Reality. It used to seem so simple—reality just was, like the weather. Why question it, let alone disagree about it? And then came the assault, an unending stream of “fake news,” “alternative facts,” and lies disguised as truths that is overwhelming our notions of reality. Now we can’t even agree on what a fact is, let alone what is real. How on earth did we get here?
Reality, as Gladstone shows us, was never what we thought it was—there is always a bubble, people are always subjective and prey to stereotypes. And that makes reality more vulnerable than we ever thought. Enter Donald J. Trump and his team of advisors. For them, as she writes, lying is the point. The more blatant the lie, the easier it is to hijack reality and assert power over the truth. Drawing on writers as diverse as Hannah Arendt, Walter Lippmann, and Jonathan Swift, she dissects this strategy straight out of the authoritarian playbook and shows how the Trump team mastered it.
And she offers hope—the inevitable reckoning history tells us we can count on—and a way to recover both our belief in reality and our sanity.
‘What is reality, anyway?’ seems like an impossible question but Gladstone has us covered. The answer starts from a single core idea – that each of us has our own personal reality – and builds out bit by bit to explain how we got to where we are today.
I highlighted so many passages it’s slightly ridiculous. Complex ideas are articulated clearly and memorably, and many have been rattling around my head as the news cycle spins on – how beliefs and conspiracies affect our realities. How Huxley and Orwell’s dystopian fears translate to our times. How demagogues get and lose their power. How to avoid pitfalls in messaging and what we can do to affect change. “Meaningful action is a time-tested treatment for moral panic,” she says, and we’re pointed in the right direction.
This is one of those reviews that’s hard to write not because of a lack of things to say but because I have trouble putting all the awesome into a few paragraphs. Let’s try this: if you’re looking for an insight into current times, if you want a timely read that will make you think and wonder and gasp in recognition, or if you’d like to plot where things go from here, The Trouble with Reality is a must read. Much love.