“Lies Are Seldom Completely Harmless, And Often Very Dangerous”

Fake news is a term that only recently entered the vernacular with the 2016 Presidential election, but Fox News has been selling just that for more than 20 years, overtly trying to imprison the truth inside a fog.

The GOP has headed further down this rabbit hole over time, but it buried itself–and the country, perhaps–with the rise of Trump, a candidate who ran a fact-free campaign. Traditional Republicans initially tried to distance themselves from the demagogue, fearing he would do long-term damage to their cause, but they had for decades prepped the party faithful for his arrival, peddling coded prejudice and bitter partisanship, even opportunistically embracing Tea Party nihilism.

After Trump’s unlikely Electoral College victory, his sociopathy and Steve Bannon’s Breitbart bigotry are looked at by some conservatives as less important than tax cuts for the highest earners and the slicing of social safety nets. Meanwhile, democracy itself hangs in the balance, as the White House attempts to destabilize truth and facts, things we must pursue earnestly and nobly if we’re to have a decent society.

Writer Ursula K. Le Guin weighed in on “alternative facts” in a letter to The Oregonian:

A recent letter in The Oregonian compares a politician’s claim to tell “alternative facts” to the inventions of science fiction. The comparison won’t work. We fiction writers make up stuff. Some of it clearly impossible, some of it realistic, but none of it real – all invented, imagined —  and we call it fiction because it isn’t fact. We may call some of it “alternative history” or “an alternate universe,” but make absolutely no pretense that our fictions are “alternative facts.”

Facts aren’t all that easy to come by. Honest scientists and journalists, among others, spend a lot of time trying to make sure of them. The test of a fact is that it simply is so – it has no “alternative.”  The sun rises in the east. To pretend the sun can rise in the west is a fiction, to claim that it does so as fact (or “alternative fact”) is a lie.

A lie is a non-fact deliberately told as fact. Lies are told in order to reassure oneself, or to fool, or scare, or manipulate others. Santa Claus is a fiction. He’s harmless. Lies are seldom completely harmless, and often very dangerous. In most times, most places, by most people, liars are considered contemptible.

Ursula K. Le Guin, Northwest Portland•