Post-Truth in the Suburbs

Police officers stand guard as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Leah Millis

The rancorous divisiveness Donald Trump has wrought in the country at large is playing out in the microcosm of local Facebook “mom” groups, turning neighbor against neighbor. To be honest, it’s been like this for four years now—or more if you count the 2016 election—but it has reached a crescendo of animosity and vitriol in the days following the insurrection at the Capitol. I generally steer clear of political arguments in these groups. People are dug in on either side, and there is no convincing anyone of anything not in their circle of beliefs. Couple that with the post-truth era we are in and there’s an astonishing number of people living in a fact-free world who become furious when confronted with anything that is outside their preferred “alternative reality.” My town is no different. Too many people have believed the Big Lie (a propaganda technique that the Nazis used to great effect) that the election was stolen, and now they’re believing a second Big Lie. I had to break my rule about staying out of Facebook political arguments that are sparked by the clash of reality and the delusions spread by Trump and his allies. I had no choice…

One day after the horrifying violence at the Capitol a furious—absolutely apoplectic—mom posted that her child had to read a factual account of the insurrection and answer questions about it. She was so angry, because it began with the sentence, “A violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, 2021.” This is a fact. It’s indisputable. No matter…she raged that it did not mention, in her words, “that they were all Antifa!” Now, before anyone questions if it’s ethical for me to write about a post that is in a private group – it was a share of her original post, which was public. If your post’s privacy setting is “public” on Facebook, any fallout from your posts is on you and you alone. There should be no expectation of privacy. I would imagine, though that she did have an expectation of a conflict and was likely quite pleased that it indeed created a nasty, vitriol-spewing comment thread.

Back to why I joined in the carnage of that thread… The poster also said that she made sure that the school knew her displeasure. Several other people shared that they too had contacted the school, angry about a letter the superintendent sent out earlier in the day. That letter was measured and thoughtful and assured that children would be supported by extra mental health professionals who were brought in to assuage the fears that scenes of blood-thirsty rioters storming the seat of U.S. democracy may have engendered. It also mentioned that the social studies department had immediately prepared lessons that both explained the event and would have students “practicing skills to consume news and media reports on the event.” The district prides itself on producing savvy consumers of both news and social media—students who are thoughtful, engaged and empathetic and who know violence is never the answer. I was extremely grateful that my son’s history teacher extended the deadline to submit a test, so that they could delve into a discussion about the events of January 6th. They examined what sparked it, the repercussions, historical context and more. I heard some of the discussion, just by virtue of being in the same room, and it was really heartening. His teacher was presenting facts and they dove right into an intelligent, respectful and likely reassuring conversation. So, when I saw this person trashing the school district for allowing this, I felt the need to speak up. Here is my comment:

“I was so incredibly grateful that my son’s history teacher changed his planned lesson, so they could talk about what happened—an insurrection. They had a thoughtful, intelligent conversation full of facts, and were able to really get into how Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, coupled with the ‘Big Lie’ he and his allies have been telling, all culminated in the violence that left 5 dead. It was an assault on democracy, and it was also history (tragic history) in the making…it will be studied in text books. It was NOT antifa (which isn’t even an organization, but simply a belief system). The rioters were planning this out in the open. It was on Twitter and Parler. They were bragging about it on social media before, during and after. They gave interviews. Trump said, ‘We love you. You’re special.’ He would not have said that unless he thought they were his ‘patriots.’ Every single thing he said—including his marching orders to go to the Capitol—was followed. Rudy Giuliani urged, ‘Trial by combat!’ Don Jr. declared, ‘We’re coming for you, and we’ll have a good time doing it!’ They just couldn’t control the Frankenstein they created, so now it’s easier to blame someone else. Oh and the person wearing furs and horns is Jake Angelli, the ‘QAnon Shaman.’ He was photographed at BLM protests, because he was there as a counter-protester. I know the truth is difficult, but it’s important—now more than ever. And our children deserve to be taught a way to process these events without any bias.”

