Lies and bamboozling distractions

These days, politicians who lie about the results of the election are undermining trust in our country while all the time claiming patriotism. The undermining of our social agreement is creating a Shakespearean tragedy.

NEWFANE — Let's step back for a moment. Imagine we are social scientists or anthropologists as we take an objective look at the United States. What would we see?

We'd notice that the so-called "great experiment" in democracy has produced some bizarre phenomena.

On the one hand, life in the U.S. for most people is highly agreeable. That doesn't mean most people talk about it that way or even think about it that way, but then, they have little to compare it to. As Robert Frost wrote, "How are we to write / The Russian novel in America / As long as life goes so unterribly?"

On the other hand, right now, a schism corrupts the fabric of the country.

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Social agreement is the collective understanding that governs the behavior of individuals within a specific context. In the United States, social agreement is a rare bird - it happens only when an American team is on the world stage, and then, suddenly, most Americans agree that our team should win.

In Ken Burns's series The War, the spirit of social agreement was a fact of life in those hard times when the very existence of our country was on the line during World War II. Americans would need to pull together, or we would lose.

No one argued on Dec. 7, 1941 that Japan did not bomb Pearl Harbor. Now there is the undermining of the ground Americans stand on, which leads to upheaval, chaos, turmoil, and uncertainty.

The saying "You can fool some of the people all of the time" is more true than we might have previously thought. According to a CNN poll, "All told, 69% of Republicans and Republican-leaners say Biden's win was not legitimate."

How is that possible?

When Donald Trump said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and his followers would still support him, I thought that he was ignoring the innate fairness of Americans. I have to admit, he knew something about the dark side of our country that I was unaware of.

Until now.

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Let's put those who claim the big lie, that somehow Trump actually won the 2020 election, into three separate groups.

Of course, there is Trump, a group unto himself. He is obsessed with avoiding losing. Even when he plays golf, according to some of his caddies, he cheats so he can seem like he won.

The second group knows that Biden actually won, but they have an opportunistic reason to say the opposite. These are politicians and right-wing media outlets. Their motivation is crystal clear: to stay in power and to make money.

Power and greed are Shakespearian. Think of Othello. Othello marries Desdemona, a beautiful and wealthy Venetian woman who is much younger than he.

Why, in the story, does Shakespeare create her as rich, young, and beautiful? Because she loves Othello and is not after his money, power, or position. How can Othello be convinced that she is betraying him? Through the treachery of Iago, his aide, who strokes his master's jealousy and passion until Othello kills the thing he loves most - Desdemona.

These days, politicians who lie about the results of the election are Iago, undermining trust in our country while all the time claiming patriotism. They are, in fact and deed, anti-American, because they do not want America to work well. If it did, they would have no claim on power.

And then, there is the most interesting group, the true believers. They actually do think that Trump won and Biden lost.

They are the modern version of Othello and, in the end, they may just find their way to killing what they love most: the U.S.A. as Desdemona.

We are talking about a third of the population. That means that two-thirds have a fix on reality. You can't fool all of the people all of the time.

But what are we looking at?

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All cults have this in common: They discredit reality as a standard of measurement.

The cult leader tells his followers: Don't trust your perceptions, don't talk to your parents, don't research facts, just listen to what I'm telling you. Don't believe what you're seeing. Believe what I'm telling you to believe.

The great Kenneth Clark, British art historian and broadcaster, said: "Authoritarian governments don't like dictionaries. They live by lies and bamboozling abstractions. They can't afford to have words accurately defined."

One of the ways that reality is distorted these days is by changing the meaning of words or inventing words that are designed to - as Clark so eloquently said - bamboozle.

A society that adopts truth for truth's sake has a future. A society that is incapable of standing on reality in a truthful way has a questionable outlook.

Robert Fritz (robertfritz.com) works as an author, composer, filmmaker, and management consultant.

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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