For most of my life politics has been predictable. There are two sides, that aren’t that different, fighting for the middle. At most four or five issues get argued each election cycle ranging from foreign policy to nuances in the tax code. This election cycle, like 2016 before it, has been radically different. Nothing said or done seems to have much impact, and the supporters of both sides exist in their own realities. one reality I can understand because it is grounded in facts and evidence while the other is based on fear, ignorance, and disinformation.
For an example of this I saw this very morning a follower of President Trump’s saying Trump deserves credit for disarming North Korea as a nuclear threat. This statement comes less than a week after North Korea paraded a missile through their streets that has the power to reach any city in the United States. That is far from disarmed and an amplification of a dangerous lie.
The strategy of Trump and his supporters is amplification of mistruths, partial truths, and outright lies, but at the core of all this they believe they are fighting for the same thing as Joe Biden and his supporters. The message of both candidates, at its core, is the preservation of America and her ideals. Trump and his supporters believe they are saving America from socialism while the supporters of Joe Biden believe they are setting America back on the path of democracy and freedom. This idea of the preservation of American values has lead to people on both sides to use the same lines of this being an election for the soul of our nation, the most important election in history, and a vote for their candidate being a vote for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In normal election years this would all come across as rhetoric and political posturing, but in 2020 only one side can be correct and it might come down to what you think America’s values truly are. Take the example of freedom and ask what is freedom and what does freedom mean to me. For some freedom is safety and security. For others freedom is a complete lack of restriction of any kind even if they come at the expense of others. And for others still freedom is about empathy, inclusion, and make certain every person has the same access and opportunity. The thing about the word and the idea of freedom is it can mean all of these things. Freedom, like liberty and justice, is a word that symbolizes an idea that can vary drastically person to person.
The unshared reality of the 2020 election is more than vague concepts and ideals. It is the sharp and drastic differences in perception of shared experiences. Look at the candidates’ dueling town halls last night. Some watched Biden and saw a poised, liquesces, competent leader and others saw a bumbling buffoon surfing from cognitive disorders. The same can be said about Donald Trump. Some that watched saw a strong, fearless leader, fighting against media bias. While others saw a dangerous lunatic unwilling to denounce QAnon and unapologetic in using his platform to spread disinformation that insults our military. The issue here is Trump did refuse to denounce QAnon, claiming he’d never heard of the group despite his own FBI director calling it dangerous and having been asked a similar question at a prior press conference, and Trump did deflect his Retweet of a conspiracy theory claiming Navy Seals did not kill Osama Bin Laden by justifying it as merely a retweet and not reflective of his opinion.
And it is here that cognitive dissonance and willful ignorance enter the fray. Trump is sworn, by the office of the President, to defend the United States and its Constitution from all threats foreign and domestic. Trump was asked about QAnon before and even if you believe his security briefings failed to mention a group his FBI director called dangerous it is a failure of leadership and a dereliction of his duty to not seek out information after the group’s existence is brought to his attention. The same can be said of his unwillingness to recognize the influence and responsibility he has to not share conspiracy theories about the United States military. His followers on Twitter are going to view his retweet as an endorsement. It is beyond reckless for him to be unable or unwilling to be conscience of this.
As this point a Trump supporter might look at a Bide supporter and ask them about Hunter Biden’s laptop and the leaked emails. Ignore that that story originated in Russia and is most likely Russian disinformation amplified by tabloid yellow journalism. Consider the story to be true. For the sake of argument Hunter Biden was selling access to his father to foreign leaders when Joe Biden was the Vice President. The first question is what does this matter. Hunter Biden isn’t running for president nor is he likely to be given an important position like Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump have been given in the Trump administration. It is also important to remember the Trump the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and members of the Russian government where they offered to sell the emails they had hacked from the DNC in 2016. Ask what is worse? The son of the Vice President possibly, maybe, sort of being bribed to set up a meeting with his father with a foreign leader or the son of a candidate for president making a deal with a foreign government with information that was obtained through an attack of war against the United States to use to undermine our democracy and the sanctity of our elections? Your opinion depends on which candidate you support and what reality you have chosen to exist in.
In a normal election year the 2020 election would be about sanctioning Turkey for their efforts to stir up trouble in the Middle East and what loopholes in the tax code need closing. Instead we are voting for reality itself. In one reality America is an empathetic and inclusive nation where Mr. Rogers is the peak of human virtue. In the other, America is for Americans, might makes right, and our values are best expressed by Conan the Barbarian desiring to see his enemies driven before him and hear the lamentations of their women. The 2020 election isn’t about the soul of our nation, American ideals, democracy, or freedom but how we define those things and in what reality we wish to exist.