Trump supporters across the nation have banded together over this trite, catch-all deflection: “He tells it like it is.”
Those six words haunt me, because they indicate a magnitude of agreement over how things “are” that I didn’t realize still existed.
I naively thought that America had grown up from its childish insistence that groups of people are a certain way.
I naively thought that we had finally figured out how ignorant it is to make assumptions about others based on group membership.
I was very, very wrong.
Here are a few examples of how our country apparently still thinks that “it is”:
Mexicans are rapists.
Muslims are terrorists.
Black men are dangerous.
Women are possessions.
Poor people are stupid.
Immigrants are leeches.
LGBTQ people are less deserving of rights.
This is what people really mean when they say Trump “tells it like it is.” They mean that their presumptive worldview corresponds to his.
But there’s one word in “he tells it like it is” that gets overlooked: the word “like.”
The word “like” means “as though” or “as if.” The word “like” allows us to pretend that something actually is that way.
And when we play pretend for long enough, when we act “like it is” that way for long enough, then we begin to believe that it actually is that way. “Like it is” turns to “as it is.” Conjecture turns to fact. And what once was a game of pretend turns into serious human rights violations.
As political scientist Mary Hawkesworth explains, “Much of what circulates as ‘common knowledge’ in the twenty-first century masks hierarchies of difference by smuggling in tacit assumptions about natural inferiority and removing evidence of socially created inequalities.”
When Trump pretends to be spewing “common knowledge,” in fact he is etching discriminatory beliefs deeper into our psyches.
Trump does not tell it as it is. He, like all politicians, is a storyteller. He narrates stories about how people are and then acts as if he is speaking the truth. He uses selective evidence to frame people in a certain light, to very destructive ends (here’s a video on exactly how he does this).
And when someone tells a finger-pointing story about why our lives are hard, we’re likely to listen. When we’re desperate and afraid of losing our jobs, our money, our power and our social status, we’re likely to believe any narrative that promises to fix it. Especially a narrative that scapegoats others and removes the blame from ourselves.
Somewhere along the way, America lost itself in the story.
We’ve forgotten that we only pretend that people are a certain way when there’s something in it for us, the dominant group in power. We’ve forgotten that we only pretend that people of an entire race, gender, religion, economic class, sexual orientation or country are a certain way when that belief is convenient for us.
We forget that it’s not true that immigrants are to blame for why our lives are hard. We forget that it’s not true that non-normative-gender identities are destroying the sacredness of our customs. We forget that it’s not true that black men are inherently violent.
We get so caught up in the narrative that we forget that we are pretending. We forget that we made all this stuff up about the way that people are.
We’ve forgotten that we are pretending in the same way that test subjects in the Stanford Prison Experiment forgot that they were only pretending to be either an inmate or a guard. In just a few days, the participants had internalized their roles so much that the guards were subjecting the inmates to psychological torture.
What once was storytelling turns into justification for murder, corruption, deportation, exclusion, marginalization, hatred and discrimination.
It’s time for us to remember that the act of labeling a group directly impacts that group acting a certain way.
Inherently, Mexicans are no certain way. Black men are no certain way. Women are no certain way. Poor people are no certain way. Immigrants are no certain way. LGBTQ people are no certain way.
No individual or group is any certain way until we say they are.
When we invent a way that people are, and then act as if that’s the truth, we create the circumstances for that belief to be fulfilled. Our perspective is skewed so that we expect those people to be that way. Because so much psychic energy is stored in this belief, we only notice when they are that way. We force them to be that way.
We want them to be that way so that we can be right about them and be justified in dominating, excluding, ignoring, violating or using them.
Those who believe that Trump “tells it like it is” are creating self-fulfilling prophecies that will be routinely used to deny rights or opportunities to those people.
When we pretend that Mexicans are rapists and black men are dangerous, we are justified in treating them like criminals.
When we pretend that poor people are stupid, we are justified in perpetuating inequality.
When we pretend that women are possessions, we are justified in abusing them.
The only reason we believe fairy tales is because we want to. Because it makes us feel good about ourselves. Because it makes us feel less responsible when we can blame someone else. Because making someone else the outsider makes us feel like we belong.
As Melanie Joy explains:
“…dominant narratives are the stories told by the dominant culture; they define our reality and guide our lives like an invisible hand. And when the dominant culture is oppressive, so, too, are its narratives. Such narratives are fictions, constructed to delude people into supporting the dominant way of life even though that way of life runs counter to what they would otherwise support, and to silence the voices of people who seek to tell the truth.”
So when we think we’re “telling it like it is,” we must ask ourselves, “How am I personally benefitting from the belief that it is this way?”
We must ask ourselves, “How am I allowing that belief to justify my own dominance and others’ subordination? How does that belief allow me to look the other way and not have to be responsible for our country and everyone in it?”
As Joy explains, “Social change is made possible by those who challenge the dominant narratives, replacing fictions with facts by bearing witness to and speaking out against oppression. Revolutions that change the course of history are made possible by those who speak truth to power.”
So let’s change “he tells it like it is,” to “he tells it like he wants it to be,” and remember:
There is no way that people are.
And therein lies our unity. Therein lies our freedom.
Author: Brandilyn Tebo
Editor: Emily Bartran