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Opinion: Truth is Dead, Long live the Lie

Approximately 71 million Americans voted for the reelection of Donald J. Trump, most of them in that nebulous 24-hour period of noise between 11:59 PM November the 2 nd and midnight of November the 4th. This letter isn’t meant to be a reflection on that figure alone, because no matter how surprised you are (yes, you, the probable left-leaning voter reading this liberal-arts college paper) by that decision and the factors that led to it being made 71 million times, the undisputed fact is that those votes were cast for that candidate in those figures. Yes, those are the undisputed facts, because despite how upsetting many Democrats might find those figures, the consensus seems to be that we have better things to do than scream that the people who cast those votes did so illegitimately.

If you can see where I’m going with this, it’s because you read the news and are at least peripherally aware that of those 71 million red-blooded, red-voting Americans, a large proportion of Republicans polled (52% is the currently flaunted figure, ala a newly released Reuters/Ipsos study) believe the incumbent “rightfully won” the 2020 election. This figure is not an outlier, but rather appears to be a somewhat conservative representation of the exact degree of cognitive dissonance at play. The same study found that 68% of Republicans, and even 16% of Democrats and about a third of Independents, were properly concerned that the electoral outcome was “rigged” in Biden’s favor. Without relying on too much mathematical speculation, that implies at least fifty million people across the country simply don’t have faith in the legitimacy of the 2020 election results, which should be alarming, but it isn’t, at least not in the sense that it’s surprising.

No, the proper term here is upsetting. It’s upsetting that beyond simply having irreconcilable views on our country’s political needs, substantial objective realities are now the stuff of subjectivity. This phenomenon—the creation of an alternate reality through sheer political stubbornness and conspiracy mongering—is nothing new. It wasn’t even new when Republicans decided the best strategy for dealing with Covid-19 was to plug their ears and loudly sing “Na na na na, I can’t hear you” in between coughing defiantly into their constituents’ faces. No, conspiracy-driven vitriol ushered in the birth of the Christian Right during the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, and drearier and darker examples of magical thinking abound through the history not just of the United States, but the history of humanity. McCarthyism was borne on the back of lies. So was the Holocaust. So was the Spanish Inquisition, so is the ongoing campaign to deny the effects of climate change. And now, so is Trump’s pathetic grab for power and capital.

What’s different now is that the rest of us get to make a choice. The rest of us get to decide if we’re going to politely tolerate blatant untruths in the public square, or if we’re actually going to accurately label the people who propagate them for what they are: liars at worst, and pitiful dupes at best. That’s not nice rhetoric. It’s not polite rhetoric. It’s the simple and implacable refusal to concede that most pesky of details, the truth, even when our loved ones and neighbors who have tied their worldview to a conspiracy stomp and holler and point to the fifty million like-minded citizens repeating the same garbage as if their collective delusion will somehow overwhelm that most insidious conspiracy of them all: reality.

This can be a tall order, especially if you happen to live in an environment inundated with Trump’s delusional narrative. It can be hard to call people wrong to their face when it seems like the only person who notices is you.

So remember this:

Approximately 71 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. The consensus seems to be that about half of them believe their candidate won. This is very, very bad. But more than 80 million Americans voted to end his presidency, and in the same poll that found more than half of Republicans are drinking the Kool-Aid, 72% of respondents overall recognized that Biden won. Remember that figure when they blather about fraud, when they try to sow doubt about who the people of this country have actually chosen as their President, insofar as we had a choice at all. Remember:

We are not outnumbered.

They are.

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