Despite the relentless rain this week I ventured outside and walked to town. I certainly didn’t want to drive and Clare was off in the city for work. The leaden water of Howe Sound and the drifting gun metal clouds draped across the coastal mountains presented a monochromatic palette, somewhat resembling my sombre mood on this blustery fall day.
“Camp, did you read those stats in The Washington Postwhich state that Trump told 3250 false statements and lies in his first 500 days. That was at the end of May, he has since added another 970 lies in June and July,” I said.
“The truth doesn’t matter in politics. It’s the message that counts and the messenger,” Camp said. “The crazy thing is that it doesn’t seem to damage his popularity at all, to the contrary, he has an 85% support amongst republicans. In fact he inspires other autocrats like Putin and Erdogan and the recently elected Bolsonaro in Brazil to follow his example. Lie, deny and call everybody else a liar, a cheat and a misfit.”
“It’s unbelievable and scary to think that the most powerful politicians in this new world are all liars, braggarts and rogues,” I said.
“That’s because politicians do not describe reality, their aim is to change it to suit their agenda and nothing changes reality as fast as a lie,” Camp said. “There are powerful and rich institutions financed by billionaires hard at work to produce alternative facts and narratives. From think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation to media empires like Fox, and radio talk show hosts like Rush Rimbaugh. Just look at Fox News.”
“It almost looks like republicans and democrats live in two parallel universes, representing not two different interpretations of reality but two realities, both with their own statistics, studies, experts and even facts.”
“That’s right, facts are not a question of personal opinion any longer; they have become a question of loyalty. Doesn’t matter if it’s healthcare, the economy or evolution. It’s not any longer a question of which analyses is true or false but are you for it or against it,” Camp said.
“How did we get to this point?” I said, feeling rather despondent and thirsty. I finished my mug and was looking around for Rosie to get a refill.
“It’s the power of the word that separates us from the other species ,” Camp said. “It was Yuval Harari, the Israeli historian, who stated that the most powerful and destructive weapon the world has ever seen is language. It gives us the ability to talk about non-existing things and events, to make up stories and construct differing narratives. Nobody can socially interact with more then 150 individuals, the size of a tribe or a herd, but thanks to the word and languages we can now reach and interact with untold numbers of people we have never seen and never will. These words and stories lead to communities like religions and dynasties and words are also the foundations of ideas like freedom, nations and justice or even brands like Apple and Google.”
Camp downed his pint and now we were both looking around for Rosie or Vicky. Usually we never had to wait for a refill. Something must be happening.
“You are in he business of selling stories and words,” I said, “and I’m no better myself, trying to tell stories and even make them up.”
“Yes, the power of the word. It’s a big responsibility but when a demagogue gets to be in power thanks a destructive narrative, inspiring fear and loathing, then we’ve reached what political philosophers since Plate have feared most about democracy:: The tyranny of the majority.”
“But we have safeguards in place like a free press, an independent judiciary, family values even and academic principles,” I said.
“These institutions are only as strong as the politicians, elected by the people, allow them to be.”
“Any predictions on next weeks mid-terms in the states?” I asked.
“The republicans will retain the senate, just barely, and the dems will get the house of reps, how about you?”
“Nobody wins, everybody looses,” I said.
“You’re in a lousy mood today. Must be the weather.”
“Have you two been waiting for a refill?” Rosie, who seemed out of breath, asked. “I’m sorry but Vicky called in sick and I’m running the show on my own.”
“I hope she’s ok,” I said.
“Oh, no worries, she’s probably suffering from post birthday hangover. It was her 30iest yesterday.”
“In other words she lied?” I said.
“No, no, people call in sick for dozens of reason, from missing the bus to a hangover. It’s a white lie at best, like fudging your weight, age, finances, health, taxes, compliments and half true answers to the police or border guards.”
“Like if they asked if you had a drink while driving or indulged in smoking the weed at any time in your life?”
“Exactly, the answer is always: no sir, not me.”
“You think politicians have to tell the truth?”
“What truth is that? The one about serving the public or the one about keeping promises? Are you two ready for another round and speak the truth and nothing but the truth.” She laughed.
“Yes, mam, we’re always ready for another beer and that’s no lie,” Camp said.