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To hell with Pontius Pilate, most of us still know what truth looks like. (We just need to be reminded occasionally)

November 12, 2020

Did anyone catch Sean Spicer being interviewed on the BBC yesterday?

It rolled me back to 2017, when he was Trump’s press secretary. He was the one who swore, against all available evidence, that the crowd at Trump’s inauguration was far bigger than Obama’s.

As an exercise in precisely-rehearsed Trumpspeak, it was a classic. Feisty, combative and repeating ad nauseam the narrative of a biased mainstream media, and the need to wait until all the LEGAL votes have been cast.

So, in “legal votes” I have another trigger phrase that sends me into an uncontrollable screaming fit to add to all the other ones I’ve acquired over the past five year.

The roll of honour includes phrases such as “the will of the people”, “get over it”, the various coronavirus triads that have bombarded us on radio and TV and, in the US, any phrase that includes the word Jesus. And just in case you think I’m politically biased, “for the many, not the few” also sends me into paroxysms.

In fact, just about any slogan or phrase, endlessly repeated, makes me think that we’ve been subjected to a mass hypnotism programme. Every time you hear a middle-aged American woman say Jesus, I imagine the listener thinking of Trump, the end times, socialism and illegal votes.

On the other hand, those who have been counter-hypnotised think of Trump, the end times, pussy-grabbing, religious fanatics, Paula White and the orange monster falling asleep in the Oval Office, or possibly dreaming of pussies, as the hands of a dozen evangelists rest upon his shoulders.

So this is our world, in which our leaders are raised up by Mad Men, kept in office by lawyers and ultimately ushered off the cliff by mental health professionals, if the men in grey suits don’t get to them first. Better that, I suppose, than being lined up against a wall and shot, or incinerated in a bunker.

The fascinating thing about the end of Trump is watching people like Spicer faithfully following the party line. Why, you might wonder? He was fired three years ago – why would he keep trotting out this stuff?

A benign explanation is that he’s a man of shining principle, in the grand tradition of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and, er, Donald Trump. He speaks the truth as he sees it, whether or not you share his views.

On the other hand (a phrase I seem to be using quite often these days) you might think that he, like many others within Trump’s orbit, is keeping his options open. He has nothing to lose by his words, and everything to gain. He looks forward to the arrival of Trump TV, and he reckons that he’ll be in line for a nice little number as one of the anchors and opinion shapers for the new station, along with Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson of Fox News, Trump’s chief lackeys, who are bound to desert after Trump leaves the White House.

And as for all the congressman and women who slavishly follow the party line, it would seem that their compliance is guaranteed, because they’ll be afraid Trump will ruin them by publicly withdrawing his support.

If you seek rather a pathetic equivalent in the UK, look no further than Nigel Farage, who is now regularly sounding off with his video feed, railing against lockdown, immigrants and all manner of other causes beloved of the far right. The main difference is that he doesn’t have the money to start his own proper TV station and he doesn’t have seventy million voters lining up to watch him.

But don’t be in the least bit surprised if Nigel gets funded before long, perhaps even by Trump.

Is this our fate from now onwards? To he haunted by failed politicians who seek to monetise their notoriety, not by book deals, but by cascades of garbage on their own TV stations?

It does look that way, though our Nigel is unlikely to get the ratings that Donald would achieve. The worst thing about all this is that whatever Biden delivers, Trump will seek to denigrate. He will measure the failings of the next four years against the shimmering success of his own presidency, until he rises again to take back power in 2024.

There are, however, one or two things that might get in his way. First, his health. While Biden, at 77, skipped up to the podium for his victory speech, Trump, at 78, is unlikely to do the same. He’s more likely to need a golf cart to ferry him everywhere.

He also needs to overcome all the lawsuits, bankruptcy proceedings and potential prosecutions that are likely to follow him out of office. Don’t be surprised if new secrets about his behaviour spring forth before long.

It may be that Biden will give no encouragement to those who seek to send Trump to jail because he won’t want to create a martyr. He can damp down federal investigations, but he can’t stop state prosecutors, especially those in New York who think they have the president bang to rights for financial crimes.