I thought I was respectful. Apparently, I was “delusional” and an evil Democrat for even trying to shatter the bubble of lies. There is zero evidence that the crowd was infiltrated by “ANTIFA” and BLM people—the second Big Lie—and that they were the murderous ones who did all the damage. Zero. In an article debunking Facebook posts saying that left-leaning activist, John Sullivan, incited the protest, Politifact states: “Those claiming antifa infiltrated or led the mob at the Capitol have provided no proof. The evidence of Trump supporters participating, however, is indisputable.” Much of that evidence comes from the Trump supporters themselves. They had been planning this for weeks out in the open.

A few days before the insurrection I said to my husband, “January 6th will be horrendous.” I had seen all the chatter on Twitter, and I knew it was going to be bad. If I, just a regular citizen, knew something terrible was about to go down, why weren’t Capitol police better prepared? Increasingly, evidence is pointing to a deliberate effort from the top (Trump and allies) to sabotage law enforcement’s ability to take a strong, impenetrable stand. National Guardsmen requested by DC’s Mayor Bowser were initially denied and Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, was not granted permission to send troops until nightfall. So, not only was there zero evidence of antifa leading the riots, there was plenty of evidence that a failure of leadership compounded the destruction. As I watched the horror unfold from my living room, I said to my son, “If this was a BLM protest, they would have been gassed and sprayed with rubber bullets already.” It’s a miracle there weren’t more casualties, and I pray that they are better prepared for any violence that may erupt between now and the inauguration.

There was also zero evidence of fraud in the election, that first Big Lie. Sixty plus lawsuits were thrown out. For God’s sake, the Supreme Court threw it out. The Justice Department said there was no evidence of fraud. The person in charge of ensuring the election was free and fair, Donald Trump’s own appointee, Christopher Krebs, said there was no evidence of fraud and that it was the most secure election in history. Even Mitch McConnell said to move on. There is no more partisan, evil, power-hungry person in government (besides Trump) than McConnell, and even he said there was no fraud. But…but Donald Trump said there was fraud, and that was all that mattered. How can it be that every other person is lying, except for the person who is known to be a…LIAR?

I am NOT saying that every person who voted for Trump feels this way. I have friends who voted for Trump, I have never cut ties with anyone for their political beliefs. But, I’m pretty sure most have accepted that he lost and moved on. It’s normal to be upset, even devastated, if your candidate loses. It’s unhealthy, not to mention dangerous, to continue to live in a fantasy that he was cheated, when all facts show otherwise. Likewise, believing that it was not Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol, when all facts (and many, many tweets and Parler posts) show otherwise, strains credulity. And demanding that an entire school district bend to that fantasy is dangerous and unconscionable. That’s why I spoke up.

There were over fifty replies to my comment. Many of them were arguments among other people, in which I did not get involved. Some of them supported what I said, but more vilified me. My favorite insult was that I, and others who agreed with me, are “walking, talking Rachel Maddows and Don Lemons.” I was thinking, Hell yeah—I’m a walking, talking Rachel Maddow! (BTW, that sounds like he best doll ever.) I replied, “This isn’t the insult you think it is…Rachel Maddow graduated from Stanford and has a doctorate from Oxford University. I’d love to be a ‘walking, talking’ Rachel Maddow. And Don Lemon is intelligent, insightful and empathetic too.” That’s when I was informed that I’m “delusional” and that the people I admire, Rachel Maddow and Don Lemon, are “stupid.” In response, I simply pointed out that that accusation would be more forceful, if the commenter’s spelling, grammar and punctuation were correct. That did not go over well. She accused me of humiliating her because I’m Democrat and have “nothing else to say.” I’m a writer and a former English major. I correct everyone’s grammar. Just ask my husband. It’s annoying, yes—but has nothing to do with politics. I’m sharing all this, because I really tried to be respectful—the rudest I got was correcting spelling. But, that didn’t matter to the people vehemently arguing with me.

You know what does matter, though? The truth. The truth matters, and again, that’s why I decided to wade into the controversy when I usually steer clear. I honestly would rather they say that the Trump supporters had a right to riot, than that they insist that it wasn’t Trump supporters at all, but rather “evil leftists.” I wouldn’t agree with them AT ALL, but it’s their (misguided) opinion—rather than completely ignoring the simple facts and creating an alternative fantasy, in which there is no culpability for Trump and others who whipped the crowd into a frenzy. If it was a matter of opinion—that they had a right to do what they did—perhaps, just perhaps, one could argue why they did not in fact have the right to storm the Capitol on behalf of Trump. But, the sheer willful ignorance and complexity of mental gymnastics it takes to believe that the people attending Trump’s “Save America Rally” (the people whom he told to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell” and “be strong”) were not in fact the people who then stormed the Capitol is astounding and a bit frightening. How can we have any hope of uniting when a chunk of people are living in a “post-truth” world where facts do not matter? One person even commented in all caps, “NO ONE KNOWS THE ACTUAL TRUTH AND WE PROBABLY NEVER WILL!!!!!” We know the truth, many just refuse to see it.

