Sunday, January 08, 2017

Mourning in America – Part V: A House of Lies

The Gospel According to Donald 

In years to come, perhaps the sacred scriptures of Trumpland will tell this story of its rise to power:

A reading from the Book of Trump:

These are the generations of the nation once called Trumpland when it was created.'
In the beginning was the Lie. And the Lie was with the Candidate and the Lie was the Candidate. The Candidate told lies, outrageous lies, and made no attempt to do otherwise. Honesty was not his nature. 

And the people knew they were being told lies. Indeed, the Candidate’s stories changed from day to day. They were roundly revealed as false by those charged with checking facts. 

But, in the end, it did not matter. 

For the people said, “He says what I think” even as the Candidate uttered blasphemies against virtually every aspect of humanity within the nation and outside its borders. And they prepared to vote for him even as they lied about their intents. 

But, first, the voters lied to themselves. 

“He doesn’t really mean that” they said, lying to themselves and each other. Soon they came to see their own lies as their rationalization for voting for a monster even as they knew deep down it was a lie. 

But, in the end, it did not matter.

Then the voters sought to prevent themselves from hearing any disconfirming others who might shatter their precious rationalizations with fact. And so they came to dwell within bubbles of the like-minded and fashioned for themselves echo chambers of social media to convey post-fact constructions they now proclaimed as revealed truth. 

And the people knew even as they circled their wagons, cutting off the oxygen from the outside world around them, that this was all designed to protect and perpetuate the lies they now guarded as sacred. And they attacked those who would dare shatter their self-deceiving bubbles calling them false prophets, liberal elites, threatening them with harm. Their defensive behaviors betrayed their pleas of innocence. 

But, in the end, it did not matter. 

And so on election day, yea, they did go down to the polls and elect the Monster. They swore that the misogyny, racism and homophobia of the Candidate and his running mate did not represent their views. 

But once more they lied to themselves, each other and the nation. 

And so thus died the nation they had once loved and served, the United States of America. And in its place arose a new regime, a grotesque caricature of their own making. And they fell down and worshipped the work of their own hands. 

And they called their idol Trumpland.
Here ends the reading.

How Truth Came to Have Little Meaning

One of the more egregious aspects of the 2016 election was the role that dishonesty, deception and disingenuity played in it. Elections of a nation’s leadership should be the occasion for candid, even painful, acknowledgment of who we are as a people, the state of our common lives together, who the candidates are that sought to lead us and how they intended to do so. Instead, the election proved to be a cascading house of lies, one building on the next, at whose bottom ultimately no truth existed.

In perhaps one of the greatest ironies in American electoral history, the most honest candidate in the election, Hillary Clinton, ended up being widely seen as the most dishonest. No doubt disowned sexism played a role in the willingness of many to buy into that self-deception and the ability of various forms of media to construct images for willing consumers to buy played an even larger role. 

An even greater irony came from the fact that supporters of the least honest candidate in the election, Donald Trump, were the most vociferous proponents of the dishonesty of his opponent. They proved capable of simultaneously ignoring the fact that the candidate they supported was patently unbelievable and told outrageous lies even as they rationalized their votes for him by buying into one of Mr. Trump’s countless misanthropic constructions: Lying Hillary.
How in the world did we Americans end in a place where actual truth had so little meaning in the election of our nation’s highest leader?

Buyer’s Remorse

“When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”
Maya Angelou

A consistent response that self-identified Trump voters have given to surveyors since the election when asked how they could vote for someone who so consistently evidences misanthropic attitudes presumably at odds with those of the voter was both simple and chilling in its self-delusion: “He really doesn’t mean all that.” 

There are several troubling implications of that statement. First, it evidences the fact that the voters knew Donald Trump was lying to them and that they were willing to countenance those lies. For whatever reasons, they were willing to vote for someone they knew to be a liar. 

Second, it suggests that the candidate for whom they were supposedly voting was not the candidate who actually appeared on the ballot. Donald Trump revealed himself as misogynist. White women still voted to elect him, telling themselves he didn’t mean that. In the end, white privilege trumped all else for them. Donald Trump also revealed himself to be a would-be womanizer. Evangelicals still voted to elect him, telling themselves that he was the instrument of G-d. 

Donald Trump repeatedly articulated constructions of Americans of color and foreign birth that questioned their place in our land. Yet, enough Americans in the right states voted to elect him, telling themselves he’d never really single out Muslims for discrimination even as the preliminary steps to do so are being formulated. 

In an age in which virtual reality now has the capacity to supersede actual reality in the minds of the general public, this is hardly surprising. But it does raise the question of who these voters actually thought they were electing if they knew the candidate they were voting for didn’t mean what he said. It also raises the very distinct possibility that when the person they elected, shortly after taking power, reveals himself to be who he said he was all along, it will not be the Great White Savior the voter had so earnestly desired. 

The morning after hangover among voters who can no longer maintain the denial is likely to be distressing. They will have to come to grips with the fact that the candidate they elected, knowing he was a liar, is not the person their wishful thinking constructed him to be. Their hopes will no doubt quickly be disappointed in Washington. And any of them with even a modicum of conscience will be placed in the position of having to come to grips with their own role in this debacle though they are unlikely to actually do so.