Either way, the last thing Biden will want is to wound Trump without finishing him off. That would make him even more dangerous. For those who seek an end to Trump and Trumpism, the best possible outcome is for him to be convicted for some serious crime that destroys his reputation even among his most fanatical supporters. At the moment, it’s hard to say what that might be. If pussy-grabbing, ripping off suppliers, dodging taxes and blackmailing foreign leaders isn’t enough, what is?

If Trump does manage to slither out of jeopardy, will his TV station become a beacon of conservative values? Or merely a rathole of liars, conspiracy theorists, religious fanatics and opportunists seeking to ride into power and prosperity on the coat-tails of a resurgent candidate Trump in 2024?

More likely the latter, I should have thought.

If this is the case, what can be done to counter his influence? Could it be that there are enough wealthy folks who believe that the truth doesn’t come in multiple brands, like condoms in a drug store? What if they took the view that the truth transcends partisan considerations, and set up a TV station dedicated to debunking, rebutting and, within strict parameters, telling stories and presenting facts that 80% of us (a bow to Pareto) can accept as manifestly true?

Not some grubby little Twitter account or YouTube channel, but a proper organisation with researchers, journalists and yes, even scientists who can lend their reputations to enhance the credibility of the output. And I’m not talking about an organisation that thinks it’s impartial by featuring the opinions of people at each end of a spectrum, no matter how weird and wonderful those opinions might be. I’m imagining an organisation that will be just as ready to call out Biden as Trump, or Starmer as Johnson, if they stray into the land of politically-motivated fantasy.

In Britain, the BBC will never be that organisation again, if it ever was. Whereas four years ago I followed its coverage of the US elections in preference to all other stations. Now, it seems, it’s so terrified of being attacked for showing bias that it prefers to say nothing at all. If it has to show a debate on a topic it goes to any lengths short of scouring the rainforest for some previously unknown species of primate in order to present a contrary view.

I was sufficiently disenchanted with the BBC’s coverage of this year’s circus that I went to CNN. What impressed me about its coverage was the preparedness of its anchors to call out Trump’s disinformation for what it was: lies. I know that as a station it has no reason to love Trump, since he’s consistently abused and insulted Jim Acosta, its White House correspondent. But nonetheless, it gave me the impression of scrupulousness in its assessment of the voting process, particularly when presented by the indefatigable John King. With every statement was a caveat, which I found quite reassuring.

And when CNN called Pennsylvania for Biden, I got the impression that there was a methodology behind that decision, based on data rather than the whim of a capricious proprietor.

I’m not suggesting that CNN could be that lofty antidote to Trump’s future dirt machine. At this stage, his base probably views it as the devil incarnate. But in its willingness to call out bullshit, it played what we British call a blinder.

So where are those wealthy potential investors who believe in telling the verifiable, unvarnished truth, and are willing to demonstrate their belief by putting their money where their mouths are. Bloomberg? Gates? Buffett? The trouble is that billionaires didn’t get to where they are today without inflicting a few casualties in their wake. So their motives and agendas will always be open to speculation, as Gates knows well.

Perhaps the key is independent governance and a tightly-drawn charter. Not easy, because every humanitarian, non-political organisation is open to accusations of bias and manipulation on the part of those who fund it. If, for example, you want to discredit an organisation in the minds of those who are politically aligned across a wide spectrum, all you have to say is that it’s funded by George Soros.

I am of course betraying my alignment by anticipating that Trump, in his future media incarnation, will focus on the malignant politics that he’s promoted in office. I might be wrong. Perhaps he will focus on self-enrichment. You could well imagine him coming up with shows on the lines of The Apprentice, with him, naturally, at the centre of things. Maybe he’ll create some nightmarish variant of a quiz show. Is Who Wants to Be a Billionaire? waiting in the wings?

But whether Trump sets himself up as the ultimate lie machine, or someone else does so on his behalf, there needs to be an antidote. Otherwise, a new generation will grow up never knowing the difference between fact and fantasy, truth and lies, critical thinking and slavish devotion.

You could argue that in some parts of the world, it’s happened already. Unfortunately, lies and misinformation will never effectively be countered by letting a thousand grass-roots activists bloom. They’re up against a juggernaut. Fire must be fought with fire.

So come on, billionaires, zillionaires and anyone else who believes that a world in which lies are challenged is a safer place, it’s time to step up before it’s too late. Time for Truth TV.

  1. I no longer believe anything purporting to be “the facts”.

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