Kate Woodsome (WP) put our current situation well when she said:
“Fact-checking delusion is not effective when the president is promoting conspiracy theories”
in her piece describing the terrifying day at the Capitol she and her camera person endured last Wednesday.
Honestly though, fact-checking delusions is never a winning proposition whether the guy with the nuclear codes is propagating said delusions or they’ve arisen from brain chemistry gone haywire (or both). Delusions and conspiracies are in that class of highly slippery beliefs that aren’t subject to normal testing, checking, arbitrating, proving, disproving, and so on. It’s basically how belief in there being an omnipresent, omnipotent God-figure (or god-figures) hangs on for so many no matter what – there’s no way to definitively prove there isn’t a God. Similarly, there’s no way to prove that someone, somewhere in some decisive county didn’t do something exceptionally clever to have the tally come out for Biden and not you and it doesn’t matter how many election officials attest to the veracity of the results. There’s always room for a modicum of doubt and that’s enough if you want it to be enough.
At this point it probably wouldn’t matter if you were to go on national television and say in the most convincing way possible (i.e., not reading woodenly from a teleprompter) that you have decided you have to tell the American people the truth, which is that you manipulated them into believing the election was stolen, that you’ve been lying to US for decades to stoke White paranoia and grievance and to consolidate power. Even if they heard it coming from an apparently chastened Trump, they wouldn’t believe you – they’d convince themselves that the video was a deep fake or that the deep state had gotten to you and threatened your life (they’d know instinctively that no one else’s life would matter that much to you). They’d find some way, or fifty ways, that you couldn’t possibly be telling the truth about having systematically lied to them because to believe this would be to have their entire world views shattered. They’d be like whipped, lost puppies dumped out on the side of some desolate random road without the slightest idea how to get home.
Plus, if you were to step up, tell the truth, and keep pressing the case, they’d turn on you just like they turned on McConnell and Pence. As miserable the row you’ve hoed for yourself is, if you were to step out of line now and really call bullshit on yourself, your base would grind you into fertilizer faster than I can finish this sentence. You’d be toast, man. They love the lie too much.
The lie is what’s sustaining them. The lie is animating their lives, giving them reason to get up in the morning. The lie is enabling their connections and community. (Really, it’s lies upon lies but for simplicity sake I’m going with the “the lie” for now.) The lie is convincing them that they’re “the true Americans,” that they’re “the true Patriots” and that everyone else is so much scum and completely undeserving of respect or dignity. The lie has them eating out of your hand. And the lie would have them bite your hand off in a heartbeat if you were to level with them.
I came across this illustrative (and beyond disturbing) statement by a 64-year old Kansas man in the WP this morning:
“I’m so mad, I see red about the [expletive] steal. I believe with all my heart that the Democratic Party stole the election, and I will never believe otherwise as long as I draw breath. Liberals, you’re driving us to civil war.”
May we be safe from delusion-inducing gaslighting.
May we figure out how the hell not to be pulled under by this insanity.
May we be strong and keep our feet firmly planted in reality.
May we accept that this is not only very scary, but also very, very sad for all of US.