Truth or consequences? “When I use a word,” says Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” In other words, anything he wants it to mean. Prescient. Today words are abused and truth has become so debased that no one believes anything anymore.
It started off Art Linkletter-like: Politicians say the darnedest things. You know—the definition of “is,” uranium yellowcake, if you like your doctor, the size of inauguration crowds. Facebook and Twitter now have truth squads trying to discern truths from fakes. Good luck with that. The Post-Truth Era not only has arrived; in three short months, we’ve descended into the depths of dishonesty dysfunction.
Even numbers. Now 2.2 million = 150,000? Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson helped force much of the world into lockdowns with his forecast of 2.2 million U.S. deaths. He assumed 268 million of Americans, or 81%, would be infected. So far it’s 2.3 million. As Bob Uecker would say, “Juuust a bit outside.” Mr. Ferguson then put the hip in hypocritical, having his married girlfriend break the stay-at-home order he inspired.
The White House was also math-challenged. Its “15 Days to Slow the Spread” quickly became 30. Which is it? We flattened the curve, and a quarter of the economy. No matter, we’re now on day 90, quarantine crazy and hankering for haircuts.
The World Health Organization declared in March that you don’t need to wear masks, probably because of the world-wide shortage. California now requires them, even outside. Again, which is it? Whacked in the head so many times with untruths, you stop believing anyone.
OK, those were emergency conditions, where anyone could make mistakes. Except, except—our leaders continue to be the worst offenders. “Follow the science!” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti declared residents could only use the “wet sand” part of the beach to go swim. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said dry sandy beaches are fine but swimmers would be “taken right out the water.” Not very scientific.
The unhealthy behavior of 250 maskless anti-lockdown protesters in Lansing, Mich., was deemed “abhorrent.” Two weeks later, thousands protesting for social justice on the streets of major cities were given a hall pass. If it weren’t for double standards, there wouldn’t be any standards at all.
It’s gotten worse. New York changed the rules to minimize reported Covid deaths from nursing homes. Talking heads babbled about peaceful protesters while stores were on fire. NBC News’s “Verification Unit” does no such thing. (Formerly) respected reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones said that destruction of property “is not violence.” That’s obviously not true, but there it is.
The media’s reputation has imploded. The New York Times ran a 700-word article on the manhunt to track down a Bethesda, Md., biker who pushed to the ground young women putting up Black Lives Matter signs. Good, arrest him. I have yet to see arrest coverage anywhere of the guy I watched on CNN who drove up to the Chicago Lake Liquors store being looted in Minneapolis, put his hazards on so he wouldn’t get a ticket, loaded cases of liquor into his vehicle, and drove away—all with his license plate visible.
Everyone looks bad. In our nation’s capital, Park Police say “no tear gas was used”—except that some substances were released that made protesters’ eyes tear. And the tweeter-in-chief bunker visit was “more for an inspection.” Removing cobwebs? Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan claims the former Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (now called the Occupied Protest, or CHOP) is “more like a block party.” C’mon down for the funnel cakes, just ignore the graffiti and AR-15-toting warlord.
James Clapper repeated for years on cable TV that there was Russian meddling in the 2016 election, after stating under oath in July 2017 to Rep. Adam Schiff and others that “I never saw any direct empirical evidence.” That’s pretty cut and dry. Their morals disappear. A disgrace. Do we want guests on cable channels to be sworn in? Maybe.
We need words to mean something. Climate change watered down the word “existential” (as in threat—build an ark!). “Holistic” (as in admissions) is almost meaningless. “Systemic,” “implicit” and even “defund” are more diluted every day.
I call it the Zinnification of discourse, named for the Marxist and anarchist—with the Matt Damon movie shoutout—whose history textbook presents a twisted and discredited version of the U.S. But it fits a popular narrative, so it’s still used in many high schools.
I don’t know, maybe this is all someone’s master plan. Sow enough seeds of doubt and we lay folk will look for salvation. The cool kids like to use the term gaslighting, a slow psychological torture of people until they question their own sanity. Slow? It took only 15 days of pandemic panic to slow the spread of truth. Words need meaning. But don’t expect it from the Humpty Dumptys in today’s politics and media.