What Is Truth?: Witnessing The End of the American Experiment

What Is Truth?: Witnessing The End of the American Experiment December 19, 2019

Donald J. Trump has become the third President in the history of our nation to be impeached by the House of Representatives for “high crimes and misdemeanors” against the people of the United States. This moment comes as a surprise to absolutely no one. Democrats have been keeping a tally of the immoral and illegal dealings of this President since his first day in office, vowing to defend the constitution the very moment the President had crossed the line from immoral to unconstitutional. Republicans have known since the Democrats won the House of Representatives that impeachment was likely- they too have watched the President act in unethical ways time and time again and knew that as soon as he crossed a line, the Democrats would proceed forward with an impeachment investigation.

Yesterday, as I watched the eight hours of debates on the House floor over the articles of impeachment being presented, I began to be reminded of a truth that we all know, but so easily forget: our country is irreconcilably divided. We literally live in (at least) two fundamentally different realities. As each Republican stepped up and claimed that this impeachment was nothing more than a “witch-hunt” and was based on “made up charges”, I wondered how anyone could interpret the facts this way. As Democrats testified time and time again, the President has admitted wrongdoing. He had, in fact, used his power to attempt to coerce a foreign government into helping him win the 2020 election. Yet the two sides seemed unable to convince each other of their perspective. They didn’t seem interested in trying.

Then I logged on to Twitter. I saw my feed filled with my liberal friends rejoicing over the impeachment vote- and I joined them. But my curiosity led me to head over to President Trump’s feed and follow some of his fans- and they were tweeting with palpable fury that this entire hearing was a sham, proclaiming that there was no evidence of wrongdoing, and this was nothing more than the Democrats trying to remove Trump out of fear that he was going to win the 2020 election. They posted news stories and opinion pieces from sources I have honestly never heard of and claimed that the mainstream media that I was reading that offered evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing was “fake news” and political propaganda. Nothing I could say would convince any of these Trump supporters, because all of the evidence I could provide was written off as fake. Nothing they could say could convince me, because the evidence and arguments they put forward seemed to me to be…well…fake.

This is where we are at as a country. We are literally living in two realities. We can’t even determine the basis for what reality even is. This isn’t exaggeration. When we cannot agree on what is real, when be believe that the other side is producing fake information to deceive us, and that the motives of the other are truly nefarious and evil, how can we possibly move forward? How can we possibly have a generative future together? I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but historically circumstances like these usually lead to war- literally fighting to determine who is the most powerful, and therefore, gets to determine what is right and true. And the fury that I saw last night, in the red face of President Trump at his rally and between both Democrats and Republicans on Twitter make it seem that we really, truly, are at war. Not over political positions, not over who should occupy the White House. We’re at war to determine what is fundamentally real.

From where I sit, it seems to me that there is only one potential path to bring us back from the brink of actual war with each other: all of us must put the common good and public service before party allegiance.  Those of us on both sides who have not bought into conspiracy theories and complete caricatures of our political “others” must come to the table together and hash out what is actually, factually true. This would require the sacrifice of party allegiance for all of us, and the ability to truly see things as they are. I have to believe that most Republicans know that Democrats never had a secret plot to seek to remove the President just because they didn’t think they could win an election. I have to believe that most Democrats know that many Republicans are deeply disturbed by the President’s behavior and somewhere deep down would like to hold him accountable (and have said as much). If both sides would truly put public service first, instead of maintaining power, then perhaps we can walk the country back from the edge of yet another civil war.

The vote in the House yesterday was deeply distressing because of just how divided it was. The vote should have been a result of a careful consideration of the facts, not a consideration of what would help an individual Representative get reelected or appease their base. The debate period should have been a period of robust questioning and conversing over the facts and the law, instead of Representatives on both sides simply reiterating their parties talking points. The result of this hyper-partisanship and political theatre has been a real confusion of average Americans who actually believe the rhetoric of their politicians on its face. When Republican stood up and said this was a “kangaroo court” and was fundamentally “rigged”, their constituents believed it. What once could have been written off as hyperbolic rhetoric is now being accepted as truth and is driving a dangerous wedge in between our country. But this is exactly what is to be expected when politics has become a national sport– team loyalty holds authority over truth.

And I should make another fact clear: While I do think both Democrats and Republicans hold some degree of culpability in creating this divisive moment, it is clear that the bulk of the confusion going around in this moment has stemmed from Republican leaders legitimizing alt-right conspiracy theories. When the President of the United States regularly retweets stories that he knows are false but paint a favorable narrative of him, when Senators give interviews to conspiracy theory sites like Breitbart or One American News, they are legitimizing the disregard for truth and reality. Sure, doing so is politically expedient for them. It absolutely helps them win elections. But it also is eroding millions of Americans ability to distinguish what is real and what is true- and this is not something that can easily be undone.

I am naturally an optimistic person, and I want to end this reflection with hope- but the truth is, I am not hopeful. I believe that the love of power and influence is going to outweigh the desire to do what is right. I really do believe that millions of conservative Americans are going to buy into truly outlandish, fake news and become filled with uncontainable rage that is going to manifest somehow in the future. I really do believe that millions of progressive Americans are going to continue to grow to believe that most conservatives lack a moral foundation and should not be given a hearing or consideration. And if we continue to grow in these two polar opposite directions, the only result will be the fundamental erosion of our democracy. No election will solve this problem- whoever the next President will be will face threats of impeachment and a complete partisan stalemate that will make it nearly impossible to govern.

Nothing short of a miracle can change the direction our country is heading. Nothing short of a true political revolution, that called our leaders away from party and back to a posture of service. Nothing short of a return to honesty in the public square, rather than whatever theories garner support for our party will save us from this era of division. I truly hope that this will some day become our reality. But as for today, I am not very hopeful. I believe we may truly be witnessing the end of the American experiment. And until we awaken to the truth of this harrowing reality, I have little faith that anything will change in our country.

“Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

John 18:37-38

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