BY HARRY PINCUS | According to polls, a majority of the Republican Party now doubts the legitimacy of the last presidential election. When the first ballot was cast for Donald Trump in Iowa on Monday, our society set out on a wild and “unpresidented” journey to the center of a maelstrom that threatens to displace everything we thought we knew, and everything we thought we could depend on about the United States of America.
Nina Simone’s haunting song “Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)” was more fitting on Martin Luther King Day than the resurrection of the King of Hate by the good evangelicals and farmers who work the soil of Iowa. What is wrong with us? When evangelicals defend their choice of a “flawed” messenger, I am reminded of the mob that was presented with a choice between a common criminal named Barabbas and Jesus Christ: “Give us Barabbas!” they cried.
When Teddy Roosevelt coined the term “bully pulpit,” he meant that the presidency is a splendid platform for good, and not just a pulpit for a bully. Our most beloved presidents stirred us with high-minded ideas and unforgettable spoken words. Lincoln was inspired to write the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope, and F.D.R. fell on his face before rising to tell the 1936 Democratic National Convention that “To some generations, much is given. Of others, much is expected. This generation has a rendezvous with Destiny.” John Kennedy’s inauguration address was so eloquent that it was made into a popular LP.
Anything a president says is amplified around the world, and taken quite seriously, so it is a dangerous thing when a president can just say anything. “Loose Lips Sink Ships” was a World War II axiom, and what are foreign nations to believe of a loose-lipped president’s true intentions? What is Ukraine to do, for example, now that they have been dumped like poor old Ivana? How are Europe and the Baltic nations going to react to Trump’s bromance with Putin? I still have Trumper friends who compare January 6 to Woodstock — a rock concert. They go on and on about Nancy Pelosi and a mysterious deep state, conspiracy theories and the special sauce that Trump has been spreading on the truth.
How do our wildly divergent truths ever come together again into a coherent narrative?
Is it merely Trump who is responsible for destroying the truth and creating the Big Lie? Or are we living in a world of empty screens and artificial intelligence where there can no longer be a Truth that is commonly accepted as history?
We used to explore the convictions of our presidential candidates, but now we await them. If Elvis was our race mixer, and Dylan was our shape shifter, then Trump is our truth tripper. As I watched this man tell us that he would befriend dictators, end wars and resolve eternal disputes in no time at all, I am wondering if Donald Trump is actually an unlikely student of history… .
“…[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.
“It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”
— Adolf Hitler, “Mein Kampf,” vol. I, ch. X.
Pincus is an award-winning artist and longtime Soho resident.