There's a lot of reasons to detest what President Trump is doing to our country.
What's most concerning, though, isn't any specific outrage -- destroying health care, denying global warming, tearing apart the social safety net -- but his general attack on shared reality.
If people can't agree about the basic nature of the world we all live in together, it isn't possible to even discuss the problems we face, much less agree about what needs to be done about them.
About a week ago I wrote about "On Tyranny," a little book that packed a big punch. This is one of the excerpts that I shared:
Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.
The next book I read was "The Trouble With Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time," by Brooke Gladstone. It also is little (just 87 pages).
I didn't like it as much as "On Tyranny," partly because Gladstone's call to action to save reality left me lukewarm, if not confused. The author's intent seemed more to explain how we got to our current post-truth era, than to lay out a path back to consensual reality.
These are the last three sentences in "The Trouble With Reality." They didn't make me feel that our troubles could be over.
We breed infinite realities and they never can be reconciled. We cannot fully enter someone else's. But if we really look, we might actually see that other reality reflected in that person's eyes, and therein lies the beginning of the end of our reality problem.
Well, maybe, though the notion of seeing Trump's reality reflected in his eyes makes me want to barf. It's a nauseating prospect which I have difficulty finding any purpose in, and certainly doesn't strike me as being the "beginning of the end of our reality problem."
Maybe this is because I imagined our country's most notorious reality-denier. I do agree that finding common ground with people we disagree with (leaving Trump aside) is the only way to return our society to a functional state.
Which is the point of one of my favorite passages in Gladstone's book, a quote from an article Ned Resnikoff wrote on ThinkProgress.
Consensus is the bedrock of democracy.
For differences to get resolved in a properly democratic fashion, there needs to be agreement over the terms of the debate. Interlocutors must be aware of their shared rights and responsibilities, and they need to be capable of proceeding from a common set of facts and premises.
When political actors can't agree on basic facts and procedures, compromise and rule-bound argumentation are basically impossible; politics reverts back to its natural state as a raw power struggle in which the weak are dominated by the strong.
A great example is this short video of Senator Claire McCaskill, a minority Democrat, asking Senator Orrin Hatch, a majority Republican, if there will be a hearing on the Senate Republicans' health care bill.
In three minutes, McCaskill demonstrates what indeed is the trouble with reality in Washington, D.C. Political power struggles are par for the course in Congress.
But these Trumpian times have led to bizarre situations like this one. A bill to reshape 1/6 of our nation's economy, the health care sector, is being fashioned behind closed doors by a dozen or so white male Senators. So far there is no plan to hold a hearing on the bill.
Worse, there is no publicly-revealed bill for McCaskill or anyone else to examine, study, dissect, analyze, and suggest improvements to. Democracy can't function where there is no shared reality, no set of common facts that can be discussed and debated.
I agree with Gladstone that facts are not enough. But they are an essential beginning. As she says below, reality is more than facts.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that facts, even a lot of facts, do not constitute reality. Reality is what forms after we filter, arrange, and prioritize those facts and marinate them in our values and traditions. Reality is personal.
Yes, reality is personal.
However, our personal realities can find common ground when they are based on shared facts. Otherwise, in politics and in other areas of life, we never really come in contact with each other if every person feels free to adopt their own "alternative facts."