In his most recent Wall Street Journal column Daniel Henninger makes a very astute point:
The political class, a lagging indicator, is assimilating changes in the general culture, which has been transitioning for years from old-fashioned lies (“I didn’t do it”) to self-delusion (“What’s your problem?”). Donald Trump inhabited both worlds.
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram enabled people to assemble personal alternative universes, which became “real” when their friends embraced the fake persona. A similar manipulation away from plain reality has happened to politics on Twitter.
At Facebook’s scale, these reality-shifting habits and forces are unprecedentedly powerful. Conspiracy theories proliferate, from QAnon to the Russia-collusion narrative.
Euphemisms are an important tool for asserting alternative realities. Two of the most important are “reframe” and “reimagine.”
The focus of Mr. Henninger’s column was President Joe Biden. Those on the right are taking a certain amount of unseemly glee in Mr. Biden’s departures from reality (his “Build Back Better” spending bill will cost nothing, we have similar surges in immigration to that presently being experienced every year, etc.) but it surely must be recognized that isn’t a new phenomenon and Mr. Biden isn’t even its most obvious exemplar. Cataloguing his predecessor, Donald Trump’s departures from reality because a sort of cottage industry from 2016-2020. They included overstatements, exaggerations, wishful thinking, and plain departures from reality in lists of his lies, the most notable at this point being that he won the 2020 election which he and millions of his supporters continue to believe.
The difference between a harmless fantasy and an untenable departure from reality, as Karl Popper observed a century ago, is falsifiability. Mr. Henninger appropriately quotes James Barry: “You just think lovely wonderful thoughts and they lift you up in the air.”
To some extent each of us inhabits our own alternative reality for the simple reason that we don’t have the equipment to know or even to apprehend the complete truth. But present developments are not trivial. When you embrace the falsifiable as truth, there is a categoric difference. Everything stops making sense.