Anyone who has ever done therapy has encountered the term “objective reality.” It’s what IS — the situation on the ground uncolored by our peccadillos, politics, spiritual beliefs, upbringing defects, ingrained habits, relationship baggage, assorted brokenness, passions and fears. It’s the pure thing. Like gravity.
America has slipped its rational moorings... drifting farther and farther away from the dependable safety of what IS to an out-of-kilter and frenetic world where lost white boys seek brotherhood in fake armies, where QAnon blossoms in a fertile national insanity, where political leaders swear over and over that what really, truly isn’t happening, really, truly is.
This drift away from objective reality isn’t accidental. Someone cut the rope.
There have always been snake oil salesmen who prey upon the unsuspecting, those who never developed the higher-order thinking skills or bullshit detectors or whatever it is that should stand between the swindler and his mark. Republican Machiavelli Newt Gingrich relied on our dearth of reasoning skills back in 1990 when he wrote “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” The memo, sent to GOP operatives, contained two lists of words — “Optimistic Positive Governing Words” like “truth, moral, courage, reform, prosperity” to be used in Republican campaigns, and “Contrasting Words” like “sick, pathetic, lie, liberal” and “hypocrisy, radical, threaten, devour, waste, corruption” to describe Democratic candidates and proposals.
Gingrich, who used language (and any bits of dishonesty he could conjure up) as a politically polarizing wedge, helped lay the foundation for America’s current logical dysfunction, embodied by the Trump administration, for which Newt has acted as an adviser.
“Few figures in modern history have done more than Gingrich to lay the groundwork for Trump’s rise,” wrote McKay Coppins in “The Man Who Broke Politics” (The Atlantic, 2018). “During his two decades in Congress, he pioneered a style of partisan combat — replete with name-calling, conspiracy theories, and strategic obstructionism — that poisoned America’s political culture and plunged Washington into permanent dysfunction. Gingrich’s career can perhaps be best understood as a grand exercise in devolution — an effort to strip American politics of the civilizing traits it had developed over time and return it to its most primal essence.”
And what came next?
As Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michiko Kakutani wrote in The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump: “... with Trump’s winning of the Republican nomination and the presidency, the extremist views of his most radical supporters — their racial and religious intolerance, their detestation of government, and their embrace of conspiracy thinking and misinformation — went mainstream.”
The Republic now suffers from manmade “truth decay,” our public discourse filled with “alternative facts,” fake science (brought to you by the anti-vaxxers and climate deniers), and fake history (Holocaust deniers). We’re also plagued by fake (Facebook) Americans — armies of Russia-backed bots and trolls that use our social media addiction against us, muddying the reality waters even further. As Trump enabler and loose cannon Rudy Giuliani has said, “Truth isn’t truth.”
Back in those nostalgic “ordinary times,” the Fourth Estate, America’s journalists, were able to tease out the rhetoric to get at what IS. And those media in the top middle of the Media Bias Chart (tinyurl.com/2020-media-bias) have continued to do yeoman’s work (though their efforts to keep reality real run headlong into nonstop GOP charges of “fake news”).
We’re left with the perhaps insurmountable challenge of putting the toothpaste back in the tube. After all the lies, the distortions, the malicious fantasies of the Trump years, how do we resurrect reality and reclaim our nation’s sanity?