15 February 2019
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump accused the Obama administration of faking economic data. Photo: Reuters
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump accused the Obama administration of faking economic data. Photo: Reuters

Why Trump’s ‘alternative facts’ don’t add up

For most people, one and one is two, which is an absolute no-brainer. Unfortunately, for some, especially politicians, they don’t necessarily see it that way, mainly out of political concerns and expediency.

Recently, a new term known as “alternative facts” has become the latest catch phrase in Washington, a phrase first used by Kellyanne Conway, adviser to President Donald Trump, on national TV in defense of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s apparent exaggeration about the attendance at Trump’s inauguration, trickingly including the number of online viewers as well.

In a nutshell, the term “alternative facts” refers to the notion that facts are relative, so just pick the one that works and serves your interests best.

And recently, Trump’s spin doctors have taken the use of “alternative facts” to the next level.

One might still remember that during Trump’s campaign, he accused the Obama administration of faking economic data, for example, the 4.8 percent unemployment rate in the final quarter of 2016.

However, according to the recent figures released by the US Department of Labor, the latest unemployment rate in the country has dropped to 4.7 percent, a “remarkable” achievement that the White House has wasted no time in claiming credit for.

The problem is, if the 4.8 percent unemployment rate under Obama was really faked as claimed by Trump, then there shouldn’t be anything for the White House to brag about because the latest drop in the unemployment rate is based on false data.

Yet, when asked by reporters whether Trump’s accusation against the former Obama administration still stands, Spicer remained equivocal, stressing that the numbers in the past could have been faked but the latest ones are definitely real and authentic.

“Alternative facts” also apply to the drastic healthcare reform package proposed by Trump to replace Obamacare, under which Trump has promised that a lot more Americans will be insured with much lower premiums.

However, according to a study conducted by Standard and Poor’s, the new Republican health care reform may in fact cause six to 10 million average Americans to fall out of the health insurance safety net.

Later, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan rallied to Trump’s defense and argued that the reason for the huge discrepancy is that the initial estimate was reached based on a mistaken baseline.

So again, Trump’s promise to get more Americans insured is just another “alternative fact”.

It remains to be seen how Trump and his spokespersons are going to explain their miscalculations away this time. But one thing is certain: the fact that the Trump administration is continuing to pull the “alternative facts” trick as a way to find excuses for its mistakes has taken its toll on its credibility.

In the meantime, halfway across the globe, President Xi Jinping of China is also tearing his hair out trying prevent provincial officials from faking economic growth data.

As the two leaders are scheduled to meet in Florida early next month, perhaps they can work out together how to make sure numbers don’t lie.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Mar. 14

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal

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