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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Truth Decay

By Master Steve Rapport (Tax March SF) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Some highly respected scholars are warning that the public sphere is under serious threat -- from the shallow nature of social media, intentional foreign misinformation campaigns, lack of public agreement about basic facts and information, the blurring of the lines between opinion and fact -- and the persistent lying of Donald Trump.

Indeed, the Rand Corporation recently released a report warning that "truth decay," the term they adopt, "poses a direct threat to democracy." Rand authors assert that truth decay can cause "the erosion of political and civil discourse, political paralysis at the federal and state level, and increased risk of individual disengagement from political and civic life."

Next, consider the points recently made by Tom Nichols of the Naval War College, author of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. Among other concerns, he sees real trouble in the rise of social media and state actor (especially Russianbots:
“There is always a market for conspiracy theories, and social media reduces the barrier to entry for people who want to peddle them to near zero,” Tom Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and author of The Death of Expertise, told ThinkProgress. “Twitter, especially, is amenable to this, because you can mimic expertise in short bursts, and pretend to know things you could not possibly know, in a way you would never be able to sustain — or that would reveal the utter ludicrousness of your argument — if you had to make your points at greater lengths in a coherent, single article.... 
The negative effect here is that cynicism about information sources will increase as each of these waves [of conspiracy theorists] passes through,” Nichols said. “I think that’s actually the goal of some of the state actors dumping misinformation on the net: to exhaust the readers into paralysis, so that they believe nothing.”
Additionally, consider the following claims from Allan Lichtman, an American University History Professor who earned a measure of fame in fall 2016 for predicting that Donald Trump would win the presidency. In 2016, even as he was making his prediction, Lichtman warned that Trump posed a danger to America (and potentially to the accuracy of his prediction system):
[Trump]'s a bit of a maverick, and nobody knows where he stands on policy, because he's constantly shifting. I defy anyone to say what his immigration policy is, what his policy is on banning Muslims, or whoever, from entering the United States, that's certainly a factor. But it's more his history in Trump University, the Trump Institute, his bankruptcies, the charitable foundation, of enriching himself at the expense of others, and all of the lies and dangerous things he's said in this campaign, that could make him a precedent-shattering candidate.
Lichtman noted at the time that "the two candidates have been repeatedly fact-checked by independent sources, and his lies vastly outnumber hers [Hillary Clinton's]." Indeed, Lichtman predicted at the time that Trump would be impeached in office. He has subsequently authored a book The Case for Impeachment outlining 8 possible reasons for Trump's impeachment.

More recently, the scholar has extended his critique: “He [Trump] has shattered reality itself,” said Lichtman, the American University professor. “There is no such thing as reality in the world of Trump.”

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