Why it’s so terrifying that team Trump is unhinged from verifiable scientific fact

Even conservative media say the weekend’s lies confirm “the tinpot-dictator, authoritarian” tendencies we feared in Trump.

On Saturday, President Trump went to CIA headquarters to tell the intelligence community he‘d rather hear lies than unpleasant truths. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
On Saturday, President Trump went to CIA headquarters to tell the intelligence community he‘d rather hear lies than unpleasant truths. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

On his first weekend in office, President Donald Trump made a brazen attack on easily verifiable facts to the CIA, the press, and the public. At the same time, his team launched a quieter attack on science itself, especially the science we need to preserve a livable climate for our children.

These two attacks are directly related, since science is the systematic analysis and organization of verifiable facts and knowledge “in the form of testable explanations and predictions” about our world.

It’s easy to normalize this behavior, since Trump ran a campaign based on lies. But he’s president now. The rejection of climate science — and the appointment of deniers to run the White House and key agencies like the EPA — is an existential threat to modern civilization.

The rejection of provable facts is an assault on democracy itself. If we can’t trust anything the administration says on any topic — from their intelligence reports on Russia’s activities to reports on labor statistics to all statements on air and water quality and climate change — then we are in “tinpot-dictator, authoritarian” territory, as the conservative Weekly Standard put it.

To review, Trump delivered a speech at CIA headquarters Saturday falsely blaming the media for his personal feud with the intelligence community. Then he went on a long rant attacking the media for accurately reporting the size of his inaugural crowd.

Most ominously, he said “the reason you’re my first stop is that as you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth.”

So the president was telling CIA staff — whose job, like the media’s, is to provide those who read their work with the unadulterated facts — that the reason he came to visit was to tell them that he wants only adulterated facts. Trump, of course, is the most important recipient of the CIA’s work.

There is another group of people whose job is to provide the unadulterated facts, including the inconvenient truths: scientists. And among Trump’s first acts as president was to remove any mention of climate change from the White House website. It was replaced with a post on energy that misrepresented the findings of a fossil fuel industry nonprofit report that was, as one economist told Climate Central, “problematic from start to finish.”

Worse, on Saturday night, Trump sent out his press secretary, Sean Spicer, for the White House’s first press briefing — ostensibly for the purpose of attacking the media and repeating easily falsifiable lies. “Some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting,” he said. “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration. Period. Both in person and around the globe.”

Spicer made a bunch of “easily disproved claims about the size of the inauguration crowd,” as the Washington Post fact checker said, concluding, “Spicer earns four Pinocchios, but seriously, we wish we could give five.”

Many of Spicer’s lies could be disproven through direct observation of the evidence and simple scientific analysis, as the New York Times did in reporting “estimates that the crowd on the National Mall on Friday was about one-third the size of Mr. Obama’s.”

These inauguration photos from 2009 and 2017, taken 45 minutes before each oath of office, show Trump’s crowd was vastly smaller than Obama’s. Credit: New York Times.
These inauguration photos from 2009 and 2017, taken 45 minutes before each oath of office, show Trump’s crowd was vastly smaller than Obama’s. Credit: New York Times.

Finally, on Sunday, the White House sent Kellyanne Conway to the morning shows to defend Spicer. But the best she could offer NBC’s Chuck Todd was to say Spicer “gave alternative facts to that.” Todd eviscerated that Orwellian euphemism: “Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods.”

Conway played her Trump card: “You want to talk provable facts? Look — you’ve got a 14 percent approval rating in the media, that you’ve earned. You want to push back on us?” So even “provable facts” have no meaning to team Trump. It goes without saying that Conway apparently misstated her facts.

Finally, Axios reported Monday that the EPA “agency action” plan — written by climate science denier Myron Ebell — asserts “EPA does not use science to guide regulatory policy as much as it uses regulatory policy to steer the science.”

Translation: since we deny mainstream science, it can’t be used as the basis for regulations. The document concludes that the “EPA should not be funding scientific research,” and “EPA’s science advisory process needs to be overhauled.”

We are through the looking glass now. But democracy and our children’s future are at stake. So this newly minted “tinpot-dictator” must be challenged at every turn.