Much has been made in the liberal media about Donald Trump’s lies, exaggerations, and deliberate distortion of the facts, and of course they are right. Fact-checking sites worked overtime during the campaign and one, Politifact, found that 75 percent of the ‘facts’ Trump quoted were either false, fictional, or fabricated.
The real news is that none of his supporters paid any attention whatsoever. They understood his whoppers for exactly what they were – signifiers, memes, and iconic references to make a point. No Trump partisan ever fact-checked his statement that Hillary Clinton’s policies would allow 650 million immigrants into the country any more than anyone really believes that Isaac was 180 when he died. In both cases there was a point to be made. Trump’s hyperbole was to draw attention to the issue, no more. The remarkable age of Isaac was a symbol of his importance before God, especially resonant to short-lived Jews of the second millennium.
Only progressives seemed to get exercised over Trump’s free and easy way with the ‘truth’ and misunderstood the nature of his relationship with his supporters. He is an oversized, bombastic, image-driven product of Hollywood, television, and Wall Street. He made his way in the cutthroat business of high-stakes real estate where his stock-in-trade was bluff, exaggerated claims, and impossible promises; and his supporters love him for it. They did not vote for an on-the-one-hand-on-the-other liberal academic but a flesh-and-blood victor, a man of outsized ambitions and appetites.
Nor did Trump supporters care about his alleged sexual indiscretions. They come with the territory, and all the greats of American history – LBJ, JFK, MLK, and many others – were serial fornicators. FDR had a a decades-long affair. Jefferson had children by one of his slaves. Bill Clinton had sex with an intern. As Henry Kissinger noted, “Power is the greatest aphrodisiac” and boasted that even a short, ugly Jewish man could get the world’s blonde beauties. Trump was no different in his boastful, but quite true claims. In any case, his supporters took these statements as par for the course for a 70 year old man from an earlier generation, blessed with looks, money, and power.
This disregard for ‘the truth’ by Trump and his supporters’ dismissal of it only hardened the Left’s conviction that they were uneducated, unenlightened, boorish backwoods throwbacks – a misogynistic, homophobic, and racist lot who were beyond reach and redemption.
This is why now, after the election, that there can be no hope for reconciliation. How could there be when one side believes in the superior value of intelligence, intellect, rationality, inclusiveness, and communalism and the other disregards truth for emotion, facts for purpose; and trades ‘reality’ for image and fantasy.
The United States is a country divided in many ways – by race, ethnicity, geography, social class, education, and wealth – but the most important division is that between logic and illogic. For the progressive Left anyone who believes that the Bible is the unaltered word of God cannot possibly judge rationally on any subject. Belief in the Flood, Noah’s Ark, the Resurrection, the six-day Creation, and Jesus’ miracles is but the stepping stone into a world of myth, fantasy, and unreality.
The religious Right claim just the opposite. Whether the Bible is divine fact or a compendium of mystery, miracle, parable, and metaphor it still is the primary source for their inspiration in moral, ethical, and civic affairs.
The irony of this of course is that progressives’ reliance on ‘facts’ is just as subjective as Trumpists’ rejection of them. There is no such thing as settled history, economics, philosophy, religion, or science; but liberals behave as if there were and act as if there were no legitimate debate on how to resolve issues of poverty, climate change, income distribution, environmental hazards, or the conflict between individual and religious rights. There is no room in the progressive canon for Biblical views on marriage, sex, abortion, family, evolution, or justice.
Worst of all this vilification of the Trump supporters feeds on itself in a perpetual vicious circle, adding calumny and hatred with every rotation. The intolerance of the Left for the beliefs, opinions, and convictions of the Right becomes even more hostile as conservatives gain in power and audience. The more the Right pushes back against the Left, the more liberal antagonistic resolve is strengthened. It becomes not enough to defeat the Right, but to destroy a political movement which espouses the worst of human nature.
The more the conservative Right is put upon, the more hostile it becomes to what is sees as the arrogant, insular, dismissive, and sanctimonious claims of the Left; and the intrusive use of government to promote its agenda.
So, is reconciliation possible? Can we all come together? Can Trump actually do what he suggested in his victory speech and heal partisan wounds and bring the country back together again? Hardly, and very unlikely. In fact every new President says the very same thing because American politics have always been brawling free-for-alls. While it seems as though this campaign has been worse than most, a cursory look at history shows that plenty of mud has been slung in the past. The issue is not the campaigns, but the American people. We are so profoundly divided, that it will be generations if ever that true social integration will be achieved.
James Carville, longtime political commentator had this to say on Morning Joe (11.7.2016):
"I'm not sure the country wants to be pulled together. I'm not sure the people who are voting for Trump want to be pulled together with the people who are voting for Clinton and vice versa…It is almost a country…going into different camps.”The fact that we are a divided country is not news. The fact that we might want to be is. Carville has rightly understood that in an era of identity politics, self-esteem, and complexity, we cannot afford to integrate, join forces, or become part of the melting pot. It is no surprise that women, gays, Latinos, transsexuals, and blacks are all fighting for traction in an unforgiving competitive society.
If Carville is right – and the pervasiveness of identity politics in our highly complex society seems to confirm his judgment – than reconciliation is even less possible. To conciliate, compromise, accept the idea that one’s opponents may actually have a point or even be right, means abandoning principle, conviction, and self-image.
And, as in the case of hardening prejudices the more the wheel turns, the more political convictions become matters of personal identity and worth, the less likely are people are to give them up.
We are in it for the long haul. It will be generations before the economic and social disparities among majority and minority groups are minimized, the sine qua non of civic integration. As long as population continues to increase and resources remain finite, competition will be as much a part of life as existed millennia before.
Human nature – territorial, aggressive, self-interested, expansionist, and self-protective – hasn’t changed for a million years and is unlikely to do so. Driven by its imperatives, competition will be the byword of civilization and culture for a long time to come. When expressed in the increasingly complex, demanding world of limited resources, it is no surprise that it becomes violent or at least hostile.
The American judicial system provides a good illustration of how to live within an adversarial, competitive society. It is not based on the truth – which most jurists and philosophers agree does not exist – but only on prevailing versions of it. One hopes that ‘true’ justice will be served, but most of us are satisfied with justice alone. Reconciliation does not exist, only acceptance.
Now that Donald Trump has been elected, Hillary Clinton supporters cannot be expected to accept, tolerate, and be quiet. Their resolve will have certainly hardened given the election of one whom they have so demonized. Trump is not simply the 45th President of the United States, but the incarnation of political evil. How can one sit back and do nothing?
Hold on to your hats. The ride has just begun.