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My wife Kate has a more expansive view of reality than I do. For the most part, I believe that reality is consistent with the world as described by science (the exception being monsters, which are totally real, so shut up). Kate on the other hand believes in spirits and ghosts and other things that my so-called "science" has yet to find "evidence" for. She believes in astrology and palm reading and card reading and other activities for channeling the spirit world.
Kate would often say it just seems intuitive to her that there's a world beyond what we can perceive, and that some people are just more sensitive and can pick up on it, and that of course the positions of the planets when you were born influences your life. One time I challenged her, with all the geek-laden certitude I could muster, saying "Yeah, well what about Pluto??!!!" See, because Pluto used to be a planet, but then it got demoted and isn't a planet anymore, so if Pluto isn't a planet, it shouldn't influence astrology, but if it does, then why not include Charon and Orcus? And with that, the whole logical edifice supporting the system of astrology crumbles down upon its very foundations. Oh, for snap!
But, as I soon learned, if one believes in astrology, logical inconsistency is not a deal-breaker. So Kate and I agree to disagree on the existence of the spirit world, and I am a supportive husband every time Kate comes home from a reading and wants me to listen to the recording (punctuated by Kate repeatedly stopping the tape exclaiming "How could she know that???").
So it was Mother's Day 2013, and I got out of bed and was coming downstairs around 1:30 pm (because that's how we party), to find Kate looking at a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak in the feeder by the window - not the rarest bird in the world for these parts, but worth a look. It was sitting in the feeder chirping at Kate long enough for me to run upstairs, get my camera, and return to photograph it from every conceivable angle. The Rose-Breasted Grosbeak is a very special bird for Kate because her grandfather Earl, who was an astonishing wood carver, carved a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak for her as a present (with an inscription that she was his favorite grandchild, making it extra special, even after she learned the birds received by her siblings had the same inscription). After it flew away, Kate said to me, "That was my grandparents coming to say hi to me." And I said "That's great, Tweety," and that was that. Or so I thought.
"Do you really believe that was my grandparents, or are you just saying that?" It was one of those questions I knew needed to answer carefully, kind of like "Do these pants make my butt look flat?" And in the few moments I had to consider my response, I realized there were a number of important, unanswered questions. For instance: How did the grandparents get into the bird? Does each grandparent get their own bird or can they share a bird? Whose grandparents are the rest of the birds and why are they in our yard? And, perhaps most alarmingly, what about the squirrels??!!! It was all very confusing. But again, I am nothing if not a supportive husband, so I said, "Yes, I really believe that was your grandparents visiting in bird form."
Time to come clean. "No, but it's easier for me to think you're joking than to think you believe something that's not true."
For a democracy to function effectively, we need to have a basic set of facts we all agree on (1+1 = 2, sun rises in the morning, Trump has tiny nano-hands). That said, we can accept a certain amount of cognitive dissonance in areas where no one gets harmed (religion, UFOs, bird-relative visitations). While Kate's belief in her grandparents visiting in bird form may strain credulity, it does her no harm to hold the belief, and it does me no harm to be married to a grandparent-bird truther. So I've learned to be a good husband and accept this belief as part of Kate's quirky charm and not dwell on it.
What I cannot accept, however, and have no choice but to dwell on, is the twilight zone of "What is truth?" bullshit coming out of the White House. And while Kate's belief in spirit-inhabited birds may do no harm, a President can do a lot of damage when the demonstrably false things he believes are used as the basis for national policy.
Tuesday's press briefing was a sad exercise in the cognitive dissonance being pawned off as the new normal. When Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer was asked whether Trump actually believes that 3-5 million "illegals" voting cost him the popular vote, as Trump claimed to members of Congress (in a story involving golfer Bernhard Langer that is getting weirder by the moment), he responded that yes, that is Trump's belief. What followed was Orwellian - Press: But that's not true. SS: It is what the president believes. Press: Based on what? SS: Based on information he's seen. Press: What information? SS: Information that has crossed his desk. P: Can you share that information? SS: It is what the president believes. P: Is that what you believe? SS: What I believe is irrelevant. P: But if the president believes there was unprecedented (unpresidented?) voter fraud, why is he not ordering an investigation. SS: Maybe we will. P: Based on what. SS: What the president believes.
And sure enough, on Wednesday, Trump tweeted that there will be a major investigation (likely at a cost of billions of dollars) to investigate his delusion of massive voter fraud that cost him what we all agree is the utterly irrelevant popular vote. Putting aside the question of whether this is actually what Trump believes, and not an elaborate ruse to protect Trump's wounded, grievance-laden paranoia about crowd/hand/penis/voter-fraud size, you might be asking: what does it matter what Trump believes about voter fraud? The election is over, he won, no harm no foul. But is it really no harm?
Because now we see the darker side of basing policy around Trump's febrile delusions. On Wednesday, Trump announced that he believes torture works. His advisors at the highest levels are telling him that it works. Absolutely. 100%. Even though it doesn't. But Trump believes it, and we've given him the power to wield the extraordinary might of the US military and the extraordinary wealth of the US government at his discretion to act on his beliefs. So he's open to bringing back the torture, open to restarting the black sites, open to full-on putting the band back together for a "fuck the world" reunion tour. And America First, so fuck international law and fuck the Geneva conventions and fuck everyone else who thinks they can tell us what to do. And how many lives will be lost in the process.
When someone believes something that's not true, that person is delusional. When someone repeatedly says something that's not true, after being presented with evidence to the contrary, that person is a liar. When someone repeatedly lies without remorse, that person is a sociopath. We need to call it what it is. And if the answer to Trump's dissembling is "that's what he believes," the follow-up question needs to be, "So are you saying the president is delusional, or that he's a liar?," because really those are the only two options.
A lot of us have friends who said they were reluctant supporters of Trump. You know, the ones who said they weren't that excited about the racism and the sexism and the misogyny and the volatility and the unhinged-ness, but either really hated Hillary or thought it would be a good idea to shake things up in Washington, drain the swamp, see what happens; the ones who liked the way Trump made them feel, but didn't think he would actually do all the crazy shit he was saying. Well, now we're seeing what happens, now we're seeing the unhinged behavior that shows no sign of abating, and now we're beginning to see the havoc being wrought by a president and administration with a limited grasp on reality. And if those Trump supporters were being honest about their reasons for supporting Trump, this could be an opening to start engaging them. I've found a good ice-breaker to be: "I know you voted for Trump, but you can't be happy about the lying, right?"...
It's a start. Together we win.