Kerwhoosh. That was the sound of the 2016 Presidential Election as our world was flushed down the post-truth rathole. With Trump and his cronies taking office, even responsible media inevitably reports and spreads 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. Contempt even for the rule of law. 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. He wants us to know that, strike or no strike, rally or no rally, we are to be in class and taking his exams, or he will fail us if it is the last thing he does. “I know what you are up to,” he says. “If there’s one thing I’ve told you, it’s that everything is awash in corruption. Government, legislatures, courts are a web of hypocrisy. Democracy? Justice? More lies. The Emperor 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, I guarantee you, you’ll do the same thing they did.”
So, by now, my face is flushed and my ears are burning. I’m thinking of the dead Kent State students and the napalming in Vietnam, and of the video I’d seen of South Vietnamese General Loan summarily executing a Viet Cong suspect. Sure I’m self-interested – I don’t want to die or have blood on my hands in what is an American atrocity. I’m angry enough that if I dared strike the professor, I would. Instead, with all the theatricality that I can muster at 19, I grab my books and walk out.
But for the 46 years since, I’ve been struggling to give the lie to this guy. As I’ve made a living as a sufficiently cynical lawyer, in the back of my head is a voice that says back to him, “No really, that’s not us.” Once in while, there are those rays of hope. We elect Obama, an intellectual humane president, against all reasonable expectations. But his policies are obstructed by eight years of reactionary Republican politics and the air waves are filled with self-evident lies of the birthers and neo-fascists. 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 his “history” claims was 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. 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 my sociology class, I’m still with Tolkien. We are better than this.