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What do we do in the absence of truth?
Trump: “Can I be honest?” Moderator: “The answer is no.”
I’m watching the presidential debate. It’s painful.
Donald Trump is like a child. Infuriated. Infuriating.
It’s like daycare. Trump can’t not talk. His mouth and lies are unstoppable. It’s a freight train on the loose. It’s remarkable.
At one point, the moderator was close to yelling, as Trump kept interjecting, interjecting, interjecting:
Trump: “Can I be honest?”
“Can I be honest?”
The moderator replied, referring to Trump’s insistence on continuing to talk. But it said so, so much:
Moderator: “The answer is no.”
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Rewind to hours before the debate had started. As I was jotting down a few thoughts, this e-mail was sent out out to Trump’s email list:
The email has gone out, and Trump hadn’t yet finished debating Joe Biden, because the debate hadn’t started.
The debate was still hours away.
E-mail database error, sure — but it reminded me of something that’s been floating around in my mind. It kept floating around when the debate started. When the moderator said: “The answer is no.”
I’ve been wondering why I’ve been getting so wound up, so utterly frustrated, as the election in both America and New Zealand looms; as I read countless iterations of conspiracy theories doing the rounds, and debate people that slide into my Instagram DMs screaming at me that, yes, Pizzagate is real, the mole children are real, the Satanic cabal is real:
It all boils down to one thing: the truth no longer matters.
It’s not a left right thing. It’s not a matter of opinion or nuance.
It’s just that the baseline of truth and objective reality has been dropped entirely from the equation.
It’s just who yells the largest. Who has the best memes. Who talks the most. Who has the best story. Who sells the best fiction.
If the discussion’s we’re having are not even based in reality, what’s the point?
Trump, the conspiracy theorist who happens to be the most important man in America, has mastered the art of living his own reality.
Case and point.
An amazing piece came out in the New York Times about Trump’s taxes. It’s beautiful because it’s dense with research, context and facts — but it was all distilled down to this one beautifully simple opening paragraph:
“Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.”
How Trump reacted, and how certain media reported on those facts — was totally devoid of reality.
Trump has mastered the art of saying whatever he wants to say — often bold lies — and because he just charges on in this post-truth world, a decent number of people will just believe him.
Yes, I know, this has been going on for as long as politics has been a thing. As long as humans have been breathing, we’ve been lying — an act which violates the truth; with how things are.
But with Trump in office, and madcap conspiracy groups like QAnon running loose — we’re experiencing it in a new, disorientating way.
Here in New Zealand, I’ve listened to local political wannabes like Billy TK Jnr blindly lie to thousands of people. He does it with gusto, and his disenfranchised fanbase lap it up.
He dismisses those who contradict his views with a move Trump perfected: “Fake news!”
I’m going to dig into this further in a future newsletter — I’ve been talking to a psychotherapist here in New Zealand who’s been dealing with a lot of paranoid people post COVID-19 — and has a particular interest in what is going on with the truth:
“I see paranoia and conspiracy theories as two closely related psychological phenomena, as do the social science researchers who study conspiracy theories.
Both are underpinned by what academics call ‘delusional ideation’: false beliefs which are persistently held onto or elaborated on despite simpler explanations or direct evidence to the contrary. “
I’m not sure how we fix it, but I think just being aware of it is helping me, somehow.
Being aware of how fucked up it all is.
I’m reminded of one of my favourite records, by a band called Isis.
(Don’t worry, they were named before the terrorist group was ever a thing!)
The album name is “In The Absence of Truth” — but there’s a tagline on there, too: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted”.
The “nothing is true, everything is permitted” part is attributed to Hassan-i-Sabbah, an Islamic mystic cult leader who died on 1124.
And that’s the problem we’re facing, I think. When there’s no truth, anything goes.
And here we are. Look at America right now. Look at all of us.
“Can I be honest?”
“The answer is no.”