I spoke up on that thread, knowing there would be backlash, because I’m worried about all the people complaining to the superintendent about her duty to tell the truth. I’m worried that if enough people complain, perhaps the school district might begin walking on eggshells to please the loudest voices. I spoke up, because this disinformation could affect my child and his education. I don’t think that’s likely, but the thought of it makes me shudder. The thought of neighbor against neighbor makes me shudder, as well. It also makes me impossibly sad. Of all the damage that has been done in these past four years, perhaps this is among the worst. I know—the covid body count is far worse, but the death of civility and small-town friendliness is surely something to mourn. I wish I was surprised it got this bad, but I’m not.

I will admit, I cried when Hillary Clinton lost. As I wandered around the supermarket hollow-eyed a few days after the election, I ran into a friend who asked me if I was alright. I didn’t know how to answer. We just kind of nodded at each other and knew. Nothing would be the same again. I knew what Trump was like. I wrote a couple of open letters to him during the 2016 election: Dear Mr. Trump (about my Jewish son and his Muslim best friend) and Dear Mr. Trump Part 2 (about his despicable behavior during the debates) and an essay about The Ugly Election. Being from New York, I personally knew people who were stiffed by him. I knew that he was a racist, sued for discriminatory housing practices, and just a generally lewd creep. (I did not know about all the sexual assault allegations, but those didn’t surprise me. It only surprised and saddened me that people didn’t care.) To people outside of New York, though, he was the shiny new thing. He was the savior. He was the poor man’s vision of a rich, successful man, right down to his gold toilet. I worried that the worst would happen—that we’d never have another election, because he would install himself as a dictator. I wasn’t that far off. At least I wasn’t that far off regarding what he would try, even if he didn’t succeed. Yet…

The day of the election, I wrote The Moment of Truth. In it, I discussed that I had stopped blogging about politics after the 2016 election and that I stopped even posting on Facebook about it, with the exception of petitions for the environment and animal welfare. I knew that nothing I said would change anyone’s minds, and I didn’t want conflict. I also shared that I have never unfriended anyone over politics. I may have muted a few people, but no one I know in “real life.” I was shell shocked by some arguments I had gotten into with people I cared about. I was despondent over people, with whom I thought I was close, disconnecting from me on social media. I even published a novel, Feel No Evil, right before the election that explores the rancorous divide in our nation and how we can possibly move forward and heal. This is part of the blurb: “When the smoke clears and the dust settles in our turbulent times, we’ll need to move past our divisions and back into the hearts and arms of those we’ve always loved.” I really hope that happens. I really hope that the blinders of disinformation fall away. But until then, I will speak up.

The words of my cousin, the great Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, have been been my guide during the last very dark four years, and will continue to be: “For evil to flourish, it only requires good men do nothing.” With actual Neo-Nazis storming the Capitol, including one wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt with the word “Staff” on the back, the time to do nothing (and say nothing) is long gone…

(For an explanation of all the hate symbols present at the insurrection read this Jewish Telegraph Agency article.)

2 thoughts on “Post-Truth in the Suburbs

  1. Angel says:

    Truly enjoyed your essay. I don’t share the same views on Hilary Clinton with you, though it doesn’t mean I support Trump or did at any point because of the facts you stated, but I can tell that isn’t a deterrent for honesty and facts to be spoken in your article. Wishing you and all of America a blessed and much more peaceful 2021.

    Liked by 1 person

    • stephaniekepke says:

      Thank you so much for reading and letting me know you enjoyed this essay! I appreciate it. And thank you for being open-minded to this, regardless of the difference of opinion on Hillary Clinton. I appreciate that, as well. Wishing you a blessed and peaceful 2021, as well. Thank you!

      Like

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