[Spoiler alert for Stranger Things, “A Sound of Thunder,” and the feeling that everything is going to be all right.]
I walk into the kitchen as my husband rushes out the door for work. “I’m halfway through an article on the Sandy Hook hoaxers,” I say. The article tells how conspiracy theorists are harassing the parents of 20 first-graders who were murdered at school.
“Why?” he asks. “Why would you do that to yourself?”
“They’re… they’re….” Words swirl and tears come.
“They’re crazy,” he says.
I try to explain the misery that’s consumed me since the election and how this horrible topic is connected to it, but I just cry instead.
We’ve now entered the post-truth era, where facts no longer matter to nearly half the country, and the bad news keeps on coming as Donald Trump puts together his team. A fossil fuel crony who denies climate change is to be put in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, a man who ran a white supremacy website is picked as chief White House strategist, and a man deemed too racist to be a federal judge is picked for attorney general. With the choice of Rick Perry for Energy, the department he famously forgot of the three he had vowed to eliminate, I keep expecting Trump to jump out from behind a barrel like Allen Funt and yell, “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera.”
For those who don’t remember Funt, his pranks were done in the spirit of fun, not designed to destroy the whole world.
Trump continues to tell lie after lie. The last month, punctuated by victory rallies and petty tweets, has only been an extension of a campaign built on lies, racism, and misogyny.
I often wonder if I could just sit down and talk with Trump supporters whether I could make it clear how wrong his actions are.
In the Sandy Hook article, the father of a murdered six-year-old tried to talk with the hoaxers, offered his time and his patience, along with his son’s report card and death certificate. He got this message: “Wolfgang does not wish to speak with you unless you exhume Noah’s body and prove to the world you lost your son.”
As my mind reels from this surreal reality, it touches down on science fiction.
In Netflix’s Stranger Things, I see a conspiracy theorist’s dream. A grieving mother refuses to accept that her son is dead, as the whole town pities her miserable denial. She fights on in the face of overwhelming evidence, sees her boy’s dead body in the morgue, and shouts, “I don’t know what you think that thing is in there, but that is not my son.” And in a twist worthy of the Sandy Hook hoaxers, it turns out she’s right. The thing is a shoddy rubber knockoff that’s part of a vast conspiracy to cover up the truth, that a monster in the Upside Down is being hidden in a government facility.
That’s the level of craziness rational people are now up against in what Time called the Divided States of America when it named Trump the person of the year. The choice against Trump was so obvious that most people didn’t believe he could win, until about 63 million Americans voted for him.
Trump hasn’t denounced Alex Jones, who pushes Sandy Hook denial and other conspiracy theories. Instead, Trump praises him and tweets out some of Jones’s fake news stories as “evidence” to back up his own lies.
I retreat to sci-fi again. In Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” a company arranges time travel safaris to take down the ultimate big game, a T. rex. Before the safari, the office chatter is about how a laughably unelectable fascist candidate lost the election, to the relief of all who are rational. On the safari, the hunters are warned to never leave the levitating path. A tiny change in the past could reverberate through the ages with unknown consequences for the present. A hunter panics, though, and runs through the dirt, and when they return to the present, the fascist has won. They find a tiny crushed butterfly in the dirt of the hunter’s shoe, a tiny change in the distant past that elected a fascist in the present.
What was our butterfly that made the country turn upside down?
Thirty years ago, an unhinged conspiracy theorist could stand on a street corner with a sign, screaming inane nonsense, and people would lower their eyes and move along. Now he has a website that spreads lies and hate. Now he is taken seriously as an opposing viewpoint. Now he prepares to enter the Oval Office with the most powerful man in the world.
After my foray into science fiction, I face reality again. I finish the Sandy Hook hoaxer article, and as soul crushing as its topic is, it manages to end with a sliver of hope. People on the side of sanity are having some success fighting the hoaxers by exposing them to the light.
The majority of voters did not support Trump, and in no way does he have a mandate to pursue an agenda so at odds with what the majority want. To oppose Trump, we can support organizations that are threatened by him, such as the ones recommended by John Oliver that have seen a surge in donations since the election. We can support the real media and stop spreading fake news. We can join progressives who are mobilizing to influence members of Congress and follow steps detailed in “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.”
We can’t run away from the rise of Trump, a new truth that’s stranger than fiction. Now is not the time to compromise on the values that make America great. Being rational isn’t enough against people who don’t believe in facts. It’s time to fight, and we must not stray from the path.