NOTE: This was originally posted after the Women’s March. I was in Idaho at the time and the Boise march was well-attended, but ended much earlier than those in bigger cities across the country and world. This allowed me to participate and feel the energy first hand, but still observe happenings across the globe on TV and online.
With everything that’s transpired in the world since this day, it actually feels kind of small to revisit an argument over something as minor as crowd size. But that day was a great example of all the features of this administration. He called the media “some of the most dishonest people”, which is actually quaint compared to when he calls them “enemy of the people” today. The increasing rhetoric of Trump – and normalization due to the never-ending assault on our senses – didn’t begin with the fight over inauguration crowd size, but that day demonstrated without a doubt how he would act as President.
There were many things we hoped would end when the Trump campaign turned into an actual government, and on Day 2 we unfortunately received confirmation those things were here to stay. There would be no rising to the occasion or efforts to bring the country together.
Looking back on things now, the most ridiculous thing is how in the months following that tumultuous opening weekend, the media would continue desperately searching for some incident or event they could point to as Trump’s ‘becoming President’ moment. Twenty months later, we’re still waiting.
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To state the obvious: today’s marches were incredible. Millions of Americans (including me!) braved cold, wind, rain and snow to stand united for equal rights and protection under the law. Whatever issue you’re most passionate about, it was well-represented today. The organizers and speakers deserve credit for their efforts, and marchers saw they’re not alone. Only fools and liars can ignore what happened today.
That fool’s name is Donald Trump and the liar is Sean Spicer.
Truth be told, I’m glad the numbers game is a legitimate issue. Why? Because inauguration crowd size is a minor thing in the grand scheme of life, but the way this has played out serves as confirmation of every reason we had to doubt, question and oppose the new Trump administration. Anyone who reluctantly thought “now that he’s President let’s give him a chance to rise to the position”…well, this ends that hope.
Today, Trump and Spicer didn’t acknowledge the huge, nationwide protest against their administration. Instead they chose to keep fighting yesterday’s battle against reality. During what was basically a campaign speech at CIA headquarters, Trump claimed there were over one million people at the inauguration, while pictures and estimates showed the actual total was closer to 250,000. (He also said we may invade Iraq again and had paid staffers in the room to applaud his attacks on the media, which are two other columns). A couple hours later, Spicer doubled down on those claims and added, “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.”
This whole incident is a blessing for the American people, because Trump showed us his strategy and wasted any surprise by having it done on something that doesn’t really matter. What was wrong with Trump and Spicer’s claims?
1) They claimed the framing and angles were done intentionally to distort the crowd’s true size. Obviously it’s ridiculous to claim those issues can make a million human bodies disappear, but more importantly the shots shown were from the same perspective and time-stamped at nearly identical moments. So basically they’re complaining about fair and equal comparisons being a bad deal for them. And while it’s true the white tarp does highlight open areas, it only takes a few moments of examination to see that has little to no effect on the size gap between the crowds.
Also, fewer people watched the inauguration at home than at least Obama’s or Reagan’s. So he lost the ratings battle too, and when you take population growth into account he lost it bigly.
2) Spicer tried to tie this in with an admitted error by Time’s Zeke Miller, who thought the bust of Martin Luther King had been removed from the Oval Office. It’s still there, and Miller quickly admitted and corrected his error. But by linking the two together, Spicer tried to paint the day as some kind of massive agenda by the media when it was actually two separate events.
In Spicer’s view, an honest and openly admitted error is corrected by visual evidence…unless that evidence damages Trump’s ego, in which case it’s all a bunch of lies.
3) This came after Trump called the media “some of the most dishonest people”, and while Spicer was literally yelling at them in the press room. This demonstrates again something that’s been clear since day one of the campaign: When reality doesn’t match the narrative, this administration will lie, lie harder and blame the messenger. Based on my Facebook feed, this will work with the true believers and make so many others throw their hands up in frustration. Which, of course, is exactly the point.
The phrase gaslighting is in our lives, and we need to accept it won’t be going anywhere. That’s exactly what this “numbers game” issue is. Today we saw a representative of the most powerful office on the planet threaten the people charged with holding that office accountable, and he did so over a blatant lie that anyone with an open mind (or just open eyes) can see. These are the actions and strategies of a wannabe dictator, not a leader of the world’s shining light on the hill.
How this gets combated remains to be seen, and the habits of Washington politics are stacked against us. The media has long viewed “access” as a valuable form of currency in DC, and that’ll be a hard habit to break. It’s going to go against their very nature – and likely the business interests of their companies – to keep reporting the truth when doing so may deprive them of that currency.
It’s the responsibility of media members to keep chasing the truth in the face of pushback and even threats, and it’s ours as citizens to support the ones that do it best.