That Donald Trump has been living in a reality of his own making (or at least one in which he sees his skewed world views reflected, whether he made this reality himself or not) is not surprising. We’ve known this for a very long time, and since he became involved in the election last year, this has become all the more evident. But we’ve seen plenty of people come to the fore who arrive encased in their own impenetrable fantasy worlds with
hermetically sealed views that have somehow managed to prolong their lifespan. These folks gain some traction, primarily among those who inhabit similar reason-proof shells or seek change at any cost, but they never get very far. I’m not talking about people with whom we disagree ideologically here, like your McCains, your Romneys, your Bushes H.W., and even your Bushes just-W. We can say what we will about them, especially about the last one, but even if they sometimes play by their own rules, we at least recognize the game.
I’m talking about people who have a fundamental break with reality, who operate on a different plane of existence from the rest of us, and one that is by no means transcendent and enlightened. In their reality, only their impressions of the world matter, and facts are merely annoyances to be swatted away like the buzzing of mosquitoes. One might accuse such individuals of believing the truth to be subjective, but it goes one (very large and terrifying) step beyond that: these people absolutely believe in a single, objective truth, it just happens to be their own. It is an unstable truth, to be sure. It is shifting and ephemeral by its very nature, as it grows to suit the mind it possesses, but the one characteristic that remains solid and defined is its immutable, unassailable veracity. They are the sole purveyors of this truth, the real and final truth, and they alone have the clarity of vision with which to implement that truth. This myopia, combined with messianic convictions, is usually spotted underneath the ill-conceived, if not insidious, rhetoric that such individuals employ: ambition wrapped in patriotism, misinformation backed by fear, fundamentalism coupled with nostalgia, and ignorance masked by bravado.
What is different about Donald Trump is not so much that he won the election, but rather how he did it and the transformation in the national psyche that made his win possible. It is not fake news that swept him into power, but our willingness to believe it and to spread it. It is not that some sought change at any cost (for there are always those who do), it is that we were willing to believe that those costs were worth paying because the need for change was so acute. It is not that the white middle class has been disenfranchised to the betterment of minorities, but how easy it was to convince us that this is true. The difference with Trump is not that he has his own reality. We’ve seen this before, and in many forms. The difference is that Trump somehow managed to merge his reality with our own in the minds of so many Americans.
We have truly entered a new reality, and we must admit that and discover new ways to fight within it if we are ever going to set things right. This reality is upon us, and it is based on ad hoc impressions and anger and fear, driven home by simple repetition and a raised voice. We cannot give credence to this reality, even as we acknowledge its existence. We cannot play by its rules, lest we legitimize and entrench it. We must seek new ways of combating it, for our reliance on facts alone is no longer enough. To bemoan the loss of our old reality is to mourn it, however, and I am not willing to mourn. Our reality is not gone, it has not been destroyed. It still exists, hidden beneath this new one, and we have to dig it out. It will be difficult, and I cannot pretend to have the answers. I don’t think anyone does yet, at least not all of them, but this is why working together is so important. We will forge new tools, and we will carry on the struggle. We need to be fighters, but we also need to reanalyze the fight. In order to do this, we need to be seekers. We need to be diggers. We need to be learners. Otherwise, we’ll stand no chance throwing off this new reality and reclaiming our own.