Some days, it feels as though I have consumed some hallucinogenic mushrooms that are never going to wear off. The novelty is all gone from the tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
“Is Truth Dead?” the cover of Time asks this week – a question asked less with puckish provocation than with deadpan candor, given the typically bizarre statements from the commander-in-chief on which it is based.
Truth isn’t dead. You can’t kill gravity, you can’t kill science. Objective reality exists, whether you choose to believe it or not. The cold universe of facts doesn’t care.
But truth is taking an awful beating. It’s staggering and gasping for breath; its brow is furrowed with dismay that it has turned out to be so easily ignored.
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Time Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer landed a 20-minute phone interview with the president this week. It is unsurprisingly disturbing: The president creates his own odd reality, confident that millions of adoring Americans are slavishly willing to allow him to define truth for them.
Asked by Scherer, for instance, about the appalled observation by the editorially conservative Wall Street Journal that Trump clings to his demonstrable mistruths “like a drunk to an empty gin bottle,” the president breezily responded: “The country believes me. Hey, I went to Kentucky two nights ago. We had 25,000 people.”
He apparently believes that he is never wrong, that it is impossible for him to be wrong, that he ranks above the law, the courts, established precedent, and democratic government in defining objective truth. It creeps me out.
But it’s not without precedent. Tyrants are defined, in part, by their overweening confidence in their own absolute power and authority.
They’re exemplified not only by an obscure parade of tinpot dictators but also by some towering historical figures.
The bloated Tudor monster King Henry VIII believed (or made an excellent pretense of believing, which amounts to the same thing) that he was entirely guided by divine right, by God. Any whim that popped into his head – dumping a wife, having somebody’s head chopped off, invading France – would not have occurred to him had it not been God’s will, he reasoned.
Thus thinks Trump: If I say it, it is, by definition, true. If it’s not true yet (“last night in Sweden”), it will be soon, because “my instinct turns out to be right.”
It is understandable that conservative voters who genuinely disliked former president Barack Obama and his policies are happy now to have Their Side in charge, championing their own political beliefs and preferences.
What’s hard to understand is the willingness to accept complete fabrication, the stubborn resistance to routine fact-checking in choosing what to believe.
Perhaps, sadly, it comes down to this: Our guy won. Hooray, in your face, eat it and like it – we won, and truth be damned. For a lot of people, there is sheer exhilarating joy in this nightmare funhouse ride. That scares me more than anything.
The president and his ardent damn-the-facts supporters are preoccupied to the exclusion of all else with “winning.” It remains to be seen how much damage this preoccupation will inflict on routine governance.
A win, though, is ephemeral. You have to win again tomorrow, and the day after that.
In the process, you might turn your back on truth. But it’s always there.