I must admit that I am somewhat mystified by what has happened in public political discourse in Maine and around the country in the last few years. Apparently, an environmental blogger named David Roberts gets the credit for creating the phrase “post truth” to describe today’s political and public discourse. When I first heard “post truth” used, my instinct was to call it a nonsense phrase, something to be dismissed as a fake concept conjured in an effort to sound sophisticated. Then I started to reflect on the political, public discourse we have suffered through in Maine for the last six years and what we have heard over the last twelve months in the Presidential campaigns. “Post truth” within those strictures is not a pseudo-sophisticated throw away phrase, but rather a sad fact.
A significant portion of our political, public and private statements are now grounded in the idea that anything that someone asserts to be true is absolutely true and that political action should be grounded in that belief regardless of the assertion’s independent validity or the absurdity, or worse, the horror of the outcome if it is acted on. For a while, as we slipped into this morass of political fantasy, it had its amusing aspects. I mean really, who can seriously believe that the US Army is going to invade Texas or that all the out of wedlock births in Maine are the result of dalliances between African American drug dealers from New York and innocent Maine women. I stopped laughing a while ago.
The practical and emotional pain Paul LePage has caused hundreds of Mainers as he as made up things out of whole cloth, because he thinks they sound good or feel right to him, no longer has any humor content. Mr. LePage appears to have failed to make the transition from sitting on the loading dock at Marden’s swapping whoppers with the crew while waiting for the next truck load to pull up, and being the public face and political leader of the State of Maine. Telling whoppers with the boys on the loading dock is fun. Believing your own whoppers when you are the Governor and then acting on them is simultaneously pathetic and harmful.
The fact that one of the two major political parties in our country has nominated for President a man who has a very short emotional fuse, who thinks that as a practical matter he can just wish eleven million people out of the country, that a Russian dictator is a great leader, and that everyone who follows Islam is an enemy is beyond fascinating. The possibility that this amazingly ignorant narcissist could have control over our nuclear weapon’s codes is terrifying. This is a man who has publicly said that he is not entirely clear on why we don’t use our atomic weapons.
A country as powerful as the United States cannot have as a President a man who thinks that it is just fine to make up things that make you feel good or that sound good and then act to implement them if the result is the use of nuclear weapons. You cannot drop a nuke on Syria because your domestic political base is in an uproar over a terrorist act and you need a diversion.
There are multiple causes for the creation of this “post truth” political world that we appear to have entered and those causes need to be addressed, but the immediate need as we approach our national elections in November is to understand that “post truth” is now a reality in American political discourse. Each of us has to spend more time than we should have to sorting through political statements to see not only if they pass the straight face test, but if they have any basis in reality, regardless of who makes the assertion or how many times it is made.
On an immediately personal level perhaps the hardest part of living in this “post truth” political state is that we can no longer let pass assertions made by people we talk with that are based on made up from whole cloth issues. When issues that people insert into the public, political debate are fantasies, which to deal with would require dangerously harmful “solutions”, we need to require that the speaker say something more than “I believe it” as the justification for asserting that some fantasy is a serious issue. When proposed solutions to problems real or imagined result in outcomes that subvert our Constitution, or create circumstances worse than the problem, then the justification that “I believe it will work” is not enough. There must be some analysis that reasonably demonstrates that an asserted political issue has factual basis and that the solution to the problem is not yet another fantasy. We need candidates to provide the proof that they have a functioning brain and are not living and acting in made a up world. In this “post truth” dynamic the old fable about the boy who said out loud, when no one else would speak, that the King had no clothes on, takes on new meaning. Uncomfortable as it may be at times we need to speak up.