This series will explore Masha Gessen's six rules for surviving in an autocracy. This post explores Rule #1: Believe the autocrat.
The wood table on which my laptop sits is true. It’s an immutable fact to which there is no alternative. If you claimed as fact that it is made of vapor, you would still knock your shin when you tried to walk through it.
There is truth in a wood table.
There is truth in human nature, in the world. There is truth in God. And then, there are the trappings and interpretations we place upon these with the claim that ours is the one and only—the true—truth.
This arena is the first front of our second American civil war, which has been raging for some time as the "culture wars," but has now entered a crucial, more lethal, phase with our new national leadership.
We are at war over who determines what is true experience right now. We are at war over what truth is. And this is not theoretical or esoteric. This battle over truth holds real people's lives in the balance.
One example is the conflict over what's true about LGBTQ people.
One the one hand, as I see it, LGBTQ people reside in the middle areas of the human spectrums of sexual orientation and gender identity. As God's beloved creation, we express God's delight in vibrant, exuberant variety. This is truth about LGBTQ people for most mainline American Christians and among non-church Americans these days.
On the other, many conservative Christians and conservatives of other faiths, as well, define healthy human beings as straight, cisgender men or women. They believe any variation from this sexual orientation and gender identity is an aberration that is contrary to God's will. This is the truth for them about LGBTQ people, and from this “truth,” they conclude that LGBTQ people need to be healed or punished or, certainly, shunned.
The danger of our present moment rises from the power this conservative version of truth about LGBTQ people has gained in this last election. Mike Pence, a devoted proponent of this Christian position, is a heartbeat away from the presidency and a key advisor to Donald Trump. The Tea Party Republicans dominate Congress as well as many state legislatures.
In the midst of our warring views, there is the immutable truth comparable to the table before me.
LGBTQ people are people. We pursue happiness. Powers that thwart our humanity (like those before us now) are life threatening. When their falsehoods prompt political power to stumble into us, LGBTQ people are the ones who suffer.
And this is just one example. A false grasp of what is true saturates the Trump regime. Our President has not hidden this from us. His tweets are consistent with his most coherent public statements, the announcement of his candidacy, his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, his Inaugural Address, and his budget priorities.
His false understanding of Islam leads him to stumble into the table of fragile international balances, creating the very threat of violence he purports to be protecting us from. The truth of world religions—Christianity and Islam in particular—seems to be of no interest to him or his advisors.
The Trump administration is intent on their false vision.
Beyond LGBTQ people and religion, their falsehoods include “inner cities,” immigration, crime rates, climate change and economic realities. What can you add to this list?
This is not a clash between differing interpretations of “truth.” The Trump administration is contending against what is true about human beings and the world. We, the people of the world, are the ones who suffer when they inevitably crash into the table.
The truth of what we face, the table before us, is clear: The Trump phenomenon is a monstrous falsehood.
It rests upon a false, dystopian vision of the world which, since it does not exist, Trump and his advisors seem hellbent upon creating, needing to prove themselves right. They have also, from the beginning, bedazzled us with lie after lie, drawing us into a constant palaver over truth of this or that statement.
They do not concede. They only double-down, insisting they are right.
While we are distracted in our outrage at this steady stream, Trump and his men are marshaling the power of the American presidency to impose their vision of what is true on us all. We are the ones who will suffer when the collision with reality—truth—comes.
So, we are at war, first, over truth. We must wage it. Lives hang in the balance. Given the truth of climate change, our very world—life itself—does, too.
We wage this, not because we have the full truth. No human does. I trust, however, that we who contend against Trump and his friends are closer to the truth. Our views are tempered by a sensitivity to who will be hurt and how many will be helped, by our sense of the truth. Our views retain some measure of humility. We acknowledge that we do not know the whole truth.
We are open to correction and revision. I trust we are.
In this first front of our Second American Civil War there can be no spectators or civilians. The well-being of us all is at stake. Who will win the right to declare what truth is? Please join in the battle for the answer.
Photo by Darron Birgenheier