Tuesday, June 9, 2020
BTRTN: What Do We Do When What Divides Us Is Actually Bigger than What Unites Us?
The Reality TV star has been waging a war with reality, and reality is proving to be a tougher foe than frail human constructs like written Constitutions. Steve reports on the reality wars, and there is good news… and bad.
It is a time-worn staple of political speeches cascading over the ages of the American experiment, repeating itself in endless loops with different flavors:
“There is so much more that unites us than divides us!”
I suppose the fact that we are all human beings counts for a certain commonality, but that would mean that what I have in common with Pol Pot is more than what separates the two of us. No, thanks.
No, I am referring to the political rhetoric that is intended to suggest that the citizens of the United States share a philosophy of governance based on equal opportunity and justice for all, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that such universal beliefs reside on a hallowed clerestory soaring above petty political differences.
After the last three years, we have to shed the rose-colored glasses and cut the mindless wishful thinking.
What divides this nation most right now is actually – literally – more powerful than what binds us. What divides us is the absence of a common, shared perspective on reality itself.
The fault lines of this powerful division were on full display across the United States last week, but nowhere more visible than in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. last Monday. There, two alternative universes co-existed in the same time and the same space. Quick, McFly, call Doc Brown! There has been a direct collision in the space time continuum!
In the physically existent, proven universe, a President learned that he was being ridiculed as weak and cowardly for failing to exert any semblance of leadership in the face of widespread protest of yet another murder of a Black man at the hands of a racist police force. He decides that the best course of action is to create the illusion that he is a macho, "in-charge" kinda guy, so he arranges to sneak out of his White House bunker and pose for a staged photo. In order to accommodate Trump, the thug who serves as Attorney General orders police to break up the peaceful protesters, a task accomplished with flash grenades and tear gas. Yes, flash grenades and tear gas directed at peaceful citizens exercising their Constitutional rights, all for a photo op.
In an alternative universe, however, the protesters are “terrorists” who heaved "caustic liquids and frozen water bottles" at the law enforcement officers, officers who are charged with the sacred duty of protecting their President, and who had no choice but to use perfectly legal, appropriate measures to impose order on the angry mob. In this version of the narrative, there was no tear gas used.
Here’s the problem: if you pledge your allegiance to Fox News or Donald Trump’s twitter feed, you truly believe that the second version of this story is the truth. It is the basis for re-affirming your belief that Donald Trump is the right man to lead our nation.
More Americans agree, however, that the first characterization is the far more factually accurate summary of what happened. Go watch the video. Go look for the clouds of tear gas. (BTW, don’t let the White House hide behind weasel definitions of what “tear gas” is. Just go with the C.D.C. definition).
Equally true: those who watch Fox TV no doubt believe that a sizable percentage of the nation’s protesters were looters, mostly Black looters at that, and those friends of Fox are likely on board with the President’s extremely provocative tweet that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Trumpublicans appear to agree with their "law and order" President when he asserts that he should call out the United States military to squash the protests for racial justice that spread peacefully across cities, towns, and villages throughout America. There's nothing quite like a bunch of supposed anti-big government screamers suddenly embracing martial law.
Whether there is any factual validity to these perspectives does not matter anymore. The people who believe Fox News and Donald Trump will reject any reporting from the “lame stream media” as the vicious lies of a radical fake news cabal intent on destroying the President. They will ignore the multiple reports from journalists with CNN and NBC who witnessed no provocative behavior -- no heaving of "caustic liquids" -- on the part of the peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park.
What divides is – literally -- far, far bigger than what unites us. There is something far bigger, far more important, far more powerful, and will last far longer than the United States of America.
It is called objective reality.
It has been around for billions of years, and it will be around for billions of years long after this little country is a speck of cosmic dust sucked into an angry astronomical reality called a Black Hole.
You can wave your flag and you can talk about how great the Constitution is, but the laws of nature -- physics, mass, matter, biology, chemistry, math – are not a matter of human will or opinion. Indeed, our country used to be great because we used to marshal these more powerful forces towards the ends of freedom, human dignity, and opportunity.
Imagine that 66 million years ago, some big orange dinosaur told the other prehistoric creatures about his “hunch” that the damage caused by the rapidly approaching asteroid would be limited to "about 15 brontosauruses," and that the effect of the asteroid’s impact would “magically disappear by April.” The opinion of the orange dinosaur did not have much effect on physics, math, mass, velocity, and biology.
Just ask all the dinosaurs in your neighborhood.
It is such a telling irony, isn’t it? In today’s American, the notion that there is such a thing as objective, literal, reality is considered an opinion.
Kellyanne Conway could not possibly have presaged the governing philosophy of the Trump administration more beautifully than when she asserted on his third day in office that the White House was in possession of “alternative facts” about the crowd size at the inauguration.
