MEMBERS ONLY: Fighting Trumpism In The Post-Reality Era

by Bob Cesca

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” Winston Churchill  

Frankly, for this week’s MEMBERS piece, I’d rather be writing about something non-political — Marvel movies versus DC Comics movies, or similar — something completely outside the realm of politics because it seems as if arguing against this blight, Donald Trump, and his supporters is an exercise in self-mutilation with little result to show for the pain. But thanks to the ongoing tennis-ball machine of insanity that’s been deployed by Trumpism, we have no choice but to deal with what’s happening in the real world. It’s mandatory yet increasingly treacherous.

As we discovered yet again this week, partly based on his tweets and party based on a shocking-but-not-surprising report in The Washington Post, Trump and his people exist in a fantasy in which empiricism doesn’t exist and in which facts are fiction and fiction is fact. 

The big question I’m contending with as both a professional political writer and as an American, is this: how do you cover such a bottomless cup of mendacity, knowing that no matter how well an argument is structured and sourced, it’ll be immediately labeled as fake news and dismissed? I get it, though. We’re never going to convince the 35-percenters firmly locked into their cult of Trumpism and all of its artificiality and sinister intent. How do you argue against the words and deeds of the president when he’s operating within an entirely different reality than the one occupied by the rest of us Normals?

As a matter of clarification, I’m talking about a conundrum faced by people like me who are paid to write, sure, but everyone else, too — all of us engaged in the social media shovel-fight because we genuinely care about the world and our place in it. We’re all faced with this wall of dumb trickery, and we all have to claw our way through it, day by day, confronting not only the opposition but our own sanity in the face of relentless gaslighting.

From early on, we’ve been encouraged to not just preach to the choir, but to construct sound arguments to be considered by everyone, irrespective of political teams. Looking back, I’ve always struggled to manufacture arguments and opinions that will cut through the bullshit and perhaps change the minds of readers without them necessarily realizing what’s happened. 

In a larger sense, this is why I continue to write with conservative Republicans in mind, specifically Trumpers these days. While I often do my fair share of choir-preaching, I’m routinely geared toward people who disagree with me. It’s an endlessly tantalizing puzzle to solve. It’s what stirs me out of bed and onto Facebook, Twitter and The Banter every morning. I want to crack the code.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. When I was in 12th grade, I identified as a conservative Republican. Sue me. I was Catholic, naive and poorly informed, and, in my defense, I had transformed into a full-blooded liberal less than a year after founding the Young Republicans club at my high school. The journey, however, toward that life-altering transformation began with exactly the kind of revelatory argument I’ve been chasing in my writing.

Long story short, one of my liberal classmates at W.T. Woodson High School was debating me about my former anti-choice posture on abortion when he asked, “What if your girlfriend got pregnant? What would you do?” Almost instinctively, I responded, “I guess it’d be up to her.” My friend replied, “So her choice, right?” Without really knowing it, I had admitted to being pro-choice. Of course it was the logical answer, and it revealed my core values. In this case: choice. Full stop. 

Indeed, people like Michele Bachmann have also slipped into saying something similar, not realizing she admitted to being, in her core, pro-choice. Bachmann once said:

BACHMANN: What we want is women to be able to make their own choices […] We want women to make their own choices in healthcare. You see that’s the lie that happens under Obamacare. The President of the United States effectively becomes a health care dictator. Women don’t need anyone to tell them what to do on health care. We want women to have their own choices, their own money, that way they can make their own choices for the future of their own bodies.

For the record, Bachmann endorsed “choice” four times in these brief remarks.  

To this day, I’m absolutely positive Bachmann never realized what she accidentally confessed on Meet the Press years ago. Why? Because modern tea-party or pro-Trump Republicans operate in their own bubble of misinformation, contradictions and proud hypocrisy. I say “proud hypocrisy” because they’ve abandoned care for anything other than the fight that’s directly in front of them at any given time. Future battles and past statements don’t matter to them, and this is illustrated every damn day by their leader in the Oval Office.

Trump, we learned this week, is privately denying that the voice on the Access Hollywood “pussy grabbing” tape is actually his. In other words, he believes the tape was fabricated with either someone imitating his voice or it was carefully edited from other remarks. Who the hell knows.

Consequently, his fanboys, who rubberstamp every tweet and every vulgar blurt, will endeavor to spread the falsified tape theory — even though Trump admitted more than a year ago that the voice was his. 

“I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize,” he said in an all-too-brief moment of clarity and penitence. His confession is now, somehow, irrelevant. From here on out, it wasn’t him and you’ll never get any Trump voter to admit that he confessed, therefore case closed. 

Normally, we’d only have to wheel out Trump’s aforementioned quote from October, 2016 as empirical evidence that it’s Trump on the tape, confessing to serially molesting women’s genitals without their permission. But nothing is normal any more. Trump’s confession has been rendered irrelevant by his revisionism and his lies. The new explanation is the truth and his actual words from last year are no longer real. They are, but they aren’t. Again, under normal reality, in this dimension of existence, you can easily debunk a villain by citing their own words back to them. Not any more. Not in the age of Trump. 

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office as well as both Republican and Democratic analysts have proved through, y’know, math and economic forecasting models that the Trump tax scam worming its way through the Senate will raise taxes on the middle and working class; it’ll add $1.5 trillion to the deficit, which I thought was bad; and it’ll boot 13 million people off their health insurance. Among many other catastrophic downsides. Yet Trumpers who will absolutely lose their insurance and who will absolutely see their tax burden increase by hundreds if not thousands of dollars are gladly supporting the bill. Why? Because math is irrelevant. Statistics are irrelevant. The CBO, of all things, is irrelevant even though its chairman is a Republican appointee and even though it’s the last referee we have. 

The alt-truth is whatever Trump says it is.

All that remains is the shovel fight. All that remains is the perpetual social media wars — shouting variations of “fuck” at trolls from the other side, and suddenly we’re losing sight of our values, our relationship to the truth, and our respect for the office of the presidency in the process of confronting the complete and interminably aggravating horseshit expectorating from the mouth of this comic-book supervillain. 

Jesus. We don’t even possess, as a society, a mutual sense of decent presidential behavior any more. The 35-percenters think Trump’s pettiness is completely acceptable. Same goes for his vendettas, his personal attacks, his insulting nicknames, his provocations, his disrespect for allies (his hero-worship of despots and autocrats, too) — it’s all okay with them. Sometime around June, 2015, it became okay for a national candidate for president to act like a screeching recess bully. The great irony here is that Barack Obama, who was by most measures the cleanest and most rational chief executive in recent memory, was excoriated all day every day by future Trump voters for his, apparently, snotty and narcissistic attitude. Hilarious, given who they voted for last year.

These days, up is down, black is white, incompetence is competence, and that which is abnormal is being subverted by attrition until it finally ends up becoming normal. In a New York minute, everything can change. In a New York minute, things can get a little strange. We have no choice but to adapt and to work harder to uncover the rhetorical yellow brick road leading us back to truth in a post-facts, post-reality era. Lordy, I have no idea where the path is, but I intend to keep looking. Why? We can’t let their non-reality-based gibberish win the day. If it does, and if Trumpism succeeds, that’s it. We’re done.