How Do You Avoid Sounding Elitist in a Post-Truth Era?

A lot of people are pointing and laughing at something Corey Lewandowski said at a postmortem session sponsored by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government for 2016 campaign operatives.

“This is the problem with the media. You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally,” Lewandowski said. “The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes — when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar — you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”

I’m not sure what he would suggest is the alternative to taking what a presidential candidate says literally. But his take lines up pretty well with what Scottie Neil Hughes, another Trump supporter, said recently.

…one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts—they’re not really facts. Everybody has a way—it’s kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.

As I pointed out yesterday, the result is that when we try to talk about our disagreements, we run into things like this:

I understand that someone like Van Jones is trying to carve out a space for reasonableness is light of our current political climate. But yesterday he validated a Republican talking point by saying that, “Everybody knows we [liberals and Democrats] have a problem with elitism.”

I object to a statement like that based partly on the grounds of it being applied only to the left side of the political continuum. For years Republicans have been claiming that Democrats are not “real Americans,” going to far as to question the citizenship of our first African American president. They have gone on to suggest that liberals aren’t patriotic and don’t love our country. Perhaps that doesn’t qualify as elitist in the eyes of many. But it certainly is a form of disrespect and looking down your nose at the opposition.

But even more importantly, it is hard for me to imagine a way for liberals and Democrats to respond to Donald Trump and his supporters in a way that doesn’t come off sounding elitist. Is it inappropriate to laugh when a campaign operative suggests that the media took their candidate’s rhetoric too literally? Is it elitist to be aghast when a conservative says that there’s no such thing as facts anymore? How should we deal with claims that the state of California allows “illegals” to vote? Or when Republicans circulate a video that has been altered to suggest that President Obama told non-citizens to vote?

In other words, when conservatives embrace a post-truth position and liberals maintain a commitment to facts and evidence, how do we go about having a conversation where we avoid a charge of elitism? I’ll grant that one part of that means being respectful of a person’s humanity – regardless of what they believe. But if it also means being respectful of lies and untruths, I’m afraid that I’ll have to come down on the side of elitism every time.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .