I illustrated this in 2015, during the Obama years. That time saw many things come to light. The Snowden leaks revealed the vast reach of the government’s domestic surveillance regime and the shadow courts that providing legal fig leaves. The federal security state wasn’t alone, as law enforcement at all levels was shown to have access to sophisticated surveillance equipment with little oversight. In the financial and corporate sphere, the fraud that perpetuated the 2008 Great Recession was not enough. Major banks engaged in endemic money laundering on behalf of criminal cartels and terrorist organizations. New abuses came to light about Guantanamo Bay, which remained stubbornly open despite campaign promises, and continued to be a propaganda boon to recruiting violent extremists. On top of that the facility was revealed to be just one in a globe-spanning archipelago of black sites operating outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. legal system.
These problems did not begin then. Many trace their origin to the paranoia in the aftermath of 9/11, and the jingoist response from the Bush administration. (A time that gave us the factoid-synonymous term ‘truthiness’ after all.) Others are intensifications of existing fault lines in American society. All undermine the official narratives offered by the institutions in charge, statements repeated from on high which have the shape of fact but none of the contents.
Prescriptivism is an approach to language which sets up rules for usage, for proper grammar and spelling, and for acceptable pronunciation. These attempts to build a wall around language are ultimately political. They serve to define who belongs to the linguistic community and who is an outsider, speaking a deformed or degenerate tongue, potentially contagious. It would be remiss then not to mention that ‘factoid’, by dint of usage, has come to also mean a free-floating bit of information or trivia. This usage is valid, even if it is an inversion of the original definition. Who speaks properly? Who speaks the truth? These questions are intertwined. Deviant speech excuses suppression while the official story elides the abuse. That, at least, was how I drew it back then.
Things are different now. ‘Fake news’ is emblematic of the New Sophistry of the Trump era. The gap between what the powerful say they are doing and what happens is an unconcealed, yawning chasm. The dissonance has been seized upon as a tool in itself for managing expectations and controlling responses. This move allows what was formerly concealed to be perpetrated openly, skating on the confusion of the masses to escape accountability. The rhetorical style of the current elite does not bother to deny the Facts but instead shatters them into a bewildering array of factoids then moves on, no longer concerned with the need to construct legitimacy from the wreckage.