(This post was updated and reposted on February 8) Kerwhoosh. That’s the sound from the electoral college yesterday as our world is flushed down the post-truth rat hole. With Trump and his cronies taking office, even responsible media will inevitably be reporting and spreading the host of lies and distortions coming from his government. Government records, years of scientific data, are now at risk. Your privacy, all that information the government has on your life, is now liable to be used against you – against dissidents – by a power that has demonstrated total contempt for truth, privacy, or intellectual integrity. It is tough to put this in perspective.
Here’s my anecdote. It’s May, 1970 and the Ohio National Guard has just murdered four students for protesting the Vietnam War. I’m at UConn, against the War and already wound a bit tight. I sit down in my morning Sociology class and the professor, something of a curmudgeon, begins with a rant. He’s heard there are plans for a student rally and a student strike and he’s telling us that he expects us in class and taking his exams, or he will fail us if it is the last thing he does. If there’s one thing I’ve told you, he says, it is that the world, government, institutions are awash in corruption coming from self-interest. Government, legislatures, courts are based on a web of hypocrisy. All the stuff about democracy, justice, more lies. The Emperor, he says, has no clothes. And you guys, he says, pointing at us, are no different from your parents or the government you are protesting. You’re looking for an excuse to party with your friends. At their age, you will do the same thing they have done.
So, by now, my ears are burning, I’m thinking of the dead Kent State students and the napalming in Vietnam, and if I dared poke him, I would, and with all the theatricality that I can muster at 19, I grab my books and stomp out. And for the 46 years since, as I’ve made a living as a sufficiently cynical lawyer, in the back of my head is a voice that says, “No really, we are better than that.” And once in while, there are those rays of hope, think the election of Obama, an intellectual humane president, but there is never that moment when I feel, yeah, we really are okay, we’re on the right track. And now comes Mr. Trump, demagogue and charlatan, the embodiment of the Emperor with no clothes, and we elect him by what “history” may now record as a landslide. What now?
J R R Tolkien saw this less-than-benign world first-hand in the trenches of WWI, where many of his dearest friends were slaughtered, and as the gloom gathered for WWII, he penned The Lord of the Rings, which, if it is anything, is a parable for our struggle against evil. And, at heart, Tolkien’s heroes are Sam, Merry, and Pippin having a beer down at the Green Dragon and caring for and putting their lives on the line for each other. It’s a vote for the basic decency of the common man. 46 years after stomping out of class, I’m still with Tolkien. We are better than this.