How 9/11 ushered in the post-truth era of Donald Trump
President Donald Trump (Screenshot)

Tuesday marked the 17th anniversary of September 11th. President Donald Trump commemorated the occasion with a flippant tweet.

The Internet heaped mockery on the president for marking the deaths of thousands of Americans and a turning point in US foreign policy with a dashed-off exclamation point.

That's not the first time the president has misused the tragedy. Trump once falsely said that he'd seen thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks. That claim was debunked again and again. But it doesn't appear to have dented the president's popularity among his supporters.

It's one of many examples of the president helping to usher in a "post-truth" age.

In an op-ed published Tuesday, a reporter who'd covered the 9/11 attacks wondered if the tragedy — and how it was absorbed by many — set the stage for the "post-truth" era of Donald Trump.

Jamie McIntyre described how a single off-hand comment at the scene of the Pentagon on 9/11 has been blasted around the world by conspiracy theorists.

"The Sept. 11 attacks on America 17 years ago this week began the nation’s longest war, a seemingly never-ending battle against terrorists and other enemies of freedom," McIntyre writes. "But an argument can be made that the horrific attack unleashed another assault on a pillar of democracy: a war on reason, where facts don’t matter and truth is subjective."

Back in 2001, as the Pentagon burned in the background, McIntyre observed, "“From my close-up inspection, there’s no evidence of a plane having crashed anywhere near the Pentagon,” he said. This was in response to a question about whether the American Airlines Boeing 757 may have crashed just short of the building.

McIntyre describes the long life of that dashed-off observation. "The offhand comment was deliberately misrepresented on the Internet as an eyewitness attesting to the fact that no plane hit the Pentagon on Sept. 11, and by early 2002 it had gone viral among conspiracy theorists around the world," he writes.

"Even now 17 years later that video clip still shows up in my Google alerts, posted to my Facebook page, and just two weeks ago on my Twitter feed, often with the ominous notation. “This footage aired once after 9/11 and was never on TV again!”'

He says that he's tried to explain and contextualize the comment, all to no avail.

"Given that the full video clip shows that I was describing what I saw when I went to the crash site, including pieces of the plane “small enough that you can pick up in your hand,” I thought by engaging with the doubters, I could easily correct the record," he writes.

"But in a decade of lengthy conversations with more than a dozen “truthers,” I never changed a single doubter’s mind."

To come back to President Donald Trump and our current extreme post-truth era. McIntyre cites a theory, presented by Scott Adams of Dilbert cartoon fame, on how Trump was able to marshal voter irrationality to win.

1. Trump knows people are basically irrational.

2. Knowing that people are irrational, Trump aims to appeal on an emotional level.

3. By running on emotion, facts don’t matter.

4. If facts don’t matter, you can’t really be “wrong.”

5. With fewer facts in play, it’s easier to bend reality.

6. To bend reality, Trump is a master of identity politics — and identity is the strongest persuader.

McIntyre acknowledges that he failed in his efforts to persuade 9/11 truthers. "But it’s only now — nearly two decades after I became part of a conspiracy theory and failed in my efforts to debunk it — that I truly understand how flawed my worldview is that there is an objective reality that can be understood through rigorous, rational thinking."