“Lies become law become fact become truth.”

Unitarian Universalist Church in Meriden
President’s Column, January 2017
Bob Reutenauer

“Lies become law become fact become truth.”

“I have lived for the last month with the sense of having suffered a vast and indefinite loss. I did not know at first what ailed me. At last it occurred to me that what I had lost 4abnt43bwas a country.”
Henry David Thoreau reflected on his bewilderment during the month between enactment and enforcement in Massachusetts of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1854. The author had been part of a very public campaign to keep the fugitive Anthony Burns from being taken back to a Virginia slaveholder.  Thoreau’s unsettled waiting period reminds the essayist Jed Purdy of the present haunting November to January interregnum before the transfer of power from President Obama to the next president.  Purdy admits of his own distorted relation to unfolding reality of the 2016 election.  I shared a species of Purdy’s “magical thinking” in the summer and fall: it is “impossible because it is unimaginable” for Donald J. Trump to be elected. No time for hand-wringing. “We may be at the beginning of four years of vigils, civil disobedience… and the tiring reassertion, every day, of basic facts against lies that are almost official, ” writes Purdy. This, he continues “is one of the better scenarios.” 

Seventy yeimagesars ago Albert Camus published The Plague  his classic allegorical representation of totalitarian society.  Political leaders refused and medical experts were not certain enough to call “a” plague “the” plague.  The words got in the way of reality and came to “describe a world that isn’t, and create a world that should never be.” Lies become law become fact become truth. Plague or fever, it is killing half the town and Anthony Burns is the property of a Virginia plantation owner. Camus’ protagonist, Doctor Rieux asserts his purpose, his value, in saving lives. What match is official absurdity in the face of justice and dignity?  Camus once wryly observed that in the French Resistance having “no reason for hope was no reason to despair.”  Doctor Rieux  finished his thought: “Yes, but it is no reason for giving up the struggle.”

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