The mystery is that the people who saw this horror unfolding day after day, for four long years, still applauded him. Didn’t they read any of the books in which his personal lawyer and fixer unveiled his shameless shenanigans, his top officials described his ignorance and ineptitude, and even his own cousin, a psychologist, revealed he was a psychopath? Didn’t they read the newspapers where they could find daily accounts of his failure to articulate policies or even to develop one, and of his quixotic plan to build a giant wall to stop ‘rapists and murders’ when the criminals where on his side of the wall? Didn’t they watch television and hear the two dozen women he had molested and see how he gloated over touching women’s private parts with impunity? At the very least, didn’t they see his frequent rants on Twitter, abusing people, misrepresenting facts, insulting men and women, cursing doctors and scientists, and lying, lying, lying? The 70 million people still reveled in his antics and gave him their support and adulation.
We talk of respecting people and their opinions. We want to hear different views. We do not have the luxury of discounting people’s views because they are illiterate; these are educated people. We cannot even say they haven’t had much experience, for they have lived for years in a functioning democracy and had the benefit of schools, colleges, libraries, televisions, computers and smart phones every day of their lives? Then how are they so deaf and blind to events, so indifferent to the suffering of people around them?
That is the giant mystery that faces us. How do thinking people arrive at such perverse conclusions? The uncomfortable conclusion to which I feel pushed is that many of these people don’t really think. Thinking, truly speaking, is an uncomfortable business for many of us. It takes time and effort. We have to see, read and hear; we have to talk to different types of people; we have to digest widely divergent views. That strains us, stresses us, makes us face troubling ideas, quit cherished illusions, in short makes life difficult. It is so much easier to live comfortably, drink a cool beer or two, watch mindless shows and silly games on television, and, above all, delve for hours in ‘friends’ pages with friendly views that confirm our easy impressions and convenient prejudices. We can go on living the life we have ever lived, unclouded by new ideas, untroubled by the necessity to compromise the privileges we have long taken for granted.
So, why think? Why create waves when life can be peaceful and comfortable, thinking exactly the way my friends think and I have always thought? It is less important to be right, in some complex philosophical way, than to be right with my friends and colleagues and neighbors, most of whom adore a politician or a party or an ideology and join the bandwagon. That may be the gospel that inspires and holds the allegiance of good, decent, honest people, who would be horrified at the suggestion that they are doing something irresponsible and hurtful.
But their search for comfort does hurt people. Lives are wrecked, careers are destroyed, institutions are corrupted, government becomes an oligarchy – as it nearly became in the last four years. Thoreau, who went to a prison for his principles, insisted that in a land where one just man is in prison, the place of all just men is also in prison. He told us that injustice always flourishes on the assumption that it need not expect active resistance from people. Thoreau’s observation was sadly right: we saw a vast number of party members and politicians who went along with every impropriety, even every illegality, of a false leader. At long last some good men revolted and voted against him.
Active resistance? Long before one acts, there must be some awareness – and the biggest barrier to awareness is the comfort born of indifference.