Thistlethwaite: Life is not a reality show
More than 4,000 Americans died of COVID-19 during the four days of the Republican National Convention.
That is life (and death) in the United States today, not the reality show version portrayed in the Republican convention.
Those who spoke at the convention repeatedly used the past tense to describe the virus. Outside the reality show bubble Republicans tried to create last week, however, the virus is still sickening and killing people at a terrible pace. In fact, the United States leads the world in overall COVID-19 infections and total deaths.
Two producers from Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice,” helped create the convention. The reality show model was evident in the fact-free portrait painted not only of our current national life but of possible political alternatives.
There were a whole lot of flags and fireworks to tempt many with flashy spectacle so they might not ask, “but is it true?”
As a pastor and a teacher of pastors, I often emphasize the temptation of falsehoods. Human beings are flawed, as Genesis reminds us, and one way is that from the very beginning, we learned to lie not only to others but to ourselves. People try to convince themselves that the lies they tell themselves are really true because they prefer that version.
In end, though, lying to yourself often doesn’t turn out well. Lies are not truths. Alternative realties are really tempting, but like Adam and Eve found out, trying to lie your way out of a mess only gets you kicked out of the Garden of Eden.
Our country is a mess. The economy is in tatters, fires rage and hurricanes gain force from a warming planet, and human rights are under attack as equal rights protections are rolled back. The coronavirus rages on, approaching 6 million cases in the U.S. alone. You can try to live in the reality show bubble, but it can still happen that your house will burn down from a wildfire, you or your family members can get a deadly virus, flooding and high winds can wreck your town, or long-simmering injustices can come to the surface and innocent people get killed.
You can refuse to wear a mask, as most of the attendees at the White House event on the last day of the convention did. You can deny the science and lie about the pandemic being a hoax. That won’t keep you from possibly contracting the virus.
That’s what Adam and Eve found out, in fact. You can lie about what’s happening, but reality has a way of smacking you in the face with the truth.
So, has the coronavirus been conquered by Trump’s presidential leadership? No. Is the economy back at pre-pandemic levels? No. Does Trump actually have empathy for immigrants? No. Does Trump stoke racial grievances? Yes.
Will a future under President Biden be a dystopian nightmare? No. The Biden-Harris ticket is remarkably centrist.
No, the police will not be defunded by President Biden. Instead, public safety will, with a lot of hard work, finally become reality for all the people who live in this country.
And guess what? You’ll get to keep your Social Security under President Biden instead of having it defunded it as Trump has already started to do through executive order, rolling back the payroll taxes that fund it. If re-elected, Trump has said he will make that permanent so good-bye Social Security.
Educators warn parents to limit their children’s consumption of reality TV as it distorts their ability to make judgments about what is real and what is not.
Reality shows are bad for adults too, especially when they are produced and directed on the lawn and even inside the White House, violating the Hatch Act, a provision designed to draw a line between governing and campaigning. That law was flouted over and over. Indeed, it seemed at times like violating that law was the point.
We need leaders in this country who live in the real world and who encourage us to do the same. It is downright dangerous to lie to yourself and pretend that everything is OK. It’s not.
The only way we as a nation can get out of the mess we are in now is to face up to what is happening and act to change it.
I believe reality show razzle dazzle is cowardice.
Instead, let’s find the courage to face the real world and make changes for the better.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.
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