Positions of authority have a way of inflating people’s sense of their own power. For example, Donald Rumsfeld might have been a great defense secretary if his refusal to hear bad news were an effective war strategy. Lacking the magic power to alter reality by ignoring it, the best he could hope for was to be far enough from his and his cohorts’ gratuitous carnage and havoc to fondle his Presidential Medal of Freedom in safety.
Hillary Clinton benefits from greater willingness to acknowledge past mistakes. “I got it wrong,” as she writes of her 2002 Senate vote authorizing military action in Iraq, is not something you hear from Dick Cheney. People like him consider it unmanly to admit a mistake. How ironic, then, for the GOP to suffer a hostile takeover by someone consumed with his manhood. After years of peddling obstructionist nonsense on matters from climate to healthcare to transportation, Republicans are outfoxed by someone better attuned to the mob they nurtured.
It is, after all, not just politicians who have fought reality and, as they imagine, finally won out over it. A phenomenon like Donald Trump is impossible without susceptible voters. “It’ll be great, believe me,” is not a serious statement of your intentions except maybe to an ambitious reality show contestant. The presidency, as Barack Obama points out, is not a reality show. Trump is unfazed, defending his foreign affairs cred by citing a beauty pageant he held in Russia.
Meanwhile, red state governors like Pat McCrory of North Carolina exploit the moment with their own demagoguery. Thus the spate of rash laws that baselessly treat transgender people as predators. Republicans are as cavalier about other people’s lives as if they were dropping an anvil in a cartoon. (They’re not bad. They’re just drawn that way.)
The stakes in this election were powerfully illustrated last week by the federal Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services, which took a series of landmark actions to defend the rights of transgender people. DOJ notably invoked the science of gender identity in its May 9 civil rights lawsuit against North Carolina’s notorious House Bill #2.
Contempt for science has become a cornerstone of Republican policy on a wide array of issues. It is as if ritual incantation will make America’s religious and ethnic diversity vanish, gay folk stop doing the thing that makes Jesus puke (in the words of Sister Mary Ignatius), and the rules of international banking change to accommodate Trump’s reckless promise of a deal to reduce America’s debt.
But reality does not seek our approval. Stoking intolerance will not reverse demographic trends. Trampling the Establishment Clause will not erase religious diversity. Medical quackery will not turn gay people straight or trans people cisgendered. Toying with the world financial system will not make us more secure. These actions can, however, do great harm.
Fittingly enough in this era of contempt for experts, Trump turns out to have posed as his own publicist in 1991 to boast to reporters of his popularity with women. This same fraud now poses as a champion of the disaffected working class despite his voters having a median household income higher than Clinton’s voters.
The opportunist will not be defeated by an army of snipers hiding behind computer screens. To halt the flight from reason, we must convince people to seize the opportunities of change instead of clinging to phantoms. We are part of a multigenerational struggle rooted in the belief that embracing our diversity is ultimately more powerful than fearing it. If we demand instant perfection, we neglect our work in favor of fantasies. We need tried-and-true habits of perseverance and cooperation, not magical thinking.
Keeping her head while all about her are losing theirs and blaming it on her, Secretary Clinton gradually emerges as the grownup in the room, showing her grasp of policy and her willingness to listen last week in a meeting with HIV activists. Her toughness is held against her by sexists like the SiriusXM Progress caller on May 13 who accused her of fifty felonies without naming one. Quit the race so we can win, the losers demand of her. Time for a reality check.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2016 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.