I’ve been wrong before. A lot of times, actually. Perhaps you have an idea just how hard this is for me to admit. If I were to go over the ideas, decisions, and presumptions I have made about life, my record is appalling. I have no doubt that if life were judged in a classroom that all of us would need to repeat it over and over again. Why is it so difficult to accept our mistakes?
Of course I am talking about Donald Trump here, and I doubt many people are thinking otherwise. Donald Trump is a man trapped in this same endless cycle we all hope to escape from someday, a childhood pox where every declaration and fantasy we have about the world is absolute, and those trying to undermine your Tooth Fairy fixation are out to destroy all the magic of the world.
But picking on Trump is too easy in this instance. I have said before that I do not think the man believes in anything, which makes the world surrounding him pure illusion–a play land of his own making where reality can shift and change at will to support whichever narrative is at hand. The deepest flaw in the President of the United States’ character, ultimately, is his inconsistency. It is an inability to tell a story. This is not, of course, to say that he does not have interesting–even fascinating–narrative nuggets to exploit and sculpt for his benefit as needed (the man has been world famous for nearly 40 years as I compose this. There is no question that he is deeply talented in self-promotion, like any great villain from history). Perhaps his deepest trouble is simply with his memory. I wonder if he can wade through all of those alternate versions of the truth he has disguised himself with, and stay true to anything. Perhaps this, too, is why none of his personal relationships ever last.
Beyond Donald Trump, however, our refusal to admit our mistakes takes on a far darker meaning. We can watch Trump on TV and laugh or gasp with whatever horror, outrage, or hilarity arises. It becomes the topic of our daily discussions: “Did you hear what Trump said?” or “Can you believe what he did?” or “Who do you think shot JR?” It all tragically amounts to the same thing, a sweeps week rush, or season-ending cliff-hanger. What comes next?
But, like the ravenous fans all of us are, our opinions therefore eventually become gospel. Even when faced with a different reality, we are often unable to accept the transposed fate of the events we had long convinced ourselves develop otherwise. How could it have been her? we ask. Or, more commonly, that doesn’t make any sense!
Resolutions, endings, they are difficult. The truth will almost always be a let down. Even those proven correct–those smug I-told-you-so’s, who can only gloat with self-justification, are bound to be disappointed because they will never be given full credit for their prescience. “I knew it! I just knew it!” they cannot help but boast. And who wants to hear that? Does anyone enjoy being reminded just how wrong they are?
When I was a child my favorite baseball team was the Cleveland Indians. I am not from Cleveland. I have only ever driven through Ohio. There was no direct logic to my preference other than a 1948 baseball card of Bob Feller that I sold for forty dollars. Add to that that this was the early 1980s and the Cleveland Indians were terrible. To highlight an example, in 1983 their record was 70-92. They finished in last place in their division and were 28 games out of first place. Their team batting average that season was .265, and they hit a total of 86 home runs, which is historically disgraceful. Their team ERA for the year was 4.43. The best known player on the club was Bert Blyleven–a man who really does belong in the Hall of Fame, although it is perhaps seasons like the one he had in 1983 that keep him from getting enough votes to go over the top.
No one was very good that year, and my favorite of all Indians at that time, second tier slugger Andre Thornton, had a negligible season of 17 home runs, 77 RBIs and a .281 batting average. But none of this changed the fact that I was convinced they were the best team there was–Gorman Thomas had once hit 48 home runs with the Brewers! Manny Trillo, the great second baseman from the 1980 Philadelphia Phillies championship team, was now manning the middle of the field. There was Blyleven. Rick Sutcliffe was their ace! Len Barker had pitched a good season once, I seemed to remember. And Julio Franco was there from the Phillies too! And Mike Hargrove, a man who would one day manage the team after Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome made them into a powerhouse, he was there and he was pretty damn good! What wasn’t to like?
Other baseball fans of my acquaintance laughed at me. “The Indians are awful!” they would say, looking at a scoreboard and seeing them down 6-0 in the bottom of the second inning. And while what they were saying was true, it made me angry to hear it. I felt insulted. I took on these other people’s flaws and problems, wrapped myself in the flag of Indian nation, and denounced anyone who said otherwise with all the partisan rage I could muster. I refused to hear otherwise! Thornton was going to win MVP! The Indians would win the last fifty games of the season and never lose again! It was ignorant to believe otherwise! I knew the truth. Why did the rest of the world refuse to believe it?
I was wrong. The 1983 Cleveland Indians were a bad team. They had no chance of winning even before the season started. But I wanted them to, I truly and desperately had wanted them to. And I could read an article about Toby Harrah getting injured, or Juan Eichelberger getting hammered again, and I simply would not believe it. That wasn’t the game I wanted (the Indians, of course, were not usually televised in my area unless they had the misfortune to play the Yankees on a Sunday afternoon) and so I did not believe the news. It was fake. They were lying. The media was attempting to disrupt reality as I wanted to believe it, and I started wondering why everyone was plotting against my favorite team.
There is really no need for me to go on with this metaphor, because it is ridiculous (while tragically true). I think my point is pretty clear. Of course we all make mistakes. We all have errors in judgment. Sometimes we even support (or root for) the most hopeless causes of all. But we should never double down, or block ourselves from the truth. We need to accept reality as it crawls from the shadows and devours the whole. Because if not we are lost, trapped. We will suffocate in the toxic air we breath. We will not exist in a wonderland of desire, but in the cheap hell of our own making.
Donald Trump is more than just a flawed human being who is the American President. He has become a symbol, for all of us, of our refusal to accept our own realities. Those who so fervently support him have transcended the level of knowing that this or that is wrong, but accept the truth anyway, flaws and all. They have now outright altered their ideas on reality with a panicked need to prove not so much that they were right, but that everyone else is wrong. What they are doing is not surging forward into the future, but they are negating the present, trapping the world in the sort of pressure chamber that, if the temperature keeps rising, cannot help but explode.