America Has Spoken: Lie to Me
Photo: Gage Skidmore
Donald Trump did not win the presidency last night; falsehood did. The awkward lurch across two years to see who would succeed Barack Obama as the 45th President of these Disjointed States ended late in the night with a string of statistically-improbable losses for Hillary Clinton. My social media lit up with cackling mad people eagerly anticipating the coming memes that the alt-right’s chosen candidate would usher in. I felt like I was trapped in one of those panels in a Batman comic where The Joker’s laughter forms the entire background.
Amid that were my gay friends, my women friends, my friends of color and my disabled friends. Everyone wanted to know one thing; how did this happen? The answer is pretty clear: America is desperate to be lied to.
That’s what Donald Trump ultimately brought to the table. He was able to weave falsehoods on such a massive scale they simply fell off the ability to measure. And no, don’t tell me that Hillary Clinton was equally dishonest. You will never find a single reputable fact checker to back that premise up.
Not that the people who have voted to have the door hinges of the White House now plated in gold care about “reputable” or “measurable.” In fact that’s what makes the alt-right the alt-right instead of Neo-Nazis. It’s the “alt” part, the web culture’s ability to gang-redefine reality on a pinball machine in order to make conspiracies palatable to swallow.
America wanted to know that the reason they needed their guns was that crime was rampant and criminals are swarming across the border with no obstacles. That’s just not provable. Crime is down and we’ve had more deportation in the Obama administration than the previous. Who cares, though? Let gun manufacturers, their lobbyists, and the politicians they influence keep the specter of home intruders and government grabs keep the money flowing until folks have more ammo than opportunity to exceed.
Hillary Clinton went to Kentucky to tell the truth. She went there to explain that coal was not the future because it’s not. She brought instead an idea about retraining, reinvesting in the community, and taking care of the effects of a lifetime working with hazardous materials. What did Kentucky do? Howled in rage and cried as Trump held them and promised King Coal would return. King Coal will not. His head is on a spike.
It’s been said that the Democrats left the rural areas behind, but did they really? Or did the rural areas simply swallow the Republican lie that rejecting everything the Democrats stood for would make them prosperous and happy, and by extension leave the party actually trying to help them to look for votes elsewhere? How many people here in Texas still have little to no health care thanks to Republican austerity? Cult leaders tell their followers to sell their worldly possessions and live in squalor while they buy mansions. If there’s ever been a better parallel to the Republican economic worldview I haven’t heard it.
America loves it, though. They love the lie like they love the lottery because the reality is still too harsh to face. How else could a man born to wealth and who has spent his entire life using that wealth to shortchange those he hires convince anyone he was a populist leader? Any one of the people who are convinced of the idea of Make America Great Again would spit in Trump’s coffee if they actually had to work for him.
As a journalist, someone who spends a fair amount of time seeking as close to the objective truth as possible, Americans’ eagerness to swallow the most comforting lie, no matter how toxic, has been terrifying. People were honestly able to equate a non-scandal regarding Clinton’s email server as an unspeakable criminal act worthy of prison, while being completely blind to Trump’s still pending court date for federal racketeering charges in less than two weeks.
I get the dissatisfaction. Almost none of us is where we want to be, and we all want something to blame. Whether it’s the establishment or the government or big business or whatever, we feel this visceral need to reject our part in the world we live in because actual change is hard.
If there is any legacy of this election cycle, it’s a long line of opportunistic men telling disaffected crowds that being mindlessly angry was literally the best they had to offer. That anger might as well have been a magnet to the metal of bullshit and unproven plots. It was so, so shiny, a nostrum for all that ails.
Now the question is, at what point will the effects of our lie-addiction be so inarguably awful we sober up? Will it be after reproductive rights are restricted to the point that coat hanger wards return as the norm? When mosques burn weekly? When families you know are ripped apart by deportation squads? When journalists like myself simply stop talking under the threats Trump has made to seek vengeance against those who speak out?
Truth died in American discourse this November. What delirious realm of not-truth will govern us from here on in is anyone’s guess.
by Jef Rouner