I’ve long had a personal rule that I never debate strict five-point Calvinists online because it is a pointless exercise. You go around and around with no conclusion because they are locked into a self-referential mental loop so deep that only grace, not reason, can extricate them. I’m now adding Trump supporters to that list. They also exhibit an epistemic closure so profound that it no longer makes any sense to try to reason with them. As Mark Shea says, “we have now reached the stage of authoritarian denial of reality that the Cult is literally telling us to disbelieve video we can see with our own eyes …” He writes, of course, about the video of a young White House staffer trying to wrest a microphone from CNN reporter Jim Acosta at yesterday’s presidential press conference. Like the person who eats cilantro and tastes soap, Trumpists are convinced they see violence on Acosta’s part. Except this is no benign chemical reaction, and there is no violence of any kind in the video, no matter how mild. It is pure delusion. I couldn’t help thinking of the line from Orwell’s 1984 – “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command” – not to mention this quote of Donald Trump from just a month or two ago: “Just stick with us, don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
This “strong delusion” (to borrow a term from Scripture) has infected people I know and like, both family and friends. In the Bacchae of Euripides, Agave, caught up in the strong mimetic spell of the bacchanal, assists in the beheading of her own son, Pentheus. She carries his head back to Thebes, convinced that it is the head of a mountain lion. Only later, after the hypnotic fever breaks, can Agave regain her senses and confront what she has done.
Agave: Ah! what do I see? what is this I am carrying in my hands?Cadmus: Look closely at it; make thy knowledge more certain.Agave: Ah, ‘woe is me! O sight of awful sorrow!Cadmus: Dost think it like a lion’s head?Agave: Ah no! ’tis Pentheus’ head which I his unhappy mother hold.
Something similar is happening in the United States. Like five-point Calvinism, the Trump Delusion will not be overcome by reason. It will take grace. And so, from now on I will not debate Trumpians in this or any other forum. I will merely excuse myself and pray for them, that they may recover their sight, and themselves.