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Coping With The Current Madness
Brexit, Trump, a resurgent Russia, a collapsing Syria, mass murder in Paris, mass murder in Orlando—these are signs of a world going mad, or so they seem.
The order of things, the comfortable familiarity of how the world is and how it works is unraveling before our eyes. In the U.S. especially, nothing that we’ve seen over the past 4 weeks can be categorized as politics as usual. Every day there is some fresh upheaval, some new and senseless outrage.
In the past, it was easy to cope with hard news. Switching the television off or keeping it on a non-news channel was all you needed to do. That is no longer possible for two reasons. First, you are bound to see links and posts about current events on social media. Second, the scale and nature of the changes now taking place makes it impossible for any man of reason to hold to a line of not being interested in politics. You may not take an interest in politics, but in the age of Trump politics for damn sure will take an interest in you.
Even if you are not Latino or Muslim, you should not think you will be unaffected by what’s happening around you. It has already become clear that the measures taken by the new administration to ban Muslims and deport undocumented workers are starting to negatively affect the economy. Certain IT-related industries are beginning to feel the pain resulting from the harassment at airports of some of their top entrepreneurs and executives. Farming and industries related to it are also facing a crisis as the labor force they’ve relied on for years dries up.
You should not take for granted that your job is safe. The knock-on effects of such changes have a way of reaching companies that seem far removed from those that are first impacted.
In any case, the Trump administration has proven itself chaotic and unpredictable—purposefully so. The president made it known during the campaign that this is the way he would govern. You must therefore find a way to deal with this appalling reality; you will otherwise be caught unawares when the next arbitrary act is imposed.
How to do so?
First, resist all attempts to normalize insanity. It is often thought that the right-wing news media is, as a group, responsible for the public’s easy acceptance of lies and misinformation. But this is not quite true. Anyone who reads, watches, or listens to extreme conservative papers, cable news shows, and radio programs already believes what they are being told. The aim of right-wing media is to simply reinforce such beliefs. The real harm comes from individuals attached to the consensus press. Scattered among the ranks of mainstream news outlets are journalists, bloggers, and talking heads who specialize in trying to get people to throw over their sense of right and wrong and reject the evidence of their own eyes. The underlying premise of nearly all their arguments is: “There is no truth, only competing narratives. In any case, there is no need to worry. Things are never as bad as they appear. It’ll all work out in the end.”
Taking such a Panglossian view of the world is an imbecilic and unmanly way of dealing with it: you do not cope with the hard truths of the world; you merely refuse the knowledge of their existence.
Second, you must do that which you would rather not: argue and debate. Spending time on Facebook and Twitter challenging claims and statements that seem to have no basis in fact is tiresome. But it does give you an expeditious means of clarifying things for yourself. It also helps you stay sane, which is perhaps the most pressing of needs at times like these. Indeed, the task for everyone interested in carrying on the human heritage is to have some regard for what is true and what is false. Even the seemingly insignificant act of calling out bullshit on social media is a way of doing your duty.
Third, you should develop a broader understanding of the social and cultural forces that produce the kind of society we live in. Turning to literature is a great way of doing this. George Orwell’s 1984 has become a top-seller since Trump took office. I also recommend Sinclair Lewis’s great novel It Can’t Happen Here, Hans Fallada’s Wolf Among Wolves, and Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now.