State of Disunion

Lies Are Killing Democracy. Speaking Truth Might Just Save It.


From Megan Rapinoe and Serena Williams to Reps. AOC and Tlaib, women are showing the rest of America that having the courage to tell the truth is the only way to salvage democracy.



I’ve been reliving one of the more indelible—and nightmare-inducing—memories of my childhood. I was only 7 when I watched The Who’s Tommy, a rock opera in which a young boy is rendered deaf, blind, and mute after witnessing his mom and her lover kill his father. After discovering the young boy witnessed the murder, his mother and her lover implore, “You didn’t hear it. You didn’t see it. You won’t say nothing to no one. Never in your life.”

It is not lost on me that this is what half of the country is doing to our other half, at democracy’s peril: You didn’t hear the president accused of rape. You didn’t see the Treasury refusing to comply with subpoenas. You won’t say nothing to no one. In the movie, Tommy is saved through a combination of pinball, TV, and long-distance ocean swimming. In today’s America, we can only be saved by having the courage to speak the truth.

In the face of Creationism, “alternative facts,” and the body “shutting down” pregnancies in cases of rape, truth in our current political landscape is in shorter supply than integrity in the Republican Party. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of brave women inspiring us to speak out. There’s Megan Rapinoe’s “I’m not going to the fucking White House,” before leading the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team to victory to chants of “Equal Pay.” Tennis champion Serena Williams calling out institutional gender and racial bias in both sports and health care.  Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s stark descriptions of the unconscionable camps at our borders, and her frank calls to “Impeach the motherfucker!” E. Jean Carroll’s courageous decision to share her story of being raped by Donald Trump, despite knowing that she would be labeled with some of the vilest language by the cowards on the right. And journalist Julie K. Brown’s relentless pursuit to give the Jeffrey Epstein victims a voice. Inspired by role models like Rep. Maxine Waters and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—Cassandras who told inconvenient truths and were criticized, rebuked and reviled for it (“Deplorables,” anyone?), women from the “Me Too” movement to “Shout Your Abortion” are learning that closed mouths don’t get fed. And we’re tired of going hungry.

Which is why so many of us shouted like Daenerys crying out “Dracarys!” when Kamala Harris had the courage and composure to confront Joe Biden on his record during the first round of Democratic debates.

“I do not believe you are a racist but it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and careers on the segregation of race in this country.”

And, as we know, Harris did not stop there.

“It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.”

When Biden tried to weasel out of it like a divorced dad who promised he’d pay for Harvard but was now telling you to go to a state school, she didn’t demure as marginalized voices are so often forced to do when trying to raise an issue that concerns us, lest we make the white guy angry. Instead, she held him accountable.

“But, Vice-President Biden, do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then? Do you agree?”

And when he tried to tell us he totally thought we should have our own car but it was ultimately Mom’s decision, Harris made damn sure she was getting the keys that night.

“Well, there was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America … That’s where the federal government must step in. That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.”

People who don’t understand why this is a big deal underestimate the cathartic power of simply acknowledging a thing that happened to you. That segregation was bad is a concept liberals can agree on; but that one of our own’s less than zealous fight against it, while lauding its supporters, can be hurtful to a majority of our own party, is something too few people want to talk about. Instead, we all too often hear how we shouldn’t because the action we’re calling out is not as bad as what others have done, or is a distraction, or a circular firing squad. That there’s some greater good that is supposed to serve others at the aggrieved’s expense. But who determines whose good is greater and whose is expendable? For too long it’s been the people in power, a majority of whom have been white cis men. But in that moment, Senator Kamala Harris was the one deciding whose good was expendable, and stood up and said, “Not mine. Not any longer.”

In an age where the media still refuses to literally call out this administration’s lies for what they are—lies—it has never been more important to call a thing for what it is and to not bullshit around it with semantics and a thesaurus. It recalls that quote often misattributed to George Orwell in memes: “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” We are watching as sexual assault survivors are accused of misremembering or outright lying; as dictators are believed above our own intelligence agencies; as the conditions of children in cages with no diapers or soap or blankets or beds is called “summer camp.” Like Kate in the Taming of the Shrew, we are looking at the sun and being told to call it the moon. That it is crazy-making goes without saying: Being told your pain does not exist kills your spirit; watching people get away with crimes and being told they aren’t really crimes destroys your sense of hope. But these lies will eventually kill our democracy and have already put it in palliative care.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Democratic strategy for winning in 2020 is “Hope for the best.” Despite knowing that Russia interfered to help the GOP, and is hard at work doing it again and perfecting their technique, there seems to be precious little being done about it. Instead, everyone is pretending that all we need to do is just campaign harder in Wisconsin or run a white guy or not be so Democratic. No one in this administration is being held accountable: We’re allowing subpoenas to be ignored and cries for impeachment to go unheard. While the arguments to do nothing can be understood, they are only protecting the ones who have done something wrong. America is the victim of a crime listening to a DA tell us all the reasons they cannot prosecute. But a crime was done to us. And to do nothing denies that fact. “You didn’t hear it. You didn’t see it. You won’t say nothing to no one.”

Again, I ask, whose good is greater and whose is expendable? And who is determining this?

We must be the ones to do it. Like Sen. Harris, Rep. Tlaib, Megan Rapinoe, Serena Williams, and the other courageous women calling “bullshit” on all the laws and misdeeds that are skewed to oppress us, we must call these things for what they are. We must stand up and say, my good is no longer expendable. We must say something and to everyone. It’s important to speak truth to power. It’s also important to speak truth to ourselves and to each other.

Sen. Harris made a similar statement a week later when she said, “We have a predator living in the White House.” She is right. And allowing half the country to deny this, allowing the media to play words with friends in their reporting of it, allowing the Republicans to simply not care because they got judges and tax breaks and let’s be honest, they really don’t care if a person is raped anyway, is part of why we’re here. We have to keep speaking the truth, loudly, repeatedly, even to those who won’t listen, even if we’re tired and hoarse and think it doesn’t matter. To not do so, to allow them to render us deaf, blind and mute, denies that the truth ever existed.

It’s not just about the stories. Journalism is also about who is telling them.

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