Why Reality is Stranger than Fiction

This blog, as I keep saying, is primarily about writing fiction. But since I cannot ignore Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, let me talk about its significance from the perspective of a fiction writer.

I am not proud to say that I successfully predicted a Trump victory. I half hoped his opponents will see what they were doing wrong and reverse the trend, but it was not to be. As a result, we have an unlikely presidency that underscores the old axiom “Truth is stranger than fiction”.

But why is it so? Truth and reality cannot, by their very nature, be stranger than fiction. Why is the real world so much stranger than our wildest imaginations? In the case of the Trump victory of 11/9, the reason is quite obvious: Our reality was not real.

A man who says his seduction tactic is to “grab them by the pussy” running for president was unthinkable in the past. Or was it? Donald Trump dismissed this remark as “locker room talk” for which he was widely criticized. But any senator, congressman, or even president who had ever been in a fraternity must have participated in similar locker room talk or worse. We only look away and pretend that it never happened. We build mental barriers and assume that a dignified leader in public is also a boy scout in private. In hind sight we know this not to be true for most past presidents. Even the most deified presidents have, over the course of time, been revealed to have had some faults. And yet we pretend that such behavior does not exist. We are seeing the world through colored glasses.

Reality is stranger than fiction when something that happens is not supposed to happen. Who is supposing? No one but ourselves. We assume something to be the way the world should be and let that assumption cloud our eyes. And when reality reveals our assumptions to be wrong, we are shocked at what we finally see. It is because we made up the world into something that it is not that we find reality so strange when it finally slaps us in the face.

Once upon a time, we collectively did not know that pedophiles existed. In the idyllic past when abortionists were never talked about and rape never supposedly happened, girls and young women wore dainty white dresses and knee high stockings to tea parties in flower gardens, oblivious to the depraved thoughts of the men around them and ignorant of what men said about their bodies behind closed doors. It was all a big secret, even when colored men were being tortured to death in public for allegedly having those very thoughts that white men shared in their smoking rooms over whiskey. And when Nabokov finally published Lolita, bringing fiction up to speed with reality, the protectors of our fictional view of the world criticized the work as pornography and tried to ban it from publication, in effect sweeping untidy truth under the rug.

A meme on the internet blamed the Trump victory on the “I’m-offended-generation” saying “This is the answer for all the political correctness hysteria out there. When every single joke is ‘racist’, when every innocent flirt is ‘sexist’, when every Halloween costume is ‘cultural appropriation’, when a cartoon makes you need a ‘safe space’, when every little comment is ‘offensive’, you’ll get Trump for president.”

I wouldn’t go that far (not the least because it smacks of buck passing). But there is an element of truth in the statement. A large number of people evidently believed that a vote for Trump was a vote against runaway political correctness. There are many criticisms against political correctness, to which not everyone will agree. But one thing both proponents and opponents of political correctness agree on, is that political correctness is an attempt to shape the world around us in the way it should be, but not necessarily is. There is no rhyme or reason why “people of color” is less offensive than “colored people” from a linguistic perspective. The only way “colored people” could possibly be offensive is through its association to the way the term was used in the past. It is an attempt to distance one self from the people who used terms like “coloreds” and “blacks”, and by extension their actions. While the intent may be noble, it is a way of bending our minds (if for the better) and changing our vision of the world to suit our ideals. At worst, political correctness is just a way to shame others into sweeping actual problems under the rug without really solving them.

Some people do not see political correctness as an ideal solution to everything. When there is a difference of opinion, there should be dialogue. Instead, the political correct party ironically directs haughty contempt at those who do not agree. That was the very attitude that political correctness was meant to rectify. As a result, a whole new group of people were reduced to targets of “mansplaining”. These lessor beings of the fly over states were not supposed to exist in significant numbers. The majority of Americans were supposed to be “information competent” and “make wise choices”.

Unreality can only be stacked so high. But we engage in it regardless of what place in the political spectrum we place ourselves. The rich have always ignored the slums beyond the palace walls, the masses have always ignored the warts on their champions, and the educated have always ignored their own lack of worldly wisdom. When we construct an elaborate world of unreality it will always, sooner or later, come tumbling down. That is when we feel that truth is stranger than fiction.

The truth is that Donald Trump, despite his radical departure from what had previously been deemed presidential behavior, has won the election. I called it because he had several definite advantages over conventional politicians. He does not need to be re-elected to any office because he holds none. That means he can say anything that grabs attention and let the media be his advertising team. He has a natural charisma that he has utilized successfully for over thirty years. He was riding on a wide spread anti-liberal sentiment, some of which was irrational but some was rational, but was nonetheless uniformly being ridiculed by the liberals. (A word to liberals: Political comedy, no matter how astute, only serves to galvanize your opposition and fracture your unity.) It also helped that Hilary Clinton behaved much more arrogantly than her margin of actual popularity allowed for. Maybe Donald Trump could get away with shooting somebody without losing supporters, Hilary cannot. But at the end of the day, he won because he is a talented man. You can argue that he lost by a small margin in the popular vote, but not many people in the world could have run an election in the way he did and manage to garner so close to half the votes cast.

His opponents ignored all of that. They talked about his antics endlessly, giving him free publicity even as they criticized him. They painted his supporters as if they were beings of lessor intellect. They had in their minds the “correct” way to see the world and demeaned anyone, right or wrong, who saw the world differently. That is a recipe for political failure.

It remains to be seen what kind of president Donald Trump will be or what kind of world he will nurture, but that is not the point of this blog.

There are many lessons to be taken home from the results of this election which will no doubt be argued for many months to come, but for the fiction writer the lessons are clear. If we look at the world through colored lenses of the way we believe it should be, our imaginary stories will be trumped by reality. If we are to write ground breaking fiction, we must look at the reality behind hushed walls, beyond stereotypes, and beyond what we want it to be. We must take a page from Nabokov and admit that things that are never talked about actually exist in the world.

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