The seeming slipperiness of the truth, and its value

Our defeated ex-president, seizing on the death of a man of great certainty of opinion and even greater influence, around whose neck he’d hung a presidential medal at his last State of the Union, reemerged into the public spotlight, on FOX, to repeat the familiar refrain that he’d won, in a landslide, the election he lost decisively. In support of his ongoing #Stop the Steal campaign he said that this great, recently departed American anti-Leftist had strongly agreed with him, the presidency was stolen from him, from all real Americans. The professionals and experts all know the truth, he said — that the presidency had been stolen from him and from America by a vast cabal of evil, sick, dangerous enemies of the people — the vast Leftwing, Antifa, BLM, Feminist, Homosexual, Liberal Jew media conspiracy.

The charge that he won the election he lost may be untrue, (reasonable people can argue about it, claims Lyin’ Ted Cruz, reasonably) but you have no right to call it a lie when tens of millions honestly believe it’s true that there was massive voter fraud that stole the election from the rightful winner. How dare you call the sacred dead former talk-show host with talent on loan from God a liar?!! Standing up for possible truth is the whole reason more than a hundred and fifty GOP members of Congress united to contest the “certification” of an election that nobody ever proved wasn’t massively fraudulent, the deliberate and systematic theft of an election, by lying traitors, that the “defeated” candidate actually won in a landslide.

Back for a moment to the personal, to the moment when somebody decides you will be in a fight to the death no matter what you think about it, no matter what actions you may take to try to prevent it. Certainty is a powerful force. I’m thinking about an old friend who called to angrily confront me about being unjustly angry after my health insurance was abruptly cancelled, (illegally as it turned out). He then escalated his indignation and challenges week after week, finally, after pressing me to just fucking move on from whatever my grievance was, snapped, cut me off mid-sentence with a snarl and hung up. Then texted me that he was done being reamed by me.

It seems petty, I know, to keep coming back to this same indigestible example of another old friend suddenly become a devoted, eternal enemy. I’m trying to wring something instructive out of the vexation of it. It seems like the lesson has to be more than that we can all convince ourselves of the righteousness of our own actions, once we construct the right frame. It may be no more than that, though that answer is as unsatisfying as the conclusion that homo sapiens are just a petty, quarrelsome, largely irrational species whose history is always written in the blood of the justifiably murdered.

Surely there is something like objective reality. If you have no dog in the fight you are generally able to look at what actually happened, trace cause and effect, and often assess who is basically correct and who seems to have things ass backwards. The answer is rarely that both sides in a heated argument (like the consensus of Climate Scientists versus for-profit Climate Change Skeptics) are equally valid. There is generally more truth, more fact, more data, more thought behind one position than the other. The genius of the long right-wing project to convert the GOP into a radical right-wing party, similar in its essential features to the one-time fringe conspiracy-based John Birch Society cult, described this way, by political scientists Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann in 2012:

is that today massive, repeated allegations of something, funded by tens of millions of dollars in ad buys to convince people of the allegations, suffice to back and fully justify any political move, including a righteous riot to disrupt the peaceful transition of power in the Capitol. You no longer need a shred of proof, evidence or any discernible facts on your side — the accusation itself is sufficient to fuel the righteous fight to the death.

Proponents of the need to contest the results of an election they claim (without evidence) was massively fraudulent, even after results have been certified fair by bipartisan officials, votes recounted, challenged dozens of times in court, left in place by the courts (for lack of evidence of fraud) need only site the ALLEGATION of fraud, believed by millions, to support their right to contest the election. Regardless, of course, of whether there is or isn’t, or has ever been, actual evidence of significant voter fraud found, even by the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation or Trump’s Presidential Electoral Fraud Commission headed by Hang Mike Pence and defeated voter-suppression expert Kris Kobach.

The project of convincing tens of millions of fraud that didn’t actually happen is vast power at work, and successful propaganda instilling belief in something that is based only on the needs of maintaining that power. It is our job going forward to make a humane case for the 99% as emotionally undeniable as these Koch-funded geniuses have made on behalf of the 1%. It saddens me to see the Democrats resorting to Lincoln Project-style attack ads, which they are now (the Lincoln Project proudly claims credit for Trump turning on his loyal retainer Pence) and I keep thinking there has to be a better way to make the case for fairness, although maybe not at the moment.

Back to the personal. This long-time friend, no matter how clearly I set out my issues, my specific concerns about our long “argument,” insisted that we can’t ever really know what is in anybody else’s head or heart, even someone we’ve known well for half a century.

It seems an untenable and depressing position to me, one that inevitably leads to estrangement, but this man is very smart, an accomplished lawyer, and he rests his case for this unshakeable belief on the fact that in the end, after my many attempts to be analytical and nonviolent in stating my concerns (concerns he repeatedly asked me to clarify, no matter how clearly I’d already made them) I admitted, in a very hurtful way, that I was frustrated, angry and disappointed in his limitations as a friend.

After all, from his point of view, every one of his attempts to make peace was met by my stubborn refusal to simply forgive, even after he made it clear that he truly didn’t understand what he’d ever done to me that was hurtful. Instead, he pointed out, I kept struggling, stubbornly and incoherently, to make him understand what was so “hurtful” about his conduct.

