In college, I ended up reading a lot of books written in the style of “magical realism”. The writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Isabel Allende come to mind.
Matthew Strecher defines magic realism as “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe.” (Matthew C. Strecher, Magical Realism and the Search for Identity in the Fiction of Murakami Haruki, Journal of Japanese Studies, Volume 25, Number 2 (Summer 1999), pp. 263-298, at 267.)
This political season, I feel like we’re living in a time of magical unrealism. I do not think Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have much in common politically, but both of them are idealistic to extremes that seem almost untethered to reality.
While I like Sanders’ ideas of paying for college, and universal health care, I look around at the situation on the ground and think, “how’s that going to happen? Who is going to pay for it? How could you convince a congress who refuses to raise taxes to fund the basics of the government to fund these things?”
I don’t like any of Trump’s ideas, but they share the same fantastical characterization. You want to build a wall all along the Mexican border and have Mexico pay for that? Really? Tell me more. Tell me anything, actually, that would explain how that will work. You say you can create lots of jobs? Tell me how that will work when all reports come out that you don’t actually pay your vendors.
Additionally, people who hate Hillary, on both sides of the political aisle, seem to dip into this magical unrealism. “She’s the most corrupt person ever!”, they yell. “She lies about everything!” It is fine to disagree with her politics. It baffles my mind that she would be held up as an unchristian, morally bankrupt, lying-est liar of all time.
It is not helpful to just dismiss this magical unrealism, because it seems to be tapping into an anger on both sides of the political spectrum to which we, as a nation, need to attend.
If people are so angry about our political process, how can we fix this without divorcing ourselves from fact and reality? How can we move forward without setting the whole country on fire?
If facts do not seem to be informing our political decisions and ideologies, what does that say for our democracy? Didn’t they used to? I want to believe facts and honesty used to matter. I pray they may matter yet again.
As Bill Moyers wrote:
This time around, though, neither the media nor the public — least of all his supporters — seem to care. Which leads to the inescapable conclusion that these days, as far as our political discourse goes, truth, logic, reason and consistency don’t seem to count for very much.
It seems that truth matters less to people than reinforcement of opinions. Moyers goes on to say:
“Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”
It is up to us.
We have to question what we read, perhaps especially if we agree with it.
We have to start calling out the press, calling out our friends, and attending to our own inclinations, when they (we) pass off lies as fact, when they (we) let the lies of others stand as fact, and when they (we) speak in hyperbole that obscures the truth.
The sad truth is that this tendency to misinformation does not make the anger in the electorate subside. All of the lies and misinformation are fuel to the fire. It’s as if we know this misinformation is not serving our needs, but we can’t help ourselves. We seem to be addicted to our own opinions, and they are not leading us to a place of health and wholeness.