- Views & Opinions
“Alt facts” are the defining dialectic of the Trump era. But before we had the phrase, we had the practice: Just remember the campaigns of Gov. Scott Walker. Pioneering the way for Trump, Walker demonstrated that lying and ducking accountability work perfectly in a society where many people only listen to what they want to hear.
As a candidate, Donald Trump hammered the “bad” U.S. economy under President Obama, who — in fact — presided over a record 75 straight months of job growth. Candidate Trump also denounced the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ announcement that the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent when Obama left office. He railed that the number was a hoax.
But after Trump took office, he proclaimed that February’s unemployment rate of 4.7 percent — now suddenly believable — was a measure of his own success. He also gloated over a report that showed 227,000 new jobs were added in January, even though Obama was president during the period from which the data were gleaned.
And his supporters are celebrating his success.
Calling black white is also a hallmark of Gov. Scott Walker’s style. During his first successful gubernatorial bid in 2010, Walker convinced voters the state was “broke” and “bankrupt.” That statement was rated “false” by PolitiFact Wisconsin — but his alt facts took hold. The truth was that the state had a “structural” deficit, but that does not add up to bankruptcy, and that structural deficit still exists under Walker.
Candidate Walker vowed not only to balance the budget — which is already mandated by state law — but also to “require the use of generally accepted accounting principles, known as GAAP … just as we require every local government and school district to do,” he said.
That vow, along with his pledge to create 250,000 jobs during his first term, formed the crux of his campaign.
Flash forward to today. As of March 12, 2017, the total number of jobs that have been added in Wisconsin since Walker took office stood at just over 185,000 — 35 percent short of the number he pledged to create by January 2015.
He spins his failure not by denying the statistic, as Trump would, but by patting himself on the back for “aiming so high.” Too clever by half.
On the budget front, if Walker’s current proposed biennial budget is adopted, the deficit would reach $2.1 billion by 2019, according to GAAP.
But Walker denies there’s a budget deficit.
By what magic wand does a gap that large disappear? Simple: Walker just conveniently forgot his promise to use generally accepted accounting principles and instead used cash accounting. Presto, change-o, and the budget appears to be balanced.
As of 2014, when Walker was re-elected, Wisconsin was one of only 10 states that showed deficits according to GAAP (more recent numbers are not available). And Wisconsin had the third largest deficit that year, behind only California and Illinois.
But the perception of Wisconsinites and many Republicans across the nation was that Walker has eliminated what he used to call the deficit and maintained an operational surplus.
Both Trump and Walker have embraced the “Big Lie” that Fox News and other alt outlets have come to embody: By repeating a lie often enough, it eventually becomes a fact in the minds of listeners — a technique perfected under Hitler.
Americans are split over the lie that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump during the presidential campaign. And even though Wisconsin has consistently lagged the nation in job and economic growth, his followers stand behind his lie that the state’s economic engine is roaring and its coffers runneth over.
In the age of the big lie, it’s more important than ever for you to verify what you’re being told and hold elected officials accountable for what they say — even on Twitter.