The thing that baffles most opponents of Trump is that he and his supporters show a blatant disregard for facts. My understanding that factual and non-factual truths could coexist grew after a long period of intellectual dissonance between scientific and religious belief.
I was raised in an observant and socially moderate family, where we went to church and everything in the Bible was judged to be “true,” and if it didn’t make sense that five loaves and two fishes could feed a multitude, it was just a miracle that couldn’t be understood.
Trump has switched the frame on a society that so deeply values logical thought that many Americans are completely befuddled — and think that everyone else should find this reframing as repugnant as they do. Unfortunately, just screaming “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” and hoping that everyone will get on board isn’t going to be effective, because Trump often is delivering a certain kind of truth — an emotional truth.
It’s certainly easy for Trump supporters to “know” without proof that the mainstream media isn’t trustworthy. It hasn’t represented their point of view, their truth, in years, and therefore is inherently suspicious.
The dominance of emotional truth over factual truth is hardly limited to Trump supporters. Those of us who think we live by logic use all kinds of evidence to make decisions. Facts are one thing, but feelings and lived experience are another. Psychologists tell us that we make most decisions based on feeling, and fill in the supporting logic later. Emotional truths have weight, and a good story about an emotional truth doesn’t have to be factual, it just has to be true.
Our country was founded on enlightenment principles that very intentionally left room for spiritual freedom. To survive, our democratic society needs to leave room for both logic- and emotion-based truth, and learn to apply them appropriately.
To turn our national conversation from acrimonious partisanship, we may need to step back and switch frames occasionally, both to understand why Trump’s lies mean so little to so many, and to develop better ways to communicate with our neighbors who find his emotional truths more resonant right now. The future of America depends upon it.