Seeking out the truth has seldom been more urgent for Americans than it is now.
We possess more factual information than any generation in human history yet differ over the most basic propositions. The dichotomy threatens our future. Truth makes us free, but lies might destroy us.
Take a little true-or-false quiz:
T/F – Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. Joe Biden won the popular vote by more than 7 million votes and the Electoral College by 306 to 232.
T/F – Trump actually won by a landslide and the election was stolen via a vast conspiracy.
T/F – The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was a bloody assault on American democracy, egged on by Trump and led by his most fanatical followers.
T/F – The Jan. 6 incident was mostly a peaceful demonstration, maybe even a “false flag” diversion caused by Antifa activists posing as a MAGA mob.
T/F – Democracy is at risk, not only in America but in other democratic countries where dictators and thugs are systematically destroying freedom.
T/F – Trump and his European nationalist counterparts are only trying to protect us from sinister outside forces attacking our precious civilization and way of life.
Tribal affiliation versus facts
Which statements you agree with above depends largely on your political tribe, not your grasp of facts, according to the latest polls. Fewer than half of Republicans accept that Joe Biden won the 2020 election, according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll. Another poll, from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, finds that only about four in 10 Republicans recall the Capitol attack as very violent or extremely violent.
“There is really sort of a dual reality through which partisans are approaching not only what happened a year ago on Jan. 6, but also generally with our presidential election and our democracy,” said Mallory Newall of Ipsos.
AP reporter Farnoush Amiri added: “The findings reflect the country’s political polarization, with a false portrayal of the (Capitol) siege taking hold despite extensive footage that shows the ransacking of the building in harrowing detail. Trump and some allies in Congress and conservative media have played it down, falsely characterizing the attack as a minor civil disturbance.”
Let’s dwell on Jan. 6 at the Capitol for a moment.
“The fighting — so primitive and ferocious that one Capitol Police officer described it as ‘medieval’ and another as a ‘trip to hell’ — left more than 100 law enforcement personnel injured, some beaten with their own weapons,” Amiri wrote. “Video cameras captured the violence live, with rioters clubbing officers with flag poles and fire extinguishers, even squeezing one between doors as he begged for his life.”
“Allow me a personal reflection on that bloody day: My son is a police officer.”
Allow me a personal reflection on that bloody day: My son is a police officer. I am deeply proud of him, and I worry about him at least once a day when he’s on duty. I get physically ill when I watch the videos of those Capitol defenders getting crushed between invaders and doors or dragged into violent mobs to be beaten or doused with bear spray.
So if you value your health, don’t ever tell me to my face that the Capitol insurrection “wasn’t violent” or was a “minor civil disturbance.” I’m liable to go “medieval” on you.
Yep, I guess I’m not immune to getting violent myself. Such are the times.
Back to larger issues: The Capitol — symbol of our shaky democracy — is worth defending, with force of arms if necessary. Truth is also worth defending, but alas, it is on even shakier ground, and much harder to defend. If millions of us are willing to deny what we see with our own eyes, or to believe an election was stolen when there is no evidence to back the claim, or to think that COVID-19 vaccines (maybe even COVID itself) are a hoax or some kind of plot to control the masses, then what is to become of us?
Progressives aren’t off the hook
But hang on, social and religious progressives. I’m not letting you off the hook, either. Your connection to objective reality is sometimes as tenuous as that of Trumpers.
For example, is everyone who dares to question the ever-expanding world of gender identification bigoted and transphobic? The science of gender is unclear, to say the least. Gender is being redefined on a near-daily basis by social, cultural and political forces, not medical or scientific ones. Medical professionals who object are attacked or cowed into silence. The stakes are sky-high — how we understand human sexuality, the family and society.
What about race and American history? There’s no doubt that slavery and racism are the deepest blots on our national heritage, or that systemic and structural racism continue today in American life. This is fundamental to Critical Race Theory, and we should acknowledge it and deal with it. Campaigns to vilify Critical Race Theory or claim it is being stealthily taught in primary and secondary schools are cynical ploys to stoke racial tension for political advantage.
But is slavery at the very center of America’s “founding narrative,” as asserted by “The 1619 Project” launched by The New York Times? The project began as a long-form piece of journalism and has since become something of a publishing industry, complete with a companion book and suggested school curriculum. It may have won a Pulitzer Prize (so did Walter Duranty’s shameful whitewash of Stalin’s terror famine in 1930s Ukraine), but it is bad journalism — and worse history.
“Fundamentalists and totalitarians of all stripes love to reduce every aspect of life to simplistic struggles of one group against another.”
Such reductionism ignores the complexities and competing forces of history and undermines America’s long march to realize its ideals of freedom. It also promotes ongoing tribalism, the “us against them” that is tearing us apart as a nation and society. Race, gender, sexuality and class are important issues, but they are not the totality of human experience. Fundamentalists and totalitarians of all stripes love to reduce every aspect of life to simplistic struggles of one group against another, regardless of whether such struggles accurately reflect events.
“Wokeism” at its worst, like white nationalism, is an attack on reality. It’s not nearly as violent, to be sure, but it is just as divisive when it doesn’t tell the truth. And like white nationalism, it holds freedom — and freedom of thought — in contempt. One must bow at its altar of ideological purity or be cast into the outer darkness.
With such extremes poisoning national debate, what are our chances of survival as a democracy? Good — if we seek truth, tell the truth and refuse to kowtow to our tribal impulses.
Remember, we are observing not only one year since the infamy of Jan. 6, but 30 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, history’s most powerful engine of political oppression. If that behemoth of lies could be defeated, surely we can defeat the forces of darkness that threaten us now.
Erich Bridges, a Baptist journalist for more than 40 years, retired in 2016 as global correspondent for the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. He lives in Richmond, Va.
Facing white Christianity’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection | Opinion by Robert P. Jones
Some things are worth dividing over | Opinion by David Bumgardner
For me, January 6 began as a day of prayer and ended as a day of disbelief | Opinion by Julie Pennington-Russell