“Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.” ― Ludwig Wittgenstein
“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” — Daniel Patrick Moynihan
“The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.” – Stephen King
Donald Trump is no genius, but he’s at least a bit more perceptive than most of his loyal followers. Trump knows when he’s lying to his fan base, which is regularly. He’s well aware when he’s manipulating them, which is incessantly. Loyal Trumpists, meanwhile, are clueless. They are, as novelist Stephen King labeled them, “innocent.” Not innocent as a helpless baby is innocent, but innocent as in naïve, gullible, easily influenced.
Despite his profound intellectual inadequacies, Donald Trump instinctively recognizes—and quickly seizes upon—opportunities to control his infatuated, gullible followers by tapping into their proclivity for self-delusion.
Each of us has an ingrained tendency to believe what we choose rather than diligently pursue and then relentlessly clench to the truth. Human nature naturally chooses comforting fabrications over troubling truths. Proper education aims at helping students overcome that embedded tendency to choose comfortable falsehoods over unpleasant realities.
The Education Battleground
So it isn’t surprising to see now that education itself is the latest battleground in the struggle between contented delusions and disconcerting data. Nor is it surprising to see Donald Trump seize upon this topic to rally his troops.
As reported in the New York Post, “President Trump on Thursday announced a federal ‘1776 Commission’ to promote ‘patriotic education’ and accused Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and the New York Times of warping history.” The President’s own words undermine his premise. Promoting one’s version of history is the antithesis of education; it is nothing more than indoctrination, the very thing conservatives have denounced for decades.
1619 or 1776?
The formation of the 1776 Commission is a conservative response to The 1619 Project, sponsored by the New York Times. The 1619 Project is “an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
In announcing the rival 1776 Commission, Trump declared,
[A]s we gather this afternoon, a radical movement is attempting to demolish this treasured and precious inheritance. We can’t let that happen. Left-wing mobs have torn down statues of our founders, desecrated our memorials, and carried out a campaign of violence and anarchy. Far-left demonstrators have chanted the words ‘America was never great.’ The left has launched a vicious and violent assault on law enforcement — the universal symbol of the rule of law in America. These radicals have been aided and abetted by liberal politicians, establishment media, and even large corporations.
Whether it is the mob on the street, or the cancel culture in the boardroom, the goal is the same: to silence dissent, to scare you out of speaking the truth, and to bully Americans into abandoning their values, their heritage, and their very way of life.
Are the president’s claims truthful?
- “a radical movement is attempting to demolish this treasured and precious inheritance.”
- The president provided no proof, no evidence of this attempt to “demolish this treasured and precious inheritance [as seen in the U.S. Constitution].” He expected his audience to unquestioningly accept his contention—which they did. However, even if it is true that “a radical movement is attempting to demolish” American ideals, it does not necessarily follow that The 1619 Project promotes radical movements, as Trump’s speech implied. But it is an undeniable fact that the founding of this nation is inextricably tied to the institution of slavery. Denying that wretched fact might provide comfort to Trump and his followers, but finding comfort in misrepresentations is like placing an air mattress on thorny ground; sooner or later that mattress will deflate.
- “Left-wing mobs have torn down statues of our founders, desecrated our memorials, and carried out a campaign of violence and anarchy.”
- The June 12, 2020, issue of The Hill listed every statue removed, toppled, or vandalized since the police killing of George Floyd. Most were statues of Confederate generals. Many were of Christopher Columbus. Some others were of locals who supported the Confederacy. Of the 34 incidents, 14 were city-approved removals, not cases of mob vandalism. Of the remaining 20 incidents, just one targeted one of the nation’s founders. On June 14, a statue of George Washington in Chicago was found to have been spray painted.
- “The left has launched a vicious and violent assault on law enforcement—the universal symbol of the rule of law in America.”
- The fact that Democratic leaders from Joe Biden to Rev. Al Sharpton have openly denounced the defund law enforcement movement makes clear that Democrats generally have no part in any vicious or violent assault on law enforcement. It is, in fact, President Trump—and often his followers—who has repeatedly displayed disrespect for the rule of law.
- “Whether it is the mob on the street, or the cancel culture in the boardroom, the goal is the same: to silence dissent, to scare you out of speaking the truth.”
- The plain fact is that Donald Trump—probably more than any other public figure—has repeatedly engaged in “cancel culture” politics.
Self-Delusion Is Transitory
The sad fact is that in 1619, white settlers in this new land began importing captured black people to work their lands. Whether one calls those black folks indentured servants or slaves makes little difference when tied to the centuries of blatant and brutal slavery that followed.
President Trump and his gullible followers can continue to delude themselves and pretend that everything about America’s founding was wholly virtuous, but the rocks and thorns will continue to poke their air mattress of fantasy. Ultimately, the hard ground of truth always bursts through the transient comfort of self-delusion.