Sheila Markin is a former Assistant US Attorney. She helps people to understand in plain English what is going on in US politics today. Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss a post!
We live in a post-truth world. Or so it is said. I am not s
o sure I agree. What we are dealing with right now is a “World According to Trump” and the fact that his followers believe in him and his strident, highly emotional but hopelessly un-tethered-to-reality statements does not convince me that truth is dead. I think truth and facts still matter. But not to everyone. Not to people who need Trump or want Trump to succeed
. Our president may himself not always recognize the difference between his own truth and lies. He creates his own convenient reality and then believes it. He creates the alternate universe he wants and then insists that those around him support that Alice in Wonderland creation. When they refuse to do so, they get fired. The Emperor has no clothes but who is going to be brave enough to tell him? Who will risk being fired next? Then again, who wants the emperor to help him get what he wants to get – a tax bill for the rich, re-election, a higher level position in the government? Trump is a powerful guy.
A good example is the whole Ronny Jackson incident. Dr. Ronny Jackson first pleased the president by supporting him in his fantasy world that he is not obese. He apparently lied about the president’s weight so that Trump would NOT have a BMI that made it obvious (if you believe in facts) that he falls in the obese category. He claimed that Trump was 6 ft 3 inches tall and 239 pounds putting him just under the obese classification. That has been widely disputed. Leaked information about Trump’s actual weight came out recently putting his weight over 10 pounds heavier and an inch or two shorter. But Jackson pleased Trump when he said all those great things about him and his amazing “genes” and how he might live to be 200 if he ate fewer cheeseburgers. But if Dr. Jackson were testifying under oath in a court of law we would have gotten the actual numbers for Trump’s height and weight. Jackson, like Trump, and like his core followers want certain things to be true to please Trump so they say certain things are true without factual support. Then they defend their positions using alternate facts or alternate reality and are emotionally invested in believing they are right. But that does not make these facts right or accurate. People who are not delusional do know the difference. People like Sarah Sanders and Kelly-Anne Conway do not seem to be delusional, but to live with this fantasyland president, they must defend him, make up excuses for him and twist themselves into knots in front of the press if they hope to keep their jobs with this man.
The law requires proof and hard evidence. In criminal law the prosecutor has to prove mens rea (intent). To convict someone you have to have evidence of intent. You also have to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt. And you have to rely on facts. Let’s say someone wants to kill someone else. Let’s say he even talks about wanting to kill someone else and dreams about killing that person. Can he be convicted of killing that person? No. Can he be convicted of attempted murder? No. Wishing does not make it so. There is a certain reality that can only be denied if you are delusional. When it comes to the law, facts matter. Evidence matters.
As a criminal prosecutor in federal court, I was often amazed by the alternate reality that the defense would argue when we tried the case I had prepared. Given the same facts, they would create a grand scheme or a paranoid fantasy that often included allegations that the prosecutor (me) was cooking the books, was doctoring the evidence or in some other way had it out for the defendant. I knew for a fact that that was not so because I had prepared the case and knew the evidence and the agents who worked on the case to develop the evidence. The defenses you get in criminal cases sound a lot like the defenses we are hearing now from conspiracy theorists trying to support Trump. Conspiracy theories are the defense of choice when the facts and the truth tell a different story, the accurate story. They are a defense of last resort.
Today, paranoid conspiracy ideation is pervasive on the Internet and on Fox News with Sean Hannity, and with Alex Jones and others. That does not mean they have killed the truth. It means these folks are shouting loudly on a variety of platforms and some people are buying it. Alex Jones claimed that the mass murder at an elementary school was fake until he got sued. Then suddenly he changed his tune and snapped back to the real world. Law suits have a way of re-affirming reality.
Why do people buy fake news? They are buying it because it feels good, or it makes them hopeful, or they want to please the emperor. But I think this emperor has elements of being both crazy like a fox and crazy like your delusional old grandpa who vehemently hates foreigners because they are rapists or thinks that Jeff Bezos is his arch enemy or insists he is really not the weight he actually is or any of the hundreds upon hundreds of other lies we have been getting with Trump.
I think we are going to find out some day that Trump is in fact at least partially delusional. He may have early Altzheimer’s or incipient delusional disorder. Some people say Dr. Ronny Jackson did everyone a big disservice by failing to do a full competency exam on Trump. But Trump would never ever allow a full study to be done on him. In his more self-aware moments Trump probably knows how out of touch he is and how he is manipulating reality to suit his needs. He wouldn’t want that to come out.
Jackson did what he did to keep his job. He did what pleased Trump. He certainly knew better, but he was using Trump to get ahead as so many Republicans are doing as well. After all, Trump is powerful, the leader of our country, and his syncophants join with him in this fantasyland he creates because denial is a powerful defense or they must do it to keep their jobs. But that does not mean that the truth is dead. It means that people will sell their souls to the devil if they think that will help them get ahead in life.
I believe the truth will come out about Trump and his buddies and the facts will be presented wherever the law touches his fantasy world. This will happen as the Cohen case matures and as the Muller probe continues. The defense will be fantasyland and conspiracy theories. Some people will choose to believe those defenses. We are seeing those defenses take shape even now. But the truth will come out. And when it does, there are going to be a lot of people who will be caught on the wrong side of history because they supported this semi-delusional president’s alternate reality.