When I hear that Tucker Carlson, for example, said, of the police killing of George Floyd (bracketed by Brook Gladstone’s commentary from her excellent On The Media:

BROOKE GLADSTONE Later that evening, Fox primetime hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity drew on increasingly deranged conspiracy theories to denature the evidence [in the impeachment trial –ed].


TUCKER CARLSON They’re just flat out lying. There’s no question about that. The question is, why would they lie about this? For an answer, think back to last spring. Beginning on Memorial Day, BLM and their sponsors and corporate America completely changed this country. They changed this country more in five months that it had changed in the previous 50 years. How’d they do that? They used the sad death of a man called George Floyd to upend our society. Months later, we learned that the story they told us about George Ford’s death was an utter lie. There was no physical evidence that George Floyd was murdered by a cop. The autopsy show that George Floyd almost certainly died of a drug overdose. Fentanyl. [END CLIP]

BROOKE GLADSTONE Right. A full autopsy report by Minneapolis police found that Floyd had fentanyl and other drugs in his blood. He also had Covid-19. None of that killed him. His death was ruled a homicide. Maybe Tucker will move on to flim-flam less foul, but why would he? 


my blood instantly boils.

I don’t often listen to FOX, or Cucker Tarlson (or whatever the well-born, entitled prick’s name is) but hearing him smugly intone a transparent and incendiary lie, calling the story of Floyd’s (who he called “Ford” at one point) homicide a lie, made me ready to fight him, as it was intended to. I immediately felt a violent urge to put my knee on Tucker’s neck and kneel on him for as long as it took him to stop kicking and begging, letting him up a second before his death. The whole FOX/Murdoch right-wing exercise is “triggering the libtards” and thar’s gold in them hills (Rush Limbaugh died with a net worth of over $600,000,000). The Minneapolis coroner who ruled that a grown man, armed with a gun, supported by three armed colleagues, kneeling on the handcuffed George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, the last three after Floyd lost consciousness after begging for mercy and calling out for his mother, had caused Floyd’s death? A fucking liar and traitor, a tool of the fucking lying libs.

Hearing Carlson’s inflammatory hate speech I immediately, and involuntarily, flashed on my former friend’s claim that in spite of the thousands of words I’d written him trying to keep the peace (the first few thousand he thanked me for humbly, for I’d taken pains not cast undue blame on his actions) nothing I had written, in the end, gave him the slightest clue why I was so hurtful to him now.

The truth can slippery once strong emotions creep in, and people we trust can twist it convincingly sometimes, but, call me old-fashioned, I still believe there is a world of cause and effect that can be observed, that some narratives are closer to the truth of what happened than others. I can’t be sure what the root cause of my friend’s insistence that we fight to the death was. Not sure I made all the right moves to try to avoid it, obviously I didn’t, based on the irreconcilable enmity at the end.

But if someone asks you why you are angry, and you tell them you are protesting the long history of too many unarmed black people unaccountably murdered by the police in this country every year, and they respond by calling you a terrorist, dispersing protests with the full force of non-deadly state violence (tear gas, horseback charges, rubber bullets, anti-riot squad phalanxes swinging batons, mass arrests) you might be forgiven for feeling unheard.

“What is the real core issue here?” asked my friend, time after time, telling me he clearly didn’t understand what he did that seemed to have upset me so much. I told him that, in a nutshell, having my expressed concerns met by silence is probably the single most hurtful thing to me, that the attempted negation of my feelings by silence is like kryptonite to me. He stood on his right to remain silent, and on the reciprocal truth that I had no right to expect any different, since nobody can ever truly know what is in somebody else’s heart and mind or why they feel as they feel or do what they do.

“I read everything you wrote, searching in vain for a single clue as to what I’d done that made you so irrationally angry and hurtful to me,” he concluded, resting his case.

I can’t do anything about the gigantic phenomenon of unchallenged far-fetched falsehoods being presented as just good as undeniable truth when it comes to a partisan GOP argument. Greg Abbott, the Trumpist governor of Texas, is angrily blaming the Green New Deal for his state’s deadly weather-related emergency — and fuck your fucking facts, cucktards. The political is personal, of course, and there’s little we can do, outside of hard, slow, resolute work on the long-game of bending the long arch of history towards justice. In our personal lives, our choices are more straightforward.

I can’t do anything about a friend who insists that he will do everything in his power to save our friendship, while standing on his right not to revisit any concern that might make him uncomfortable, or even acknowledge I’ve clearly expressed a single goddamned thing worthy of consideration. In the end I can do one thing in the case of a friend like that — let him make his final arguments, accept his right to remain unchanged, and his verdict, and try not to brood about it whenever I hear a similar case indignantly made by a Tucker Carlson.

Though, I also have to acknowledge the deeply disturbing personal resonance of things like hearing the Rochester cop, while hand-cuffing and pepper spraying the emotionally disturbed nine year-old girl (and the fact that the cop was not immediately fired and prosecuted tells you the race of the child) demanding that she stop acting like a child. “I AM a child!” she replied, stating the obvious, to a brutal asshole who didn’t have the slightest concern for what was true and what was instantly verifiable bullshit. I heard the same from my own father, when I was that age and younger. That I should start acting like a man instead of a fucking child. He apologized about that right before he died, for whatever good that might have done anyone.

Truth and reconciliation, y’all, there is a tremendous value to it. It’s the only path to true healing.

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