“A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes truth.” — Joseph Goebbels

As Germany’s minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda during World War II, Joseph Goebbles knew how to shape public opinion to suit the whims of his boss. His modern-day analogue, White House consigliere Kellyanne Conway, is another master manipulator who is constantly shifting the goalposts of truth.

Shortly after the 2016 Presidential Election, Conway elevated the art of mass deception to new heights by insisting Donald Trump’s inauguration drew a larger crowd than any presidential inauguration in history. She dismissed press accounts to the contrary, then unleashed a rhetorical Sorcerer’s Apprentice by claiming to have “alternative facts” to support her claim.

Who drew the biggest crowd to a presidential inauguration? It’s a banal question, but there’s a principal at stake – honesty in public discourse – that’s worth defending.

Aerial photos and daily ridership figures from DC Metro clearly show previous presidents drew larger inaugural crowds, yet Conway brazenly insisted the opposite was true.

There were alternative facts, she said with a straight face, and those facts proved Trump drew the biggest crowd — ever.

“Ignorance is strength,” Big Brother proclaimed in George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, “1984.” If that’s the case, our nation has never been stronger.

Alternative facts, indeed.

The casual dismissal of incontrovertible facts about, say, rising temperatures on Planet Earth is now so common most of us are numb to it. We can disagree about the cause, but no one can plausibly dispute the data which show — beyond question — that surface temperatures are inexorably rising.

“Show us the data,” skeptics intone, breezily dismissing the data from tens of thousands of weather monitoring stations because, well, it is at-odds with self-affirming positions they already hold.

Willful ignorance is spreading across America like kudzu grass and its roots, not surprisingly, are in origin stories from the Bible.

OK class, it’s time for a pop quiz.

Q: How old is the Earth?

Ask a qualified geologist, and the unit of measure will be billions of years – around 4.5 billion.

But ask a biblical fundamentalist and the answer is around 6,000 years. Never mind the scientific analysis that shows the Earth’s age is measured in billions of years. According to the Bible, our planet is only 1,300 years older than its oldest living tree.

Which, of course, is nonsense. But don’t laugh, because plenty of people believe it.

Now take evolution.

Did Homo sapiens, as a species, emerge fully formed from God’s uterus?

Less than five years ago, the president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church announced that people who believe in evolution cannot call themselves Adventists. Either you’re with us, or you’re not.

I don’t mean to pick on President Ted Wilson, whose church has millions of followers; alphabetically, the Adventists are the first fundamentalist church I found in the phonebook.

Nor am I terribly concerned with what a shepherd tells his flock because origin stories from the Bible are pretty benign. Sure, God created the Earth in six days. Whatever.

If parents tell their kids to disregard what they’re being taught in science class, that’s their business. And not surprisingly, most children will stand with their parents rather than a seventh-grade science teacher.

Over the long haul, however, denial of basic, observable facts leads to a place where expertise no longer counts. Climate change? Never mind what those egg-headed “scientists” say, what do YOU think? If you don’t want to change your gas-guzzling ways, you can simply dismiss climate change as a hoax.

As Joseph Goebbles showed, and Kellyanne Conway confirmed, millions of gullible people can be led down the rabbit hole to a place where ignorance is strength. It’s an easy sell because, as Goebbles said, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes accepted as truth.”

Now what’s that you say? Is gravity just a theory?

What do YOU think?


William Brock lives in Pullman.

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