Truth and Truthiness

I was looking at my brother Mike's Facebook page last night and I found an old post about Trump's disastrous press conference in Helsinki. There was a guy on the thread named Tim, whom I don't know and don't particularly want to know, who kept backing Trump and presenting a lot of what Mike aptly called "junior high BS"—slogans and cliches, ad hominem attacks, regurgitated talking points from the Drudge Report or Breitbart, and so forth. When Mike challenged him to provide some genuine documentation for his arguments and offered some statistics to back up his own claims, Tim wrote this:

I really dont care about stats . I just know the people I know are happy with Trump. I dont approve of his news conference and what he said. I said that from the very beginning. Few Trump supporters will admit when he screws up. Iam for the working class that was left behind. I come from a working family that split there blood and gave there life for this country. I can give a flat fuck about your stats

This reminded me of the first episode of The Colbert Report, in which Stephen Colbert did the initial installment of the running feature "The Word." His word that night was "truthiness," which he described as what you feel in your gut to be true, regardless of facts or other considerations. Colbert promised not to "read the news to you, but to feel the news at you."

" Truthiness " by  Greg Williams  is a Creative Commons image licensed under  CC BY-SA 2.5 .

"Truthiness" by Greg Williams is a Creative Commons image licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5.

How prescient Mr. Colbert was. Not that he was being consciously predictive; he was mocking the pundits and opinion-shouters of the mid-Aughts, not the purveyors of alternative facts in 2018. But his comedy bit from a dozen or so years ago rings truer than ever now, and in ways that are hardly funny.

"I just know the people I know are happy with Trump." First of all, you probably should widen your circle of acquaintance. Second, why exactly are they happy with Trump? Has the promised wealth from last year's tax "reform" actually started trickling down in ways that have made their lives better? Are these people farmers who are thrilled to be on the government dole now that Trump's tariffs have upset the markets so much that they can't sell their crops? Are they white supremacists who got a real boost when the president suggested that they were "some fine people"? Are they manufacturers and sellers of cheap red baseball caps? Or is there just something about Trump's rage, misogyny, racist dog-whistling, superficial patriotism, and anti-intellectualism that appeals to them at a visceral level?

"Few Trump supporters will admit when he screws up." Response #1: Well, bully for you. Everything else you say bears out this idea that you are a high-minded idealist. Alternative response: How could they and still get anything done in a typical day?

"Iam for the working class that was left behind." Slogans and cliches. Never mind that the person in question spent his entire career stiffing the people who worked for him and building hotels, casinos, and resorts that the working class could never afford to patronize and that would probably not welcome them if they tried.

"I come from a working family that split there blood and gave there life for this country." Yowza. More slogans and cliches. In fact, the spirit (and spelling and grammar) of this sentence would fit perfectly in Lee Greenwood's red-white-and-blue anthem "American Americans and Their American Dreams" (or something), in which he sings, "I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free." My wife cringes at that sentence. Read it again and see if you don't too.

"I can give a flat fuck about your stats" Here we come to the nub of the issue. We live in an Orwellian age in which each person can pick and choose his or her own reality. Real facts have no advantage over alternative ones, and we have no objective standard for determining which is which. Science is discredited. Journalists are the Enemy of the People. The Big Lie has come of age. A chasm is opening in our country, and it grows wider by the day. On one side of the divide stand those who appeal to objective facts (e.g., documentation, statistics) and on the other are those who prefer truthiness to truth.

Yes, I just made a value judgment there, and I did it because, when not only history, economics, chemistry, and meteorology are up for grabs, but also the fundamental question of what is real, as I said in my last post, it's time to choose sides.

And if the violent rhetoric ever turns into real physical violence on a large scale, it's going to be awfully messy. Because unlike before the first Civil War, when the chasm separated two regions of the country, this chasm runs through communities, houses of worship, even families. I don't know what is going to happen if we don't find a solution to this impasse, and I don't want to find out. That's why I pray for the folks on the other side (yes, I believe the onus is on them) to come to their senses and stop pretending they can just make stuff up as they go along. Maybe then we can start having real conversations again, instead of shouting matches and name-calling. Maybe then we can begin to debate fairly, and to listen to people with opposing viewpoints, and to leave open the possibility that we might even (gasp!) learn something from them.

Here's to that day of fond expectation.