The old trope “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make any noise” presupposes that only humans can discern sounds. How utterly—and condescendingly—anthropomorphic.
So, let’s rephrase it: If a tree falls in the forest and no creature is there to hear it, did it make a sound?
While the second question broadens the size and scope of the potential audience, it does not change the fundamental premise of the first question, which is whether knowledge can exist independent of a knower.
Perhaps another way to rephrase the first question might be like this: Would two plus two equal four if no one ever discovered that mathematical equation?
At their core, all these questions ponder whether truth is objective or subjective. And that is the question that forms the foundation of epistemology. Are knowledge and truth independent of a knower?
Such a question might seem comical to average folks—and a fascinating-but-nonsensical hypothesis to philosophers—but it is the central issue that must be correctly addressed in the post-truth age of Trumpism.
So now let’s ask a more pertinent question directly related to Donald J. Trump (one of many such questions we might ponder about the avatar of the post-truth culture): If all available evidence plainly reveals that TV commentator and former congressman Joe Scarborough did not and could not have killed his former intern, can a person still reasonably assert that Scarborough committed the crime?
Rush Limbaugh—the despicable radio show host Trump awarded with a prestigious Medal of Freedom—seems to think the president’s assertions cleverly split the difference between objectivity and subjectivity. Limbaugh submits the following regarding Trump’s repeated Twitter rants about Scarborough:
“The thing here is when you get to Trump and his conspiracy theories, he does it in a really clever way,” he [Limbaugh] proclaimed. “And this is where people don’t get the subtlety of Trump because they don’t think he has the ability to be subtle. Trump never says that he believes these conspiracy theories that he touts. He’s simply passing them on.”
Limbaugh has fundamentally twisted the primary epistemological inquiry into this: If all the trees in the forest are still standing, but someone alleges one fell, did Joe Scarborough chop it down?
This is basic Trumpism. Truth is meaningless. Perception is all that matters. If all the evidence says Joe Scarborough did not kill his intern, but President Trump touts conspiracies alleging that the commentator who regularly criticizes the president did commit the crime, did he? Or does it even matter? If enough people believe the assertion then it has served its purpose, which is to subjectively discredit a critic whose criticisms are based on observable, objective truths.
Joe Scarborough was a conservative Republican congressman from 1995 through 2001. He remains a fiscal conservative, but he left the Republican Party following Trump’s election—as did many other reasonable Republicans.
I suspect that, like me, Scarborough, at some level, perceived that the Republican Party was becoming the post-truth political party. The so-called GOP is now riddled with cancerous maladies, but at the root of all of them is the utter disregard for objective truth and knowledge. Most remaining Republicans have chosen to be the party of subjective “truth,” the party of, as Kellyanne Conway put it, “alternative facts.”
Perhaps the greatest irony in all this is that the new GOP’s most loyal and enthusiastic contingent is white evangelicals who, for decades habitually warned anyone who would listen that liberals would plunge the nation into an emotion-based post-truth society.
The Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer was, by most evangelical accounts, one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century. In addressing the concept of objective truth and knowledge, Shaeffer famously declared that a cannot equal non-a. The concept is—or should be—patently obvious. In concept it is obvious, but in political battles for power and influence, the obvious can often become obscured to the point of disappearance.
So now, when President Trump brazenly suggests or states that a might be non-a, his deluded followers eschew even the notion of objective truth.
Schaeffer also famously quoted the atheist French Philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, who averred, “No finite point has meaning without an infinite reference point.” (And that seemingly incongruous statement from an atheist could be a topic for another post.) Trumpists—including the many evangelical Trumpists—have found their new epistemological reference point. His name is Donald Trump. Truth and knowledge begin and end with the new Republican messiah.
I find that to be the most diabolical and dangerous aspect among the many horrors of Trumpism and the current Republican Party.