When you think you’re going crazy…

[I]t’s always possible that Trump himself is simply unable to distinguish between fact and fiction, or can’t be bothered to try. But the darker possibility is that the conflation is deliberate, not with the intention of deceiving, of substituting false for true, but of disrupting our ability to tell the two apart, or indeed, by advertising how vast is his own unconcern for the distinction, to lead us in time to be as indifferent, if only out of fatigue. —Andrew Coyne

lie: intransitive verb: to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive 

There are few greater tests to one’s resilience than to be in the presence of sustained lying.

A steady drip of lies, like water on rock, can gradually shape the contours of reality and even our sanity.

Here are three contemporary forms of lying that are shaping our political reality and sanity:

1. gas·lighting/verb, gerund, or present participle: manipulate someone by lying or other psychological means into questioning their own sanity

The repetition of a lie in the face of contrary evidence, including what we can see with our own eyes, can cause recipients of the lie to question their sense of reality.

I remember a story from decades ago, which may or may not be true, about a professional baseball player who asked his manager what he should have done when his wife caught him in bed with another woman. “Say you weren’t with the woman,” the manager said. “But she saw me,” the player repeated. “Tell her you don’t know what she’s talking about,” the manager replied. “And keep saying it.”

Big lie: noun: a false statement of outrageous magnitude employed in the belief that a lesser falsehood would not be credible, especially when used as a propaganda device by a politician or official body

A leading contemporary example is the “birther” big lie employed by our current president in an effort to discredit and undermine the presidency of his predecessor, which also served the purpose of attracting to him many of his core followers.

“Alternative facts”: a form of mind control and dominance used by demagogues in which information unsupported by objective reality is declared to be true (you can learn more about the history of this term here)

Examples: “You say 2 + 2 = 4. I say 2 + 2 = 5. Who’s to say which is right. Certainly not the lying media.”

You say “Climate change has widespread support in the scientific community. I say that it’s just a theory and that China thought it up. My theory is just as good as your theory.”

Taken together, the unrelenting landscape of falsehoods makes it understandable that Americans may be feeling a bit crazy these days and why 1984 has become a bestseller in recent weeks.

Why do leaders lie?

• because lies can be used to manipulate public policy, intimidate enemies, and exaggerate accomplishments

• because lies can be used as loyalty tests to see who repeats them, which is especially important for authoritarian leaders who value loyalty beyond all other things.

What can we do in the face of such lying and manipulation?

1. First, call lying what it is. Don’t minimize it by calling it “fake news” or “fabrication” or “falsehoods” or “alternative facts.”

2. Recognize that you are not crazy and that you are not alone.

3. If in doubt, do a reality check. Talk with others you respect to maintain your confidence in “reality.”

Stay in those conversations as long as necessary to restore your sanity and to give yourself courage to label the lying for what it is and to confront it at every opportunity.

Given that such leaders prevail when we become overwhelmed by and resigned to their lying, what are you doing to maintain your sanity and motivation for challenging it?

20 Responses to “When you think you’re going crazy…”

  1. 1 Vicky February 8, 2017 at 7:08 am

    What frightens me the most is when people I know who have demonstrated a high degree of common sense and logical thinking in the past, are now defending this man… and anyone who dares question the guy’s sanity or at least his judgment is labeled a liberal, radical nut. How did this happen?

    I am frightened, and I have begun to wonder if I am, indeed, the crazy one.

    • 2 Dennis Sparks February 8, 2017 at 7:10 am

      You are not crazy, Vicky. Nor are you alone…

    • 3 Zorba February 9, 2017 at 5:09 pm

      No, you are definitely not crazy. If you are, then all of us sane people are, too.
      If you haven’t read Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here,” please do so. It was originally written about Huey Long, who was preparing to run against FDR for the presidency, but Long was killed before he got that far.
      The more I see of Trump, the more I begin to understand (not condone, mind you, but understand) how Hitler was able to rise to power in Germany. (Sorry for going all Godwin’s Law here, but it seems applicable.)
      It’s very frightening, indeed.

