Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert” and admirer of President Trump, often crows that the presidential election in 2016 “punched a hole in reality.”
Adams, a self-styled nihilist, finds the uppercut to truth exciting. Most others find it terrifying.
But there is some agreement: The election of a sui generis TV personality to the highest office in the land blackened the eye of American institutions. Whether you consider that a good or a bad thing depends on what you think of those institutions.
Nothing in the last two years could put a halt to reality’s epic losing streak. At a recent rally for the president in Florida, a Trump fan said she was entirely indifferent to Trump’s numberless lies. She nicely nailed the embrace of our national acid trip: “I don’t care if he sprouts a third penis up there,” only she didn’t use the anatomically correct term.
On Tuesday, however, midterm voters offered at least one cheer for restoring truth. They brought a sharp check to the compulsively deceitful administration: a Democratic majority in the House.
Lies have some competition now. There’s an opposition party with a voice and a veto.
Sure, Democrats dearly wished for the emotional shot in the arm that might have come with the victory of at least one of the telegenic candidates in the Obama mode: Andrew Gillum (as governor in Florida), Stacey Abrams (as governor in Georgia) and Beto O’Rourke (as U.S. senator in Texas). Unfortunately, they all lost (though Abrams has not yet conceded).
But morale, while it would be nice, is not what’s required right now.
It’s even possible that Democrats, independents, centrist Republicans and Never Trumpers — who can be forgiven for craving some serotonin — wouldn’t actually benefit from a high. Right now, all concerned citizens need to be clear-eyed, not starry-eyed.
Nothing should distract us from the fundamental and urgent work for the Republic: rebuilding a nation founded on shared truth, on facts in common.
In our pluralistic and polyglot nation, one defined by bubbles and tribes, it’s hard to agree even on what certifies reality. To believe bitcoin is valuable, say, because the “blockchain” keeps it safe requires almost religious faith. To believe that hurricanes indicate climate change because of “science” strikes others as superstitious.
These chunks of language — like “God” before them — have become partisan artifacts, rather than authorities we can agree will settle our disputes.
Absent such an authority, we must rely on dispute itself. In our courts, in our elections and in our marketplace, where competitors battle it out for voters, juries and consumers, we have historically accepted an adversarial system as the royal road to truth.
Trump, with a Supreme Court stacked with conservatives and a Republican majority in both legislative chambers, hasn’t had an effective challenger.
Yes, the courts, the people, the special counsel and the non-Fox News media have heroically pushed back on the White House’s lies, against the head wind of the president’s efforts to demonize and destroy them. But without a fully empowered adversary among the three branches of government, the administration has been behaving immorally and unlawfully. This must stop.
In addition to a voice and a veto, the Democratic-majority Congress also has the all-important power to conduct investigations. And conscientious investigations are reality’s most formidable weapon.
In August, a spreadsheet surfaced: It was a list of the probes Republicans most feared in the event of a Democratic majority in the House.
It seems that, at summer’s end, Trump’s party was terrified that a Democratic Congress would subpoena Trump’s tax returns, look into corruption in his businesses, investigate his dealings with Russia, question his payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels and dig into his firing of former FBI Director James B. Comey.
Has the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner complied with ethics guidelines? Are Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin’s business dealings on the up and up? What about discussions of classified information at Mar-a-Lago? Why are so many Cabinet secretaries misusing their privileges and perks?
Is the travel ban constitutional? How about the family separation policy? What went on with the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the dismissal of members of the Environmental Protection Agency’s board of scientific counselors? How about all those hinky White House security clearances, and Trump’s waffling about the torture and murder of American resident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi?
These are among the many questions Republicans least want asked. They’d rather persist in the unreality of their own hallucinations, sure that the threat to the republic comes from a caravan of tired and hungry asylum seekers rather than Trump’s murderous buddies Vladimir Putin, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Of course, this strange inversion of national security priorities is only part of the psychedelic fantasies of this delusional and dangerous administration.
Reality, and all those who stand with it, have taken a hard hit. It’s reeling like a cartoon boxer with birds tweeting around his head. But slowly, slowly reality will steady itself and make a comeback.
It always has — at least so far.