2016 was a year of redefinition, a year that wrought the redrawing of power relationships, political battlegrounds, and the truth. As Donald John Trump strides sweepingly over popular protest and into office, number 45 looks set to continue a trend for normative upheaval well into, and beyond 2017. Here is a man who’ll not be content with rattling the cage, but only in hurling the whole thing out of a window.
In an apparent showcase of the Trump administration’s commitment to unorthodoxy, newbie press Secretary and Trumpian mouthpiece Sean Spicer presided over the first, ad-hoc, and abundantly tense media briefing on Saturday. A bizarre spectacle resembling more a chastisement than an exchange of important information. Mr Spicer, lambasting with a vigour that could’ve come straight from the horse’s mouth, rebutted the media on a smorgasbord of issues, including allegations of the removal of a bust of Dr King from the Oval Office, and on a shaky relationship between Mr Trump and the intelligence community. The seminal rejection of Spicer’s circus concerned the inauguration itself. Wielding D.C Metro travel statistics – which the Washington Travel Authority later confirmed to be entirely fabricated – the Press Secretary sought to double down on Trump’s non-acceptance of hard, photographic evidence, and material reality more broadly, in maintaining that the turnout for this particular swearing-in outdid that of outgoing commander-in-chief Barrack Obama in 2012.
In defence of a briefing that took no questions, political advisor and Trump 2017 strategist Kellyanne Conway dismissed signals of an emerging press hostility, maintaining that Mr Spicer was merely presenting a different narrative, so-called “alternative facts”.
What Trumpian pallbearers such as Spicer and Conway are presenting, is a new and troubling bipolarity. A contest between the Administration and free media, undercut by the personal insecurities of the President, one premised on misinformation, a device Trump renders “truthful hyperbole” in his ‘seminal’ The Art of the Deal. In presenting “alternative facts”, Sean Spicer transcends “truthful hyperbole”, paining a Whitehouse with its own, enclaved conception of reality; and it is this that is most dangerous.
Whether this dismissal of the free press is a temporary feature of a fledgling Administration already soured by scandalous allegations, or a more protracted assault on material reality, Trump is setting a dangerous precedent. One in which the debate-narrowing spheres of social media that so polarised a brutal election are able to permeate the highest echelons of power. We may be witnessing the constriction of media in foetal form, fed by the mutual mistrust of a man rendered as self-serving and deceitful by the press at large, and a free media composed of, according to the leader of the free world, “the most dishonest human beings on Earth”. A new binary is emerging, one that may amount to nothing less than a battle for reality.