This is what a political analyst wrote recently when a speaker at a recent meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) claimed that Trump had won the 2020 election.

What does it mean to say that someone is “untethered from reality?” Psychologists call such people delusional, especially if they really think that what they are saying is true. The rest of us just say that they are confused, mistaken, or just lying to protect themselves or to convince others of something that is not supported with evidence.  

Of course, children often engage in such