Opposing the Liars … Our Civilization Depends on It

GELFAND’S WORLD--Harlan Ellison, Timothy Snyder, and Ta Nehisi Coates are modern authors who have written with great eloquence that Truth Matters. It may seem strange that someone has to say so, but in this era it becomes a painful necessity. Snyder wrote On Tyranny, Coates has written two well received books and a column for The Atlantic. Ellison has published nearly two thousand stories and columns. And they all keep saying that truth matters. They're not alone, but their outspokenness in response to modern forms of public dishonesty stands out. 

Ellison came to widespread public notice by writing a ground breaking column in the Los Angeles Free Press (photo above) starting in the mid 1960s, ostensibly centered on television criticism, but ranging widely through social and civic commentary. This being the time of the Viet Nam War, Ellison took on the powerful forces that fed propaganda rather than facts to the public. Later, in the 2016-17 turmoil, Snyder sounded the call against Trump's fascist tendencies. Coates has called our attention to current self-delusion about racism and the nation's roots in slavery. (Coates remarked at a recent talk that the Thirty Years War and the Hundred Years War may have had complex causes, but the cause of the American Civil War was simple. It was slavery and the question of whether slavery would be allowed to spread to new states and territories.) 

Without knowing such truths, we become fixated as a nation on immoral and impractical paths. We revel in military adventures even as the southern United States keeps itself in thrall to a mythology of a benevolent slavery, a claim based on deception. 

Today we live in a nation of professional liars, starting from the man at the top, descending through Fox News and the Republican Party, and continuing through fifty states filled with talk radio. 

Opposing these liars is, if anything, a sacred calling, but it is also a necessity. Our civilization depends on it. 

At one level and for one American voting minority, we've already lost. Recent analysis of core Trump supporters suggests that they are, by and large, a group that is immune to reality. The hard right wing lives in its own bubble. And curiously enough, a lot of them don't really seem to care all that much about the veracity of what they are told. It doesn't much matter to them whether something the president tells them is true or false. They are more wedded to their own tribal identity than they are to cerebral function. For some, it may even be that they recognize that the president is a teller of tall tales, and they enjoy the way it irritates his critics. That's taking ethnic tribalism to a severe level. 

But there is another group of one-time Trump voters who are less happy. The polling data make this fact quite clear. Some states which were won by Trump now show him with a decidedly underwater rating. It is not only important to tell these new swing voters the truth in the hope that they will return to a saner form of voting, it is critically necessary to keep telling them the story that there actually is a real truth to tell. We must point out that voters are invited to reject the "alternate facts" of this administration in order that they hear and embrace truth. If nothing else, it will help that former Trump voters come to recognize that they have been lied to in a big way. 

This November of election anniversaries and bitter recriminations 

November 8 of last year was a miserable, debilitating, unhappy day. Last week, the president made sure to remind us of his election in one of his overseas speeches. I realize that the rest of us are trying to forget that it happened, but this is not yet the time. Maybe in three years. But for now we have work to do, fights to fight, and outrage to hold onto. 

It's important to keep that feeling of outrage -- and yes, fear -- that we felt one year ago. At the time, we didn't know exactly what to expect. It might have been worse, what happened, but allow me to remind you that it has been plenty bad. 

Trump has been carrying water for the ultra-right through his appointments to the federal courts. It has been a disaster, beginning with the Supreme Court and continuing in the lower courts. It is long term, ongoing damage that will be with us for decades. We might pause and remember the previous damage to political ethics coming from the Citizens United decision. A Trump loss would have gone a long way towards the judiciary moderating that horrible decision. Now, it is not to be. 

The chipping away at the voting rights act by the Roberts court is another violation of American liberties. 

Things have been and will continue to be depressing. Still, we have productive work to do. The recent electoral victories in Virginia and New Jersey are evidence that fear and loathing (to borrow a phrase) can be put to good use. The evidence is that a certain percentage of once-Trump-voters have become disillusioned. Some of them originally probably voted for Trump as a sort of protest, in the expectation that he would not actually win. I know one such person here in California who did so. They have been facing the cold light of reality since January, and it's obvious that millions have buyers' remorse. 

It's our job to keep reminding those people that they have to help the sane people get the country back in running order.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at amrep535@sbcglobal.net