Picking up where I left off yesterday, these are scary times, and unprecedented ones in our national life. One presidential candidate has narrowly avoided a major investigation. Another candidate is temperamentally unfit for the office of the Presidency and facing his own serious legal proceedings. Their respective vice presidential candidates are, it could be argued, infinitely more qualified than their running mates in terms of character. The news and media make little mention of the other presidential candidates to be found on the ballot (for all this “get out and vote, get out and vote” pressure, I’ve been shamed for even considering voting third-party) and the public, largely, is either too awareness-fatigued, overwhelmed or unskilled at discerning the universe of information to be trusted to do their own research.
Trump, for all his incoherence, bigotry and blustering, is a powerful symbol of hope for those whom business as usual is crippling, even if it is simply of the power of bedlam. While the current systems are holding on, it is merely by a thread. We are no longer in a narrative, culturally speaking, where a clear, well-backed presentation of facts holds sway. The stories offered by liberalism, progressivism and capitalism, as much as they’ve weathered before, are crumbling and the void they’re leaving behind is, for many, the exact size and shape of Donald Trump. Proof of this is that all the reports of Trump’s appalling conduct in business and interpersonally have not gotten him the round rejection from the candidacy they clearly deserve. But if the most oft-cited reason for supporting Trump is “he tells it like it is,” then it is because that is what we, as a culture, have failed to do.
In public education, the list of banned subjects (like Native American history, the women’s rights movement, slavery) is growing as long as the list of banned books in several parts of the country in a system we lead kids to believe is teaching them about the world, the past and the truth. In our literature, irony, which differs from satire in that satire is exaggerating what you mean to make your point while irony is saying the opposite of what you mean to make your point, has reigned supreme for the last 40 years at least. This is true of our everyday conversations, too: try and recall the last conversation you had with your friends that did not include at least some sarcasm, even if you were “just joking”). Even down to the way we use language, we have failed: it might be PC to call a poor person “economically disadvantaged” or savagely destitute countries “underdeveloped nations” but those, like most politically correct language, are not only deeply self-serving on the part of those who employ then but they’re often so indirect in the name of not offending literally anyone as to obscure their actual meaning. American culture is deeply deficient at saying what it means.
This is different from “telling the truth” in a slight but important way: saying what one means involves sincerity and sincerity usually involves some sort of sacrifice while telling the truth does not in and of itself require any skin the game. “The sky is blue” doesn’t cost me anything to say. “I love you,” if I mean it, does. Sharing videos of the violence at Trump rallies or tweeting comparisons of Trump and Hitler don’t really cost you anything worth losing. Being sincere – keeping your commitments, showing up for the people in your life, doing love instead of just saying it, even when it’s hard – in an age of irony, political correctness and fear, though, does. There is indeed a dearth of sincerity in American society, and, though Trump may be as sincere in his bigotry as he is in his desire to rule the country, this lack will not be addressed by electing Trump.
Nor will it be remedied by keeping Trump out of the White House, which seems imperative to do if for no other reason than he has none of what protects us from a good amount of bad things politicians might otherwise do: shame. And keeping Trump out of the White House will not defeat the ideologies his campaign has given permission to surface. What’s lethal to Trump and his ilk is sustained sincerity that serves peace, diversity and commitment to life together. And not in the nationalism that Trump stands for, where you may feel for a while like you’re part of something bigger than yourself but ultimately you have to go most of life alone. It may sound naive – most sincerity does these days – but if we work to meet each other’s emotional, material and relational needs on a community level, then there will be no fear, bitterness or hostility to exploit on a national one.