Does President Trump gaslight everyone? Alone with Ivanka, does he say, “My crowds on the mall were bigger than Obama’s”? As Melania sleeps does he lie awake, thinking “I won the popular vote, but for the fraudulent ones”?
I have known fantasists. You have, too. No, that pool attendant was never in the SAS. After dropping out of her law degree, F did not start an Open University degree- and if she did, she was not expected to get a First. And S, a trans woman, did not have XX chromosomes but an “SRY inclusion factor” which made her develop apparently male.
I have known other fantasists, I am sure, who were less extreme, less noticeable. People get away with it if they are careful. We preferred to call ourselves “Lifeguards” rather than “pool attendants”, because it seemed more important, effectual, worthwhile.
When Trump says the goodwill attached to his brand is worth billions, does he believe it?
Does anyone challenge him? Would Ivanka say to him, well, there are these photographs, but people seem to be accepting what we say? Does Mr Spicer believe his alternative facts? Do the Trump voters who assert there were millions of fraudulent votes believe it, or simply know that is what they have to say? Jesus was born of a virgin, the world was created six thousand-odd years ago, and Trump won the popular vote?
Some fantasists alter reality for others. Anna controlled her world in part by believing that her neighbours were snooping on her and that she could hear their dismissive comments through her wall. She turned her loudspeakers towards the party wall so that they could not hear her, but still said they managed. She insisted on this so unrelentingly that we stopped challenging her, even suggesting to her that she might be mistaken. “You hear that?” she would say. No, I didn’t. Even when she wasn’t there, I said how dreadful her neighbours were, and then met another’s disbelieving gaze, shamefaced. Yet he would not have challenged her to her face.
There are no common facts, known to both sides of the aisle, but alternative facts which justify Republican gerrymandering. Some facts are plausible. I believed Gerry Mander was the man who ensured there were no Catholic members of the Stormont parliament. Then I read the word comes from somewhere else.
Trump does not get it right, but escapes unscathed. His casinos went bankrupt and he transferred the losses onto others.
I like to believe in an enveloping Truth, consistent and coherent, but it is not possible. It is disputed whether you can prove 2+2=4. Theories of gravity do not fit the standard model: the equations divide by zero and produce infinity. It is unnecessary to know that James III died at the battle of Sauchieburn, or how my phone’s map finds directions- it just does. Possibly Trump knows all he needs to know, so need never read a book- his entitlement is limitless, all who oppose him are losers, there will always be a way out. Or his supporters have their enveloping Truth- abortion is murder, global warming is refuted by winter, Trump never lies to them- which gives them strength to get through the day. Very little truth actually matters in the moment. Imagination might be worth more: these things are possible.
Hannah Arendt wrote, the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world – and the category of truth vs. falsehood is among the mental means to this end – is being destroyed… The experience of a trembling wobbling motion of everything we rely on for our sense of direction and reality is among the most common and most vivid experiences of men under totalitarian rule.
I want a US president to believe certain things. Climate change matters, and may be mitigated. Some things are best done by the whole society, working together, such as health care. Supporting the poor benefits everyone. All these assertions are disputed.