Many years ago on a flight from NYC to LA, my seatmate was a glamorous creature, 35 or so, well-employed, mother of two. How our conversation began I cannot now recall, but its content I’ve never forgotten.
This elegant woman believed that no one not a Baptist could get into heaven.
I was ruled out, of course, as were Buddists, Hindus, Arabs, Jews, Catholics, every other Protestant denomination, aborigines of all kinds.
I didn’t argue. I tried gentle persuasion, not to change her mind, but merely to admit another possibility.
She wasn’t buying.
Years after that, I sat at a poolside in Los Angeles with an old friend, discussing the hearings surrounding Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination. In the course of our lunch-time conversation, I innocently asked whether Mr. Thomas’ attitude towards women would naturally include a stance against abortion.
My pal’s response was instantaneous. “Of course, as it should.”
We remained friends but never again discussed anything within a hundred yards of abortion.
Last week I sat at a luncheon next to a woman I’ve known slightly for perhaps ten years. She is tall, thin, dazzlingly beautiful, with a clutch of grown children of equal appeal.
Here, too, I cannot remember the path that led us into the woods, but suddenly a woman who had been heretofore inclined to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt, even though she agreed she had been severely disappointed, had become as definitive in her fear and dislike of him as Mitch McConnell.
I made a small effort, asking whether she thought new (and, to my mind, unreasonable) adherents of Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan would be enough to overcome the “gender gap” about which we have read so often. In other words, could women of a certain age outweigh women younger, in less settled situations, who cared about and needed healthcare, and who believed that it was their right to choose what to do with their bodies.
Lunch ended and I never got a clear response.
But what concerned me then, as it does now, is the effect of the Republican Big Lie on people like my erstwhile friend who had voted first for Obama, been disappointed, and then swallowed a dishonest political rant as though it were manna.
A lot has been written, some of it by me, about how a Big Lie can now be maintained against any and all “fact checkers” and think tanks by simply “doubling down” and repeating over and over again a particularly dishonest thought or political position until viewers and listeners alike come to accept it as “truth.”
For this is exactly what is happening. Denial of accuracy and fact comes quickly to the lips of many in both parties. Many in fact either no longer know what reality is or never knew. And it doesn’t matter to them, in their rabid rush to power.
Just exactly as it doesn’t matter to the voters who are barraged by advertising on radio and television, in their mails, by their friends.
“Truthiness” was a Stephen Colbert concept, and it’s come to pass.
We don’t know yet how the Democrats will try to combat this kind of dishonesty, or whether their efforts will be successful.
But it seems to me that the President is in real trouble. As he and his team struggle to fight back, they seem lowered in the estimation of the public, and that doesn’t help, either.
If no candidate, on any part of a party’s slate, is willing to tell the truth lest he or she lose whatever chance he or she has at reaching a position of influence, then America has indeed become a third world republic, controlled entirely by big money and big lies. In effect, by propaganda.
We’ve seen in our own lifetimes countries succumb to this siren, and we’ve also seen them destroyed.
Maybe Democracy is, after all, only a fifty-fifty proposition.