It’s 11:04 outside Chicago.
The new President of the United States is speaking. I managed to watch for thirty seconds. He has an interesting relationship to the truth. Which is to say, he lies. He is not wrong that the progress wrought over the last eight years by the Obama administration has not spread far enough. But he lies in suggesting that this moment belongs to the people; that this moment will change that, will spread hope and prosperity further. All of his cabinet appointments; every word he tweets; nothing suggests that the American people will benefit from his administration. They do not care about our lives.
It is hard to watch someone lie like that. Someone now with great power. Someone who does not seem to understand the responsibilities of his new role.
When I was a kid, we watched a lot of old science fiction. The Thing, and Godzilla. The original version of The Fly. I think we got cable simply for AMC, back when it was American Movie Classics. I wanted to write my high school term paper on how they were a response to the Cold War, the nuclear threat: the ways in which our culture tried to make sense of the fact that humanity had acquired the means to destroy itself. (Godzilla, you’ll recall, is a prehistoric monster awakened by nuclear radiation off the coast of Japan in the years following the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)
My parents talked about being in elementary school, participating in drills — climbing under their desks and putting their heads between their legs, covering their necks. As if that would protect anyone from a nuclear weapon.
In college, a friend of my dad’s had a poster on his wall: “In event of nuclear war, put your head between your knees, and kiss your ass good-bye.” What else could you do? There is nothing, in the event of nuclear war. All we can do is prevent.
I confess, I am scared. Full of dread.
One of the first truly long words we learned in high school German was Wiedervereinigung. The reunification had occurred only five years before, and was still a marvel. After a generation of fear, of cold war, there was hope, light, air, freedom.
We, midwestern teenagers in an affluent suburb, could not understand how important, how revolutionary, that time was — could not understand the weight of dread that day by day, moment by moment, crushes hope.
I do not like being lied to, I resent it. But beyond my resentment is further dread, for lies told perpetually by the powerful — about what to fear and in whom to place our trust — are dangerous.
I can’t do anything about the nuclear threat; if this man starts a war, I fear there will be no turning back. But I can hope and pray that we have enough time — that in whatever time we have — we can shift the balance of power; that we can stop anything before it starts.
We start by telling the truth. By refusing to abide by the telling of lies by the powerful.
He is lying. He lies.
I’m preaching this Sunday — our series is on hope, so I’m lamenting here — and reading quotations from Søren Kierkegaard, the nineteenth century Danish existentialist philosopher and theologian. He was a depressed dude. Wise, though.
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.
My 9 year old read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes in school back in November. Fittingly, just after the election. She came home the first day, crestfallen. How could we – not you and me, but we, our country – make her die? I told her things were complicated; in some ways maybe the US thought it was ending the war sooner, saving lives. But she died! She was just a little girl!
I know, I said. Sometimes even our country is wrong. And so we try to be sorry, and we try to do better. This is why Daddy and I think politics are so important.
Yes, she nodded.
There are a lot of people who have been fooled by this man. He has told them that he will bring back jobs, that he will bring reform. That he will vindicate them; that they have been harmed by those they perceive as “other.” He has told them that he is never wrong; that acknowledging error or complexity is weak. He has told them that we are not all in this together; that there is an us and a them. He has lied.
Let us speak the truth, let us refuse to believe the lies. Let us teach our children well: that humanity will rise and fall together; that the suffering of one affects us all; that none of us are free if any one is in chains. Let us not be fooled, not today, not ever.