What you heard:

Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, gave a press briefing where he presented alternative facts.

What it is:

Sean Spicer is the current White House Press Secretary (more on that later) and Communications Director. Before landing in the Trump administration, he was the Communications Director at the Republican National Committee (RNC: the Republican party overlords in charge of lots of national strategic and financial decisions) 2011-2017. He also served as the RNC’s Chief Strategist 2015-2017.

The White House Press Secretary is a top-level position in an administration, although it is not part of the Cabinet (which consists of the VP + 15 heads of various departments). The Press Sec is responsible for giving press briefings – typically untelevised meetings that take place daily on weekday mornings and give a rundown of what the Prez is up to that day and anything else the administration thinks is important to share. Then, the Press Sec nearly always takes questions from the press corps – the group of reporters tasked with covering the White House. Got all that?

Unlike the items I’ve just defined above, you wouldn’t have found the term “alternative facts” on Wikipedia before this past weekend. However, even though it is a new phrase in the American lexicon, it seems to pretty clearly mean LIES. Or if you want to get specific, lies you tell when facts don’t suit the image you’re trying to shove down the public throat.

What it means:

So I know this is a basic start, but I want to repeat it just to hear myself say it (and in the hopes that you also hear my incredulous voice in your own head): the Trump administration called a press briefing on its first full day at work so the Press Secretary could dispute facts and actual photos related to the size of the crowd on Inauguration Day. The. Size. Of. The. Crowd.

It’s like the fucking twilight zone around here.

This also means that we can expect the next four years to be much more of the same: petty priorities and attempts to delegitimize legitimate reporting in an effort to manipulate the narrative.

What could happen:

I’m not going to describe at length how dangerous a state-controlled media is, because George Orwell and some later-found-dead Russian journalists already have that covered. But here are a few biggies in my mind:

Constant feuding with the media over minor details keeps the reporting focus off of the really important stuff, like that there is a bill moving through the House that would end US involvement in the United Nations (which is the group of friends we hang out with to do kinda important stuff like maintain international peace, coordinate economic policies, and distribute humanitarian aid). Like most crazy legislation, this bill originated with a Deep South member of Congress – in this case, Rogers (R-AL) – but unlike most crazy legislation in the past, the bill actually has a shot at passing through this crazy Congress and administration.

An even bigger problem is that constant disagreement with the facts from the administration’s megaphone makes it tough for the public to distinguish what’s actually true, so you end up with three groups of people. Group One is on board with facts and reporting, so they know that we haven’t always been at war with Eastasia. Group Two has such a deep-seeded belief in the administration that they, despite their own eyes and past reports on record, immediately defend the notion that we have always been at war with Eastasia. These are the two groups you’d expect, but there’s a third group who ends up splitting the difference and saying “eh, there’s really no way to tell how long we’ve been at war with Eastasia.” Once you’ve compromised commitment to facts and found a willingness to debate the details, you’ve created a public that can be easily manipulated into believing most anything.

This is a tactic that can be used in virtually unlimited ways to oppress women. Use your megaphone to say that you have to defund Planned Parenthood because it sells fetuses on the black market; use your megaphone to say that there’s no provable discrimination against women in hiring or wages; use your megaphone to say most rape isn’t, like, that bad, and 66% of the population will either believe you or entertain the possibility that you’re correct.

I’ll leave you to use your own imagination about the implications of all this, but I advise you wait until you have a significant amount of time to spend in the deep dark hole it’s guaranteed to send you into.