One Thing You and I Can Do About Trump
Assuming that neither you nor I are going to declare our candidacy for President, and that we have not yet committed hearts, minds and money to one of the many who have,
is there anything you and I can do about Trump?
Lately, I been reading a novel/ mystery by Philip Kerr, A Man Without Breath. It is set in Nazi Germany in 1943.
It’s a bit of head-snapper from the get-go in that you don’t get the usual binary of evil Germans and good Americans (or Brits). The protagonist is a German. He’s not officially a Nazi, but he does work for the Nazi’s in a department that investigates war crimes.
Who knew that the Nazi’s even had an outfit dedicated to investigating war crimes? Well, it wasn’t their own crimes they were interested in. They were eager to investigate those that might be laid at the feet of their enemies, like the British and the Russians. The point was the propaganda value.
The protagonist, Gunther, is working with a doctor whose speciality is forensic medicine and thus autopsies. She is beautiful (just by the way).
As they get to know one another, Gunther asks the doctor why she choose this particular medical speciality. Her usual response is that she hasn’t the patience for the living with all their imaginary aches and pains. Not buying that somewhat flip answer, he presses her.
“That’s just a silly story,” she admits, “I made up so that I could avoid telling people the truth. The thing is, I’ve repeated that lie so often I’ve almost started to believe it myself. Like a real Nazi, you might say.”
The Nazis understood that if you told a lie often enough, people began to take it for the truth. Trump’s m.o. as well.
She continues with her real reason, admitting that it might sound a little pompous.
“The sole aim of forensic medicine is the pursuit of truth, and in case you hadn’t noticed there’s precious little of that around in Germany these days. But especially in the medical profession, where what is true and what is right matter for very little beside what is German. Theory and opinion have no place beside the dissecting table, however — no more do politics and crackpot ideas about biology and race.”
Gunther had noticed that in his current world of smoke and mirrors (Nazism) he had himself become oddly more scrupulous. Somewhat sardonically, “These days I don’t even cheat at solitaire if I can help it.”
So in a world where “there’s precious little of that (truth) around,” both characters find themselves more deeply committed to truth and the pursuit of it.
I am under no illusion that Trump is the first President to lie, but none have been quite the bullshitter this fellow is. The danger of such a person occupying the office he does, and with the coterie of people that are around him, is that we come to doubt that there is anything like truth at all.
What is one thing you and I can do in such a climate? Commit ourselves even more than we already, presumably are, to truthfulness and to the pursuit of truth. Commit ourselves to the care of words because, yes, words matter.
Trump did not start this corrosion, but he has heightened it. He has made it “normal.” It is up to us, all of us, not to accept that. It is up to us, like the characters in Kerr’s novel (which pre-dated Trump’s Presidency) to be as truthful as we can, avoiding the shading, the embellishment, the self-serving distortion or easy cynicism.
This is a bit like what St. Paul urges in his letter to the Philippians. The Christians in Philippi were dealing with some tough persecution. Paul himself was in jail. Yet he wrote the following:
“Finally beloved, what is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, what is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4: 8)
Paul is not suggesting a pollyanna-like, “just focus on the positive” or “look on the bright side.” He is saying that when things are difficult and discouraging we may forget the good, the decent, the commendable. Don’t.
Instead, sharpen your commitment to truth. Heighten your personal commitment to decency.
I have another reason for bringing this up just now.
We’re told that the Mueller report will be out soon. My impression is that Mueller takes the truth quite seriously. Thank God. Because of that he may not give Trump’s detractors exactly what they — or we — want. Or all that they, we, want. Trump may be able to crow, “No collusion.”
We may be disappointed by Mueller’s report. But if he tells the truth, and I believe he will, we must accept that and believe that eventually, “the truth will out.”
Meanwhile, the one thing each of us can do about Trump is to be even more deeply committed to truthfulness and decency in our own lives and behavior.