As I watched President Trump’s news conference today (transcript here), I discovered that I was becoming more and more sick to my stomach. At a certain point, I had to repress the impulse to actually go loiter around my toilet just in case I actually needed to vomit. And I started to think about why it is that the man makes me physically ill.
It really gets to a core value I have about truthfulness. That can seem trite, and it’s hard to explain. I certainly don’t have the expectation that politicians or anyone else will always tell me the truth. Perhaps I can get closer to the feeling Trump gives me by using an analogy.
If you’ve ever witnessed some one, say a child, make a bad mistake that you know will cause them difficulties and you’ve felt a pang of empathetic regret on their behalf, that’s the closest thing I can find to the nauseous feeling I get when listening to Trump lie.
The difference is that we normally get that feeling when we feel like the person has made an innocent error or that we sense that consequences will be far out of proportion to the actual sin. We may feel like wrapping that person in a protective blanket even if we recognize that they are largely responsible for making the bed they will now lie in.
And if we sense that we’re helpless to shield them from the consequences of their actions, we may get the sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach that I’m trying to describe.
Of course, I don’t have any empathy for Trump. I don’t want to shield or protect him. I would relish it if it suffered the appropriate consequences for his actions.
Yet, that sensation is there nonetheless, like seasickness or the early signs of stomach flu.
Part of it, I think, is a deep psychological desire, or need, to purge what I’m hearing from my reality. I want to get rid of of those words. I want to take away their power to do mischief. I want to decontaminate everything they come into contact with.
Because what he’s saying isn’t just untrue. It’s untethered from anything we can hold on to. It does actual violence to not only objective reality but the very idea that there is an objective reality.
What I realized about myself is that while I may have strong political beliefs and that I am incensed when powerful people attack the weak and vulnerable, what really drives my ideological disposition is a belief in the importance of empiricism. The Republicans keep moving farther and farther away from this value system that they derisively refer to as the “judicious study of discernible reality.”
I could go line by line to explain each and every lie and obfuscation in Trump’s press conference, but something is lost when you look at the trees rather than stepping back and beholding the forest. Trump is planting a veritable tree farm of outright bullshit. That it’s in the service of a malevolent and dangerous set of policies is obviously a massive concern for me, but it’s not what makes me want to retch.