One time when I was four or five and caught in a lie, my parents admonished me with the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. I do not know if they thought the event really happened. I suspect they did, although historians have long known the story was invented by Washington biographer, Mason Weems.
Such stories are part of the fabric of the myth of American exceptionalism, and here I use the word “myth” as Joseph Campbell did. One of the four main functions of myth for Campbell was the sociological view,”supporting and validating a certain social order.” At their best, such myths can inspire us to greatness.
Many sociological fictions are not benign, which motivated Time Magazine’s current cover, and its cover story, “Can Trump Handle the Truth,” by Michael Scherer (Time, Apr. 3, 2017, pp 33-39).
Scherer says, “Trump has discovered something about epistemology in the 21st century. The truth may be real, but falsehood often works better.”
Except when it doesn’t…
As a sometimes writer of fiction, I remember a news report from the seventies, when “The Six Million Dollar Man” was a popular TV series. A five or six year old boy jumped off the roof of his home, believing that if he sustained serious injuries, he’d receive bionic limbs and implants like Colonel Steve Austin (Lee Majors) in the series. The news report said the boy was in traction, but expected to make a full recovery. He discovered something our president and many politicians have yet to learn – that physical reality enforces it’s own truths.
The most important truths of life, truths of the spirit and truths of the heart, are non-material and non-visible, yet to enjoy them, we need to survive, and this involves understanding the truths and laws of a material universe:
If we jump off a roof, we’ll get hurt, and no one will spend six-million dollars to make us bionic.
Oil pipelines leak, and oil trains sometimes explode. Climate change is not a Chinese hoax. The US just killed at least 112 civilians in airstrikes in Mosul.
The man who used the “birther” lie to launch his career in politics does indeed seem incapable of appreciating the truth, and as a result, is propelling this nation, at breakneck speed, into the very “loss of greatness,” he promised to turn around.