I sat down to write a piece about whatever happened to truth in public life. Instead, I was forced off the road by a challenge to my own truthfulness—to truth in my own private life and public writing. So now this piece is about getting my wheels out of a ditch in my mind.
You know, of course, that on June 1, 2020, then-President Donald Trump famously strode across Lafayette Plaza to boldly stand in front of a church with the Bible in his hand—upside-down. Right? Of course. All of us who have grown to loathe Donald Trump and all that he stands for and that he has incited in our country prize that image, enshrined in our hit parade of Trump’s Most Egregious Idiocies.
And so, in eager anticipation of using that moment as a feature of my new piece, I even concocted this twinned image of both the U.S. flag and the Bible upside down, to symbolize the distress that has beset both of them.
Pretty clever, huh?
Then I went looking for a news photo of Trump on that infamous day holding the Bible upside down.
But I couldn't find one. I found a bunch of shots like this familiar one from long range showing only the blank front cover of the book he was holding--the allegedly upside-down one. But none of them provided the humiliating evidence of what we all knew--stupid Donald doesn't even know up from down about the Bible.
So I kept searching. And then to my puzzlement, I found this close-up. Donald John Trump holding the Bible right-side-up. You can clearly read the binding to confirm that, as well as note the red ribbon bookmarks trickling below.
Was it possible that--no, couldn't be--that he had it right side up all along? Naw. And I dimly remembered that someone on his staff was said to have rushed up to him when it was truly upside-down and quickly corrected it for him. That must account for this all's-well close-up photo.
Now, anyone who suffered through my four years of vitriolic Trump-bashing during his lamentable incumbency knows that I am just about the least-likely person on planet earth to spend any time exonerating the most lawless and despicable leader ever to disgrace the Presidency from anything awful at all.
But in my better moments, I am slightly more likely to pursue truth even when it results in my own cringe-worthy personal chagrin. So I plowed on, trying to resolve the seemingly irresolvable conflict between what I absolutely knew to be true--Trump held that Bible upside down!--and this confounding photo of him holding it right side up.
Well, I don't know how many of you have long since known the falsity of my "belief", but I just learned it, thanks to belatedly discovering this 2020 article in the New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/18/technology/no-trump-did-not-hold-the-bible-upside-down-at-lafayette-square.html
From the New York Times article:
After law enforcement dispersed protesters in the square, Mr. Trump walked from the White House to a church damaged by fire and posed for photos while holding a Bible a little after 7 p.m.
A Twitter user speculated at 7:10 p.m. that evening that the Bible was upside down. Within minutes, the conjecture spread as fact, with the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough tweeting the claim to millions of followers. It then migrated to Facebook, where a post from a partisan website that has previously spread misleading information has been shared and engaged with more than 75,000 times.
Just three posts on Twitter making the claim — from Mr. Scarborough, the novelist Stephen King, and the musician John Legend — amassed more than 83,000 retweets and more than 340,000 likes.
Turns out I had fallen willing victim to a snarky internet speculation that morphed into an urban myth that fit snugly into my black hole of contempt for Trump, becoming firmly lodged in the "truth" compartment in my brain. I wanted it to be true.
I hardly have a conversation with my family and other friends these days when someone doesn't bemoan the fact that so many Americans ignore the hideousness of Donald Trump and want to re-elect him. That so many American voters ignore the obvious truth about him and readily believe the unbelievable about him. About him and the whole coterie of dissolute and spineless Republican officials who are in his thrall..
I still plan to write about this truly mind-boggling phenomenon one of these days. But now before I sit down at my keyboard to do it, I'll take a long, long look in the mirror.