There’s an extensive feature in this Sunday’s NYTimes about how, when it comes to politics at the national level, the truth remains elusive to most people because there’s no common set of facts. As a result, people — exhausted by the news — are checking out of the political process and no longer paying attention to the impeachment proceedings, opting instead to watch Disney+ or The Simpsons.
“People can see totally different things, standing right next to each other,” one man in the piece says. “Yes, there are shades of gray, but what about black and white? We assume that everything is a shade of gray now.”
That all goes back to Donald Trump’s very first day in office when he pushed Sean Spicer to go out to the podium and hold a press conference telling American viewers that the Inauguration crowds we saw on our television screens with our very own eyes did not reflect reality, that there are now shades of grey to statistics and that science is just one part of reality’s equation. That moment created a sort of Mandela effect on our nation: One side now sees truth, and one side now sees reality. Thanks to Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, White House gaslighting, and social media disinformation, the truth and reality aren’t always in sync, and all the evidence in the world cannot convince 40 percent of America that it’s Berenstain Bears instead of Berenstein Bears (it’s noteworthy that my spellcheck doesn’t even bother to correct either spelling, because Grammarly is clearly designed to work in all dimensions).
On Saturday, the White House told the American people that President Trump stopped by a hospital and spent two hours on “phase one” of a physical that wasn’t due until February. The media, with very little pushback, reported this as news. It is the truth because the White House says it is, and the NYTimes reported it as such, even though none of what happened on Saturday at Walter Reed could possibly reflect reality because reality doesn’t work that way. But without an alternative set of facts, our reality bends to that truth and we move on.
For three years, we have accepted — reluctantly so, sometimes — the White House version of events when we do not have a verifiable set of facts to contradict the White House version. We abruptly pulled troops out of Syria because — on a whim that just happened to coincide with a phone conversation with Turkey’s President — Donald Trump decided he wanted to remove troops from the Middle East. This does not reflect reality, but while we can speculate on the real motives, the truth — as far as we know — remains what is available in the public record, which we build upon until it is concretized. If no whistleblower had come forward in August, we would live in an alternate reality where Joseph Biden and his son were being investigated by the Ukrainians for corruption, a “fact” that the President would hammer home every morning on Twitter until it became a permanent part of our election-year narrative. Our reality would be built upon a lie. That seems a shame, but there are probably an untold number of lies upon which our current reality is built, but we are not privy to an Adrian Veidt-like video telling us what really happened when JFK was shot in November 1963.
For over 30 years, the reality depicted in the Watchmen universe has been built upon a lie, too, and a fairly big one: A giant alien squid crashed through from another dimension and killed three million people in New York and psychically traumatized millions more, including one Wade Tillman, otherwise known as Looking Glass. Wade’s life subsequent to 1985 has been built upon that event: He wears protective clothing; his home is outfitted with a shelter to deal with squid attacks; he became a vigilante cop.
Thirty-five years later, a “whistleblower” of sorts, Senator Keene, Jr., presented Wade with another set of facts: A video of Adrian Veidt explaining what really happened that night in 1985, that it was not an interdimensional attack of an alien squid but an elaborate hoax designed by Veidt to unite Russia and the United States together against a common enemy — an alien squid! — during the height of the Cold War.
Unfortunately, the truth does not set Wade free, as the Senator had promised. It’s less the truth and more an alternative set of facts. It muddies the truth because reality still reflects the lie and the truth is not known widely enough to alter reality, and truth is meaningless in the face of that reality. Did Joseph Biden withhold $1 billion of Ukranian aid to pressure the government into firing a prosecutor threatening to investigate a company upon which Hunter Biden sat on the board? If you are a Fox News viewer, that is your reality, and the truth does not alter that reality. Nor does the truth alter the reality of Looking Glass, who still cannot bring himself to throw away his home security system, which is designed to detect alien threats that do not exist.
The Hooded Justice is Dr. Manhattan, according to Panda. This is not actually logistically possible — the Hooded Justice preceded Dr. Manhattan’s existence — but in the reality of Panda, who accepts American Hero Justice as facts, it is his truth. A man who is likely a clone believes he is a nimble 105-year-old man because of the memories provided to him by a pill called NOSTALGIA. That is his reality. But it is not the truth.
“Is anything true?” Wade asks Angela at the end of last night’s episode before he entrapped her into confessing that she covered up Will Reeves’ murder of the Chief. “Is anything really true?”
How much of the truth actually matters if it is not reflected in reality, and what is reality but a construct made up of a set of facts, truths, half-truths and lies, all commingled so much so as to be indistinguishable. “People can see totally different things, standing right next to each other” because reality is an illusion, but Wade should’ve known better than to cheat a friend.
Header Image Source: HBO