A Referendum on Reality and Epistemology

house of mirrors

Greg Weiner, The Eternal Sunshine of Trump’s Spotless Mind

The issue is not the fabulism itself—tall tales are part of politics, even if Trump tells, to use his dialect, the tallest ever—but rather the nature of it. Trump operates outside of time in an argot that dissolves the shared memories on which a republic depends. He lives in an eternal now.  …

In a sense, Trump’s much-mocked bungling of history is less troubling than his wholesale disregard for it. Knowing that they sit where Washington and Lincoln did might induce humility in presidents. It might also encourage arrogance. But either is preferable to treating the office as though it had been created for, and unoccupied until, Donald Trump.

Paul Waldman, Why Trump can’t understand what Americans are feeling

Why is that? It’s not just about his understandable desire to see the pandemic end. It’s also because Trump has a particularly grim view of public opinion and human nature. He assumes that people are selfish, impatient, impulsive and governed above all by their darkest emotions. You might even say he thinks everyone is like him. …

From the beginning of this pandemic, Trump never believed that Americans could handle the truth or would be willing to sacrifice for the greater good. He had to tell them that everything was fine and then keep lying to them about how great he was doing. When lockdown orders became inevitable, he believed they wouldn’t be able to tolerate a collective effort to defeat the virus, so he had to appeal to their selfishness and resentment. …

What he doesn’t grasp is that while people are tired of being stuck at home and want desperately to get back to normal, most of us also understand that the worst thing to do would be to resume all our old activities too early and risk a second wave of infections. We don’t want our neighbors to get sick. We can be fed up and also, having come this far, be willing to wait awhile longer. We’re not all selfish and cruel.

Trump can’t understand that because he is utterly without empathy.

Peter Wehner, The President is Unraveling: The country is witnessing the stead, uninterrupted intellectual and psychological decomposition of Donald Trump.

Sunday night, sitting at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial for a town-hall interview with Fox News, Trump complained that he is “treated worse” than President Abraham Lincoln. “I am greeted with a hostile press, the likes of which no president has ever seen,” Trump said.

I could have picked a dozen other examples over the past 10 days, but these five will suffice. They illustrate some of the essential traits of Donald Trump: the shocking ignorance, ineptitude, and misinformation; his constant need to divide Americans and attack those who are trying to promote social solidarity; his narcissism, deep insecurity, utter lack of empathy, and desperate need to be loved; his feelings of victimization and grievance; his affinity for ruthless leaders; and his fondness for conspiracy theories. …

What this means is that Americans are facing not just a conventional presidential election in 2020 but also, and most important, a referendum on reality and epistemology. Donald Trump is asking us to enter even further into his house of mirrors. He is asking us to live within a lie, to live within his lie, for four more years. The duty of citizenship in America today is to refuse to live within that lie.