Roger Cohen has been a writer for the New York Times since 1990. This morning, an OpEd he wrote titled Truth, Lies and Numbness caught my eye and I would like to share parts of it with you today, for it makes an important statement.
You grow numb. You grow weary. I recall discovering a few weeks back that President Trump had lied about two phone calls, one from the president of Mexico and one from the head of the Boy Scouts. The calls, supposedly to congratulate him, did not exist. They never happened. They were pure inventions. Asked if Trump had lied, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said, “I wouldn’t say it was a lie.”
I actually remember shrugging. The shrug was terrifying. This is how autocrats — or would-be autocrats — cement their power. They wear you down with their lies. They distract you. They want you to believe that 2+2=5. They want you to forget that freedom withers when the distinction between truth and falsehood dies. In a dictatorship there is a single font of “truth”: the voice of the dictator. Remember Trump at the Republican National Convention a little over a year ago: “I am your voice.” And now his voice is everywhere.
There’s the scripted Trump voice, which is fake. There’s the unscripted voice, which is genuine. The two tend to alternate; call this the choreography of disorientation. It’s confusing, like having a president who isn’t really a president but instead acts like the leader of a rabble-rousing movement. The Oval Office is a useful prop, no more than that. He’s held eight rallies since becoming president in January. The latest was in Phoenix, where he called the media “very dishonest people.” He led the crowd in a chant of “CNN sucks.” He attacked the “failing New York Times.”
I read this before I was even out of bed this morning and it gave me a chill. I easily recognized Mr. Cohen’s response … a shrug … because more and more of late I have found myself having the same response. I shrug, roll my eyes, shake my head, and say something akin to “Whatever … so what’s new?” It is not because his lies and hateful rhetoric no longer offend, but because I am becoming desensitized. It is old news. Trump lies. Trump cannot speak in complete sentences. Trump criticizes everyone who does not agree with him. Nothing new to see here, folks … shrug your shoulders and move along.
That which, as recently as five months ago, stirred my ire, offended my sensibilities and incensed me, now earns a shrug or an eyeroll. How did we (I speak for myself, but I use ‘we’, for I believe I am not alone in this) come to this point? How? Rather the same way a human body becomes immune to disease after numerous or prolonged periods of exposure. Rather like that annoying rattle in your car that, after a few weeks, you no longer hear it. The rattle is still there, it is ominous in that it indicates something is not right, but you have become desensitized, immune, and you no longer hear the rattle, no longer heed the warning signs.
Long ago I opined that Trump did not wish to be a president, but rather an autocrat. Nothing that has happened in the past seven months has changed my opinion. I was told months ago that I should not worry too much, for the system of checks and balances that is built into our foundation, the U.S. Constitution, would keep Trump from realizing his goal of supremacy. But those checks and balances only work if we remain focused enough to force them to work, and I fear that we are growing weary, we are losing our focus. I was told that the American people would never allow Trump to gain too much power, but the American people are divided, disheartened, and tired after only seven short/long months of the freak show we have been watching.
I wish I had easy answers, but I do not. I do not know how we remain vigilant … I only know that we must. We must continue to call Trump out on every lie, no matter how minor. We must continue to fight, to resist, those things that we know in our hearts are wrong. We must somehow find renewed energy to fight against the abomination sitting in the Oval Office. We must continue to remind our elected representatives that they work for We The People, that they are independent of the executive branch and that we expect them to act in OUR best interests, not their own. In fact, we must remind them that at the end of the day, their own best interests are closely tied to ours.
We must continue, fruitless though it may seem, trying to maintain a dialog with those with whom we disagree, continue trying to understand them and help them to understand us. In the end, we are all in this together. Last weekend I drove 500 miles on Friday and again on Monday. The highway became tiresome, mile after mile of sameness, and I grew weary, more than once felt my eyes slowly closing. The danger was real that I would drive into an obstacle and be injured or die, so I stopped, walked around a bit, got fresh coffee, and renewed my energy. This is what we must do today and for as long as it takes, for the danger is real and we must find ways to renew ourselves so that we can keep fighting. We cannot afford to shrug.