On a Virginia bluff overlooking the Potomac there stands a flagpole.
It is, truly, a monument to a terrible moment in American history.
The plaque on its pedestal reads:
Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot. The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as ‘The River of Blood.’
Imagine that horrifying scene.
Imagine the thunder of the cannon, the crack of the rifles, the smoke, the screams of dying men and maimed horses. Imagine the smell, rot and putrefaction, death, shit, iron, and wet raw lamb. Imagine the casualties, so great, so many, they literally stained the wide Potomac itself crimson with the blood of patriots.
Only one problem: it never happened.
Imagine, because that’s where this battle exists – solely within imagination.
There was no battle.
There were no casualties.
There was no bloody river.
The Potomac was never known as The River of Blood, not during the Civil War, not now.
Oh the flag is real enough, but the story is as phony as Ben Carson’s West Point scholarship.
The guy who owns the place and erected that historic marker ... just made it all up to improve his property values.
That guy is, of course, Donald J. Trump.
In 2009, Trump bought a rundown golf course on Lowes Island, Virginia. He chopped down an actual historic forest to improve the view, pumped millions into renovations, designated his new property an ersatz historical site, and opened his doors to the well heeled suckers.
Since then, Trump has been told repeatedly, publicly and in private, by some of the most prominent experts in American history that he is completely and utterly wrong about his so-called River of Blood.
Unsurprisingly, Trump refuses to budge or admit error.
In point of fact, Trump believes he knows more about Civil War history than the people who study, excavate, preserve, and teach it as their profession.
According to the New York Times, Trump quipped, “How would they know that?” when told historians had called his plaque a fiction. “Were they there?”
Despite a complete lack of historical evidence, Trump justifies his version of American history by saying, “That was a prime site for river crossings. So, if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot, a lot of them.”
How would scientists know that?
Were they there?
I would say.
My opinion is as good as the professionals.
Now, where have you heard that before?
That faulty thinking, that flawed logic, that is the inevitable result of unchecked Creationism.
This is what happens when unsubstantiated made-up fictions are substituted for actual scientific methods and the ramblings of amateurs and fortune-tellers are given equal or greater weight than that of professionals.
So what? So what if some daffy self-aggrandizing billionaire made up some fake history, right? Who’s he hurting?
So what if a significant fraction of America discounts the sum total of science and history for a fictitious world where Jesus walked with dinosaurs and the Earth is 6000 years old? So? Who are they hurting?
Glad you asked.
Trump insists he saw video and news reports of Muslims celebrating in the streets of New Jersey the day the towers fell.
This did not happen.
Did. Not. Happen.
Despite the fact that Trump’s version of reality has again been soundly and thoroughly debunked and absolutely no video or validated news or police report whatsoever can be found of any such thing (and in fact, the only confirmed reports of people celebrating are parties of non-Muslims, white and black, Americans, who gathered on rooftops to watch the spectacle from across the river before the towers collapsed and the true extent of the horror was fully realized), Trump continues to insist that his recall of history is correct.
Just as he insists his version of a Civil War battle that never happened is correct.
And then yesterday, Trump doubled down.
He now claims he personally witnessed with his own eyes, from the windows of his own Manhattan apartment, more than 80 people jumping to their deaths from the Twin Towers before the collapse – despite the fact that his apartment in Trump Tower is more than four miles away and it would have been utterly impossible for him to have seen any such thing.
This is a pattern with Donald Trump.
He plays fast and loose with reality on a daily basis.
Now, either Trump believes what he's saying or he's exaggerating for effect knowing his supporters don't really care either way because they have been conditioned to believe whatever the loud wild-haired guy under the tent is saying, no matter how ridiculous so long as he waves the bible and stands pat on his version of reality.
Either way, by accident or with malice aforethought, the bottom line here is that Donald Trump is not operating in a reality based framework.
And neither are those cheering him.
And that's the problem with our Republic.
That, right there, that Creationist I Don't Care What The Facts Say, History Is Whatever I Believe mindset.
When you have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, the government is only as good as the people.
When the people deliberately choose ignorance and fear and make-believe, you get a government that does as well. Worse, you then get a government who can only thrive on those very things and therefore must seek to instill them in the population in a vicious feedback loop.
Phony history and make-believe science don’t build starships.
Creationist thinking won’t “make America great again.”
