How we got here

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By Terry Manning

I knew we were in trouble years ago when supporters of Donald Trump mocked those who sounded alarms over his rhetoric on the campaign trail.

“You guys are being too literal. You’re focusing too much on what he says,” they protested. “We understand what he means.” Then, when critics tried to interpret what the president meant, his supporters leapt to respond, “Don’t put words in his mouth! Is that what he said?”

And so we find ourselves at what feels like an especially precarious point in our nation’s history. Words have no meaning — unless they do. Meaning serves no purpose — unless it does. We’re the United States of America, until we decide we don’t want to be.

Our fellow Sandlapper, television host Stephen Colbert, was ahead of the curve when he coined the term “truthiness.”

“I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, no heart,” he told the audience of “The Colbert Report,” his much-beloved Comedy Central nightly news show spoof. “We’re a divided nation … We are divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart.”

Truthiness is when something feels right, like it should be right — even when it isn’t. Sounds very much of the moment, doesn’t it?

The march on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was predicated on the idea that something had to be done because the general election was stolen from President Trump. The people who demonstrated knew this happened because they were told it happened by people who said it happened even though the people who said it happened were never able to prove it happened.

But the president said it, so it must be true.

“We can’t let this happen,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!” 

Oops, he wrote that in 2012, after Barack Obama was elected to a second term.

“The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media.” 

My bad, he said that in 2016 before he defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.” 

OK, that was in August, for this election. He lost, but the election was widely described as the most secure in history. 

Trump protested by filing dozens of lawsuits, most of which were thrown out for lack of merit (substance) or standing (the person or people suing had no right to file grievance).

Earlier this month: “There is no way we lost Georgia.” Except he did.

This was proven multiple times and at considerable cost, financially and otherwise, to the State of Georgia. But it didn’t feel right to him. And it doesn’t feel right to the people who voted for him. 

How could the greatest, hardest working, most masculine president in the history of the republic have lost to “Sleepy Joe” Biden? They know something wrong happened, because they can feel it in their guts. Because they were told something happened.

Trump told the crowd in D.C., “We’re going to walk down (to the Capitol building) and I’ll be there with you.”

Except he wasn’t. There was no “we” that included him. There was just “them,” breaking windows, crashing through doors, fighting police, destroying sacred monuments, hunting lawmakers to attempt to render their own version of justice. To take back their nation from some amorphous threat comprising Antifa, libtards, immigrants, gays and people of color.

I dearly hope some of Trump’s supporters are starting to look at the gap between what he says and what he means. They might have thought in their heads they were in on the joke, but in their hearts I think they know they are being played.

Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at teemanning@gmail.com.