FARGO — President Joe Biden's call for national unity has already been mocked and dismissed by Republicans. That was to be expected. Loving thy neighbor is one thing, but politics is another. The way Republicans impress their base is not by working with Democrats, but by trashing them.
So when Biden spent chunks of his inaugural address preaching kumbaya, anybody who's been paying attention since Newt Gingrich's scorched-earth Republican politics of the mid-1990s knew where it was going to end. At a dead end.
The more critical, and therefore depressing, part of Biden's speech was his attempt to steer America back toward believing facts. The truth. Reality.
"We must reject a culture," Biden said, "in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured."
Later, he riffed longer.
"What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans? I think I know. Opportunity. Security. Liberty. Dignity. Respect. Honor. And, yes, the truth," the president said. "Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson. There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders — leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation — to defend the truth and to defeat the lies."
Soaring, hopeful words on which the survival of our democracy might depend.
Hence, why it is depressing.
If Donald Trump taught us anything, it is that millions of Americans are willing to believe lies and what his administration deemed "alternative facts," so long as they fit a preferred narrative.
Even more frightening is the possibility that tens of millions of Americans have no ability to discern facts from lies.
Trump won the election.
The election was stolen.
There was widespread voter fraud.
Antifa stormed the Capitol, not Trump supporters.
Not to mention tens of thousands more Trump lies over the previous four years. Easily dismissed with facts, simply refuted by objective truth.
But we live in a post-truth world, where objective facts no longer matter to almost half the population and any uncomfortable truth is brushed off as "fake news" perpetrated by "the enemy of the people." We've reached a point where a substantial portion of Americans live in an alternate reality.
Some reside there by choice, others because their sources of information — from Facebook to Fox News to InfoWars to talk radio — peddle false information they believe. They don't know any better. Propaganda works.
Millions no longer know what the truth is and don't know where to find it. And when presented with facts, millions choose to not believe them. The vast majority of Americans used to make their choices based on a common starting point: the objective truth. That is no longer the case.
We are in a nearly impossible spot. There are no good ideas on how to extricate ourselves from it, and no guarantee the ideas would work anyway.
Biden's speech was an elegant attempt at again making truth a shared value. There's the chance half the country isn't interested.
Readers can reach Forum News Service columnist Mike McFeely at (701) 451-5655