Yesterday in Wasilla I saw a truck in the parking lot of a local grocery store which brought it all into focus for me. It was a mammoth machine, huge tires, extended cab, all the trimmings. NRA sticker on the window. Pro-life. Trump: Make America Great Again. Old scowling white guy with a gun on his hip emerged from the store, squinted at me suspiciously, and climbed behind the wheel.
And on the tailgate, a mural. This one:
Everything I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9-11.
You know, I wonder, somewhere in Iraq if there is a pinch-faced angry member of the Islamic State with a mural on the back of his truck which shows Bagdad blown to hell and a trite little sound-bite which reads, “Everything I need to know about Christianity, I learned when America blew up my country despite the fact that we had no weapons of mass destruction and nothing to do with 9-11 because they couldn’t tell the difference between Iraqis and Saudis.”
Perhaps not. Not too many people have the means, money, or time to paint murals on their vehicles in Iraq these days.
That Iraqi guy, he shouldn’t judge all Christians, all Americans, based on the actions of an insane few? He shouldn’t go around blowing people up and chopping off heads and hating everybody in the West because certain Christians blew up his country?
Interesting, I’ll have to think about that.
Everything I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9-11.
You ever wonder if maybe that’s the whole problem?
Everything I need to know about Islam, I learned on 9-11? Really? Because I have to say, personally, I’ve learned one hell of a lot I didn’t know about Islam in the years since 9-11. I learned that a lot of what I’d been told, what I thought I knew, was wrong, or at best incomplete.
And maybe, just maybe, that was at least part of the problem.
I learned that just like Christians, Muslims are each and every one different – and just like Christians, it’s what you do with your religion that matters.
Perhaps for me, the most profound lesson came when I led a Navy boarding team onto a hostile Iraqi ship in the Northern Arabian Gulf. They were certainly smugglers, perhaps pirates, perhaps even spies for Saddam – though in hindsight, the latter is unlikely. We rounded up the crew, cutthroats and criminals, dangerous men, one and all. I found the master in the ship’s pilothouse and the man was … fierce. He was tall, well over six feet, lean like a greyhound as if he was made from wire and sun dried leather, huge finely kept black beard and a moustache that for Iraqis is a thing of vast pride, giant hooked nose like the blade of an axe, and the most piercing and intense black eyes I have ever seen. Give this man a brace of pistols and a scimitar of Damascus steel and he would have been at home in the midst of the Barbary Wars.
And he was hugely, massively, angry to be facing an American military officer on his own bridge, the fury radiated from him in palpable waves.
He was the enemy, the boogeyman, I expected him to fight, to ram his ship into mine, to … I dunno, pull out a brace of pistols and a scimitar of Damascus steel and scream Allah Akbar.
Instead, he offered me coffee.
And we spent the next hour talking about our children, my son, his daughters and how he hoped they would grow up like western women, proud and sure of themselves and beholden to no man, no religion, no dictator. He didn’t hate America, he had a brother in Chicago. He had been horrified by 9-11. He didn’t hate me, he didn’t hate my country. He hated war and death and injustice and being boarded by a foreign power in his own waters.
The things I truly need to know about Islam, and my own country, the most important things, I’ve learned in the decade since 9-11.
I’ve often wondered what happened to that old pirate, if he survived the war, if his daughters did, and where they might be today.
Listen to me, if you want a better country, a better world, then you have to to be better citizens.
When you put people who don’t believe in reality into power, you get government that is likewise deluded.
You get moonbeams and magic fairy dust and arbitrary laws based on arbitrary interpretations of somebody’s arbitrary religion.
You get Drill, Baby, Drill while the seas rise and the crops wither and the super hurricanes smash our coasts into sodden rubble.
You get voodoo economics based on the shitty selfish ideas of some drug-addled second-rate science-fiction author whose own bullshit didn’t even work for her and thirty years later you’ll still be waiting for the full effects of those ridiculous juju magics to trickle down while the world falls to shit around you.
You get racism and misogyny and homophobia and bigotry writ large. You get walls and barbed wire and machine guns and broken glass. You get fear and hate, all based on something that never happened. And you will get war, against the wrong people, in the wrong country, for the wrong reasons and thousands of your children will die or come home maimed and you’ll find that you’ve made the world a thousand times worse and now you’re facing yet another war as a result – the latest conflict in an endless string that stretches back as far as you can remember.
If you put people like Trump into power, you get many things.
But greatness is not one of them.
Footnote: You’re wondering about the title?
Well, see, the thing about gravity? It’ll kill you whether you believe in it or not.