Opinion Writing

Donald Trump and the post-truth era

A few hours before the polls closed on Election Day, the manager of my apartment complex sent out a note saying that all doors save the front one would be closed, that all residents needed to have their security fobs on them at all times because the Miami police chief had announced that violence was expected and eminent.

There were, of course, no actual reports of any such thing, and the night passed in South Florida, and in most of the rest of the country, free of any type of violent clashes – save the insomnia, anxiety and spiritual indigestion occurring within the bodies of millions of Americans.

Oh sure, a number of storefronts have been boarded up, though this may be more of a function of Eta than Tropical Storm Trump – the latter of which is being downgraded by the minute. As of this writing on Friday afternoon, Joe Biden is leading the president in Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania, a hand that, regardless of the lies and bluster, is essentially impossible to overcome.

The former vice president will be the 46th president, and though we are surely in line for weeks if not months of lawsuits, whining and recriminations, it will all be for naught. Biden will be in and Donald Trump will leave the White House voluntarily or otherwise. But what about the rest of us? How does this fractured nation come together again, to see its ideological opponents as mistaken, not evil? To see the value in compromise, the necessity of fair dealing, and not a zero-sum game to make the other half of the country miserable?

Trump has been such a liar that he has warped our country’s idea of reality

When I confronted the apartment manager about her note, telling there had been no such announcement, she simply doubled down, noting that the National Guard had been sent out to several cities in the state, including Miami. Though true, she failed to note that they were sent out as a cautionary measure and mostly to help direct traffic at polling places.

Is the reason because of the news media? How much are we to blame? Partly, I’ll grant you. The advent of the 24-hour cable news cycle begot an increased reliance on pundits; the creation of Fox News as a right-wing force begot the leftward reaction of CNN and MSNBC; and the boneheaded business sense of newspaper executives in the late 1990s (by giving away their content for free) begot the slow circling of the drain of profits, personnel and pages. The combined relance of Americans on opinion-driven broadcast news and the weakening of daily newspapers created the current ecosystem. That is, one where many people believe all journalists are biased – because those partisan pundits are the only ones they can name – while the decreasing number of bylines of straight reporters fade to grey.

But more than this, it has been politicians, overwhelmingly on the right, who have jumped full-bore on funhouse-mirror-of-reality train, repeating lies they believe will keep them in power. They have been aided-and-abetted by social media companies who have been so immensely craven in their desire for profits that they have decided that the cost of the American experiment is worth the freight.

I don’t see a lot of hope for the GOP now or in the future, for even if Trump is vanquished, the meanness he stood for remains. Take the actions of 25-year-old Matthew Cawthorne, the newly minted congressman from North Carolina, upon being projected the winning of his race by the AP Tuesday night. Did he thank his supporters? Talk about what he would to in office? (Gasp!) Commend his opponent for a tough, but fair race? Nope. A Tweet: “Cry more lib.”

So what’s the answer? The most obvious is to create a society where people are more attuned to truth and falsity, becoming more discerning in the facts they use to create their opinions and beliefs. I believe we are seeing the impacts of decades of reduced educational funding at all levels, an investment that has not only made us less wise, but unhealthier and more suspicious of those not in our tribe.

Like climate change, it was a long time coming, and many, many years went by without the American society having to pay the cost of our frittering. Unlike climate change, however, it is easier to reverse. This is not to say it’ll be easy, but far more possible. I’m even optimistic this could happen, as it is a truly bipartisan issue. If we are a country where the best ideas are supposed to win out, both the right and left have much to gain by a more intelligent and thoughtful society.

We are not as truly divided as we might think we are, as the seemingly differences in our realities have been put in our head by those who wish to keep our minds in check and our votes in line.

Because there is only one reality, one truth and one America. Time for us to start acting like it. Make truth real again.

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