One of the essential tasks of this decade, then, is to rebuild trust in one another—and that happens best person-to-person, often at the local level, a conversation at a time, a generous act at a time. We also need to rebuild trust in our institutions, trust that has been mostly declining for decades. But for this to happen, institutions—government, media, the academy, the corporate world, churches—have to act in ways that earn our trust. The more institutions deliver, the more trust we will have, and the more trust we have, the less likely the seeds of paranoia, conspiracies, and subjectivism are to take root, or if they do, the soil will be shallow. But even if trust in one another and our institutions increases and feelings of alienation, apprehension, and isolation decrease, we will still have to navigate a turbulent time. An awful lot of cortisol has been released into our national bloodstream.
“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command,” George Orwell wrote in his masterpiece 1984.
[Winston Smith’s] heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s center. With the feeling he was speaking to O’Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote: Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows.
For four long years, that important axiom was denied by the president of the United States and almost everyone in his party. But last month, more than 80 million Americans declared that enough was enough. What many of them were saying with their vote—what I was trying to say with my vote—was that it’s time to reaffirm that stones are indeed hard, that water is indeed wet, that objects unsupported do fall toward the Earth’s center. That two plus two does make four.
We shouldn’t kid ourselves; enormous repair work still needs to be done. Donald Trump’s hold on his party, a party that became a battering ram against reality, remains unchallenged, at least for now. And for some number of his followers, convinced that the election was rigged and that Trump was robbed, now is the time to settle scores, to exact revenge, to burn down the village.
Rachel Shelden: Republicans discover the dangers of selling bunk to their constituents
“We have now entered a fighting season in our country,” the Trump acolyte Charlie Kirk, the president of the student-movement group Turning Point USA, recently told the talk-show host Eric Metaxas. “It tells us in Ecclesiastes there is a season for everything. This is a fighting season.” Republican Representative Paul Gosar sent out a tweet urging the president’s supporters to follow the example of Japanese soldiers who continued to fight decades after Japan lost the war. Nothing can be done right now to connect people who have this mindset with reality; it’s an invitation they will decline.