A Note to My Son on Truth

We’re in Donald Trump’s world now, casing the scene, and wow, have you ever seen so many people wondering and arguing where we are and where we’re going? How can it be that some of us say this territory feels like exile in howling-hell, while others say they’ve opened the gates to the promised lands? It’s an Alice’s Wonderland.

Appropriate for his age, my 13-year old son doesn’t much bother with politics. He has friends of all stripes. But when he came home from school the other day the first thing he said was, “Dad, did you hear Trump went to the White House and met Obama? It sounds like they had a good meeting.” That’s when I knew the election was affecting him. He’s seen guys wearing “Make America Great Again” hats marching down Main Street and brandishing Confederate flags. He watched on election night and told me how his mother turned ill “like she had PTSD,” and after sleepless nights fell sick with a cold. I understood that he was looking up to me for hope that, if Obama and Trump can meet and even praise each other, maybe he was growing up into a peaceful story after all.

What could I tell him? For years Trump campaigned that Obama was an immigrant fraud, then he denied that and blamed Hillary for the rumor. He labeled Obama as a traitor and one of the worst Presidents in history, won on the platform that the country was a disaster and that he would right us by overturning every last thing that Obama has done. And now he trumpets Obama as a good man? Which legacy are we marching from, or to?

Well son, Trump’s deal is to make himself both the messiah we hope for and the satan we fear. Because he is both he is neither. What he is is the salesman pitching fears and hopes and turning them into his capital. He exaggerates here and vilifies there, destroys now and denies then, ransacks first and then promises and reverse-promises, always selling himself long. Reporters ask him his policies and which truth was true and he keeps us all guessing, fort he is not interested in facts or policy or what he said moments before. All the million things from the wonder of a night sky and a warbler’s song to mathematical proofs and discovered truths in general are churn in his wake. As a public persona at least he is a soulless huckster, living large on the trumped up fears and hopes in his grasp, taking into his portfolio of outrage the power to be, (as he’s stated) the arbiter–the soul arbiter–to the very disarray he sows. With apparently no hope or fear of his own at stake, he stands as the one to decide whose fears and hopes will take precedence.

As I ponder my son, tall, blond, athletic and thoughtful–a great kid who many other kids admire, I discern to tell him: Look, we all live through alliances, and that means that politics–deciding who you ally with–is as inevitable as shopping at the store. The trick is to never sell your fears and hopes. We have to find them and own them, and knowing  truths that cannot be sold we can welcome this sort of challenge. We humans have the skills to see truth through our eyes, know it with our heads, test it in our guts, and feel it pulsing in our hearts. Take measure up and down your body this way, and go into alliances and relationships trying to listen well and speak mindfully. In just a few years, far too soon, you will be of age to take up arms or not for the land you stand for, and the choices you make will be very real.

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