Michael Chabon's latest book, Moonglow, begins with a disclaimer about the factual basis of his narrative, which represents, he says, "the truth as I prefer to understand it." Chabon, of course, is a novelist with a sense of humor; he makes things up. Those in the public sphere--political leaders and the media--do not.
In the political world now emerging under Donald Trump, facts and reason are somehow suspect. If a Republican disagrees with an assessment by a reputable Secretary of State (John Kerry), he is called a liar. If the incoming president does not like what the CIA reports, he rejects it as fake news.
Fact-checking the internet, as the editor of Snopes says, is seen by many conservatives as a left-wing conspiracy since everything in the media is not to be trusted, apparently, and reality itself seems up for grabs.
This is an Orwellian nightmare come to pass--lies are truth--and it's the most alarming and dangerous aspect of the Trump movement, which has apparently been in the works for some years as facts have become, for those who dislike them, a partisan issue.
The problem is that Americans no longer share the same mainstream sources of news (the major TV networks) since the social media and the diversity of cable news allow people to pick and choose where they get information. This means there is no shared, agreed upon standard of truth, of what is factual, and hence no basis for the trust on which the overall society is based.
Jeremy Peter, writing a few weeks ago in the New York Times, says that "fake news" has been expanding to include any facts that do not fit the right-wing ideology. He quotes a radio host, who said, "we've effectively brainwashed the core of our audience to distrust anything they disagree with." So all fact-checking reporters, trying to present a fair and balanced picture of reality, are challenged, and the result is mass confusion, chaos and distrust. The truth has, for some, become a matter of opinion.
I feel sorry for the people at Snopes, which for twenty years has been fact-checking urban legends of various kinds, since their efforts are now scoffed at in Tweets that have come to dominate the news.
What is real? What is true? To answer such vital questions, along with rationality, we turn to philosophers and other serious thinkers, not political hacks. Unless we agree on facts as the basis of what is real and true, how can we proceed as the world's leading nation? What is the basis of our trust?