She was accurately setting the stage for a President who thinks Americans should believe that things he “feels in his gut” instead of what scientists know to be true, and who, by the count of the Washington Post, has told an average of 15 lies a say every single day he has been in office. Here's a fun experiment Trumpublicans should try: lie 15 times a day to your spouse or your business colleagues, and see if it takes three years for them to run screaming from you.
And yet, three years later, a shockingly large percentage of the population apparently still does believe him.
Here is the bad news, America: we have allowed the cancer of alternative reality to reach a point where it is probably inoperable.
The alternate reality created by Fox News, social media, and Trump has achieved a critical mass among such a significant percentage of the population that the alternative reality has achieved its own reality. It is now a fully closed loop that has a big enough media presence and a sizable enough audience that it takes whatever it needs from the host organism without worry that it can be excised. It has metastasized to the point where we, as a nation, can no longer cut out the cancer. It is beyond curing. We are a patient struggling to control a chronic illness, and the more it grows, the more it is likely to kill us.
When an "alternative reality" is embraced by that large a segment of the population, it becomes a reality that those of us who care about reality must deal with.
You can’t just stand back and say, “well, they are ignorant and stupid,” and hurl insults in the belief that you are accomplishing something. Trust me, they think lefties are ignorant and stupid, as we learn every time a Trumpublican veers into our airspace and carpet bombs our “comments” section with sophistry and dimwittedness.
It’s one thing to stare at a common set of facts and draw different conclusions. Game on. Let’s have at it.
It is something else entirely to attempt discourse in an environment where the debating parties are basing their points of view on different views of reality.
Reality divided against itself cannot stand.
Yes, it was a wonderful, welcome, quenching flow of sanity when finally – finally!!! – George W. Bush, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Colin Powell, George Will, William McRaven, Marine General John Allen, Cindy McCain, Mitt Romney, and former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly each, in their own words, made clear their acute disappointment with the current President.
Some among these icons of conservatism have said that they plan to vote for Joe Biden, others that they will simply not vote for Trump, and some simply excoriated his handling of the Black Lives Matter protests. Mitt Romney put on a mask and marched on the White House with the BLM protesters. All seem exhausted, disgusted, and eager to be rid of their party’s leader.
Powell choose to characterize his disdain for Trump on the exact issue of the "alternate reality." In his recent CNN interview, Powell said "I think he has not been an effective president. He lies all the time. He began lying the day of inauguration, when we got into an argument about the size of the crowd that was there. People are writing books about this favorite thing of lying. And I don't think that's in our interest."
Even Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski made a somewhat, uh, murky damnation of Trump when she applauded Mattis: “I felt like perhaps we are getting to a point where we can be more honest with the concerns that we might hold internally and have the courage of our own convictions to speak up.” Dear heaven, did a Republican Senator openly acknowledge that her Republican Senate colleagues are such wimps that they need the political cover from a fully functional adult like Mattis to speak honestly?
Yes, it is true that Trump's bungling of the COVID-19 crisis, the resultant damage to the economy, and his reaction to the murder of George Floyd have had a sliver of impact on Trump’s approval ratings. We here at BTRTN see a decline to 42%.
But don’t kid yourself, lefty.
The other way to read those numbers is to reflect on the hard knot of Fox-trotting Trumpublicans who still “approve” of his Presidency. Given everything that has happened in the past three years -- and the last three months in particular -- we now must accept that these people will never let go of their somewhere-not-over-the-rainbow world where women know their place, all Blacks are looters, immigrants are fenced out, every police officer carries the 007 privilege, God is Christian, worship is held daily at the altar of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the white man reigns supreme.
This is the metastasized cancer in a country that professes to believe that all persons are created equal, and have equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is not a polarization of political beliefs.
It is much bigger than that.
It is the fact that we have allowed fiction to co-exist alongside fact.
How that happened – inherent racism, xenophobia, misogyny, Fox, the internet, social media, Trump’s twitter feed, degradation of our K-12 public education, the insatiable greed of our wealthy, the resulting economic bifurcation, and government’s failure to regulate public media channels that profit on untruth – is a tale for another day. Look for more on this issue right here.
What we must do about it on the longer term is, too, a longer discussion, and also one we will tackle in the months ahead.
As for today, we will conclude – as now, so often, we must – that there are 146 days until the election.
I did promise some good news in all this, and that it this: in just 146 days, we have the chance to rescue our nation from the shame, divisiveness, ignorance, and destruction caused by Donald Trump.
We all must engage in the hard work of democracy. Vote, donate, volunteer for a phone bank, ring doorbells, ensure that any Biden-inclined person has the time and transportation to get to the polls. All hands on deck.
Consider this: if an undecided voter you know doesn't want to think of this election as a referendum on our Constitution, our concept of justice, the separation of powers, and the inalienable rights of our citizens to be free of tyranny, then suggest that they cast their vote based on an even bigger concept.
Urge them to vote for reality.
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