  2. 4 Jamie February 8, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Thank you, Dennis, for writing so eloquently about this topic. Please keep your posts coming, you are helping me maintain my sanity.

  3. 6 rickrepicky February 8, 2017 at 7:46 am

    I relate to your opening quote by Coyne, Dennis. There is so much misinformation coming from Trump and his “deflect & overpower” specialist K Conway that it can lead one to fatigue. Yesterday, CNN’s Jake Tapper interviewed Conway for 30 mins calling her out on Trump’s lies on the murder rate peaking, her multiple references to the Bowling Green massacre, and the media’s failure to cover terrorists events. All 3 cases are examples of what you write in your post today. I remember as a kid learning about Hitler doing the same things. Like Vicky, it seems hard to believe this can happen now and with people I regard highly. Do I have permission to repost your take on Facebook?

    • 7 rickrepicky February 8, 2017 at 7:55 am

      Strike my last sentence – I see you have a device already established to repost

    • 8 Dennis Sparks February 8, 2017 at 4:19 pm

      When I was young I learned from my teachers that Hitler’s rise to power was made possible by the conditions inflicted upon Germany after the First World War. Another cause, I was taught, was that too many “good people” did nothing when it was still possible to object.

      I was also told that such a thing couldn’t happen here because of the economic reforms put in place by Roosevelt and others, because of the checks and balances in our federal government that would prevent the rise of a “strong man,” and because of the power of a free and independent press.

      During this dark time I am given hope because federal judges, countless journalists, and millions of Americans and others around the world have refused to be intimated and otherwise bullied by this demagogue.

  4. 9 jcfunk February 8, 2017 at 8:27 am

    At one time I believed that the Internet would bring us closer together. There could be the exchange of ideas and rational discussion. I was wrong. It strikes me that nearly everyone today, regardless of their political persuasion, has adopted Joseph Goebbels’s philosophy of repeating lies to convert the lies into facts.

    • 10 Dennis Sparks February 8, 2017 at 10:40 am

      For that reason and others it has never been more important for schools to thoroughly teach and review “critical thinking” skills throughout the curriculum, particularly how to recognize bias, exaggeration, lying, and scapegoating, among other forms of propaganda. And given our new Secretary of Education and the overall conservative agenda, there may be an active suppression of teaching such skills. I appreciate your comment….

      • 11 Zorba February 9, 2017 at 5:16 pm

        Yes, Dennis, critical thinking skills have been minimized for awhile now, because of all the testing and teaching to the test that has been going on.
        It’s only going to get worse under DeVos, who wants to close most public schools, in favor of vouchers for private schools (including religious schools) and charter schools- some of which are good, but many of them are privatized and only exist to make money. 😦

      • 12 Dennis Sparks February 9, 2017 at 7:10 pm

        I appreciate your comments and contribution to this exchange of views….

  5. 13 Jpk February 8, 2017 at 9:43 am

    I want to muster more stamina and courage for staying in the conversations.

  6. 15 Katharine Weinmann February 8, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Appreciate your wise “weighing in,” Dennis. I’ll be sharing this on my timeline. My work as a teacher-practitioner in The Circle Way is finding its way to hosting conversations to help us stay sane, courageous, and discern wise collective action. Best to you…

  7. 17 Kent Peterson February 8, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Wonderfully thoughtful post. Sad we need to be talking about this.

  8. 19 Patricia De Bello February 8, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    Your readers may find the editor’s comments regarding the role of the press at this time in our history , as well as the comprehensive article on Steve Bannon in the Feb13 issue of Time magazine of special interest. They both seem to be reflective of the serious issues which your recent blogs have been addressing. Thanks for using your blog as a reflection of the current conundrum of public school educators who are in very vulnerable, yet invaluable positions to preserve the foundations of democracy through public schools.

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