Even as Trump’s voters engaged in self-deception to construct a candidate who did not offend their sensibilities, they simultaneously engaged in a process of constructing his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as patently dishonest. It is hardly surprising that the Shadow content of a candidate they knew to be dishonest would ultimately be projected onto his opponent and used to rationalize a vote for a monster. 

In all fairness, Clinton’s tendencies to engage in secrecy and to stonewall when investigated provided some traction for the construction. The uncritical, acontextual and incessant repetition of a sensationalist news media of every allegation, no matter how groundless, also aided in that process. 

Americans have long been prone to ignore the presumption of innocence when it comes to accused wrongdoers. Lynching is, after all, an American tradition.

That was evident just two weeks before the election when FBI Director James Comey cryptically announced that it had found new emails supposedly improperly sent from Hillary Clinton’s personal computers and then said it could not talk about the investigation any further. As it has turned out, the emails were repeats of those on Clinton’s computer and provided absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing.

Ordinarily, the FBI never makes such splashy announcements of cases under investigation. This intervention into the election was overtly political given its timing and the predictable bombshell the announcement would have on the campaign. The cryptic manner in which it was articulated was the epitome of disingenuity, creating suspicion where none could be rightfully posited. The willingness of the nation’s chief law enforcement agency to engage in deliberate deception for political gain comes at an enormous cost to its own sense of legitimacy and the willingness of the American people to trust it in the future.

The result was a super constellation around what was ultimately a non-story about mishandled emails that would not go away. Clinton owned up to making mistakes in her handling of the emails even as she had done nothing her predecessors had not done. But she could never escape the constant barrage of name-calling by her opponent, an uncritical media desperate for ratings and willing to titillate viewers with that name calling and unsubstantiated allegations and most of all, a public willing to buy in. 

In the end, that provided enough rationalization for voters who knew better to elect a monster. 

Tarnished Haloes 

On the eve of the national election, polls indicated that while the race was tight, Hillary Clinton led nationally and in virtually all of the key states needed to secure electoral votes for victory. Within 24 hours the former prediction was confirmed - Clinton won the national popular majority by 3 million votes - while the latter prediction had changed. 

Some explanations for the failure of pollsters to accurately predict the results of the 2016 election point toward the focus on urban and suburban centers without looking at the rural vote. Seeking to lay the blame on elites who simply discounted their rural brethren in the sticks, conservatives lost no time in citing this as one more example of urban and coastal elites out of touch with flyover country.


But something else was at work in this election that may never be accounted for - dishonesty. Few people are ever willing to own up to their wrongdoing, particularly when it has enormous social implications for others. It should hardly be surprising that this election should be any different.

Social scientists have long found that when people are publicly surveyed about issues with potential impact on their social acceptability, they often give the response they perceive to be socially acceptable. This is called the Halo Effect, indicating that for the responder it is more important to be seen as socially acceptable than honest. 

This phenomenon has been long observed in votes on high profile social issues. The polls in California prior to the vote on Proposition 187 suggested that the proposition which sought to penalize illegal aliens by denying educational and health benefits had evenly split the California electorate. On election day, the anti-immigrant measure was passed 59-41%.

Again, in California in the weeks just prior to the vote on the anti-gay Proposition 8, which was sold to voters under the deceptive banner of “protecting marriage,” polls indicated that more voters opposed the measure than supported it. The last poll prior to the election put the anti-vote at just over 50%, an outright majority along with the undecided. On election day, 53% of California voters approved the anti-gay measure which would eventually be struck down by a conservative US Supreme Court as unconstitutional, just as its opponents had argued during the election. 

Britain’s recent vote  to leave the European Common Union (Brexit) featured an election which was marked by false promises to an angry working class and was animated by  decidedly racist and anti-immigrant polemics. In the weeks prior to the election, the stay vote was leading though on election day had dwindled to less than one point ahead. Come election day, the Leave vote won the election by 4 percentage points, 52/48. Once again, voters had deceived pollsters. 

It is important to note that the Halo Effect reflects the privilege that misanthropic voters who intend to cast a vote for a socially unacceptable position or candidate always have. On the one hand, they are socially rewarded for the appearance of not actively supporting the misanthropic (anti-immigrant, homophobic, et al) attitudes they may actually hold. At the same time, they know they can, in the darkness of the voting booth, vote in a manner which reflects the darkness of their hearts. 

Once the curtain draws behind the voter, all bets are off for integrity.

In the aftermath of an election in which dishonesty played such a critical role, many of those appalled by the ability of Trump to eke out an electoral victory win despite a 3 million vote loss in the popular vote, began to ask these questions: 

How can we trust people who would elect a monster? 

More importantly, how can we trust people who would lie about doing so?
Trust begins with honesty. People who lie to themselves, to each other and the general public are not trustworthy. The inability to trust one another is the death sentence for democratic republics. 

But it is what has fueled the rise of the hypercompetitive, misanthropic and sectarian culture of Trumpland, the country that has just given a man its people know to be virtually incapable of telling the truth the codes to the nuclear football. 

[Continued with Part VI]

Harry Scott Coverston
Orlando, Florida
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.
For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)
© Harry Coverston, 2016

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