context of our media environment, facts and poise are goods in themselves. This is not wholly wrong. But the height of virtue and professionalism is not exemplified by a couple of oligarchs treating one another with artificial respect in order to convince the nation of our collective ethical altitude. Moreover, it is the very institutions that claim to espouse the exposure of truth that tend to degrade and distort it, much to the disservice of the social system that relies on them.

I recall that about a year and a half ago, I sat across the table in Robertson Hall from a friend who coined the phrase “Voxification of American culture.” I responded, of course, with the mirth that this wonderful critique deserved. Facts, I do not deny, have their place and usefulness. But the liberals who are repudiated by a disillusioned public do not get to lay claim to them perpetually, and even where they’re right, they’d be well-advised to check their pretentious attitude — if not for the sake of Trump, then for the persuasion of those who regard him in a positive light.

Braden Flax is a junior from Merrick, N.Y. He can be reached at bflax@princeton.edu.

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