Brainwashing, it seems, does not exist. Many of us who remember at least bits and snatches of the Vietnam War and the subsequent fear of cults, grew up hearing the term. Someone’s personality had changed after some kind of trauma—slow or fast didn’t matter, but it had to be slightly prolonged—so that they were no longer recognizable as their former selves. Scholars began to work on this idea and found it lacking. Since the 1990s, at least, we’ve known there’s no such thing as “brainwashing.” When you get right down to it, there’s no such thing as a mind to brainwash since it’s merely an actual brain making up a story to keep itself from being lonely in this cosmic wasteland. Anyway, there’s no such thing as forcing someone to think something weird.
Then enter Trump. I know many intelligent, educated people who cannot see the stark, naked contradictions. Nothing, it seems, can convince them that simply saying “no I didn’t” doesn’t make it all right (alt right?). The fact that well over a thousand pending lawsuits stood against him before he laid his hand on that Bible and swore—let’s call it swearing—to uphold the constitution, seems not to have registered. I’m reminded of being a kid and crossing my fingers behind my back and believing that made a temporary lie okay. Thing is, most of us outgrew that. As the evidence of criminal activity while in office stacks up until it teeters, the supporters shout that the truth is just a lie and Jesus love me, this I know. Too bad brainwashing doesn’t exist anymore. It might help to explain a thing or two.
Following the news is something for which I simply don’t have time. Or the fortitude. Faced with blatant criminal activity, the Republican Party launches countersuits saying that investigating a crime is itself criminal. There’s no such thing as brainwashing, though, so you can sigh in relief. Still, as I go through the day and headlines pop up, as they will, I pause and wonder. Not that things were better when we believed in brainwashing—for what good does it do you to believe something that’s not true?—but I’ve become strangely nostalgic for Watergate. I see the lawsuits piling up behind the intrepid base, unfazed by any baptism in reality, and think about the explanatory value of brainwashing. Maybe it doesn’t exist, but it sure could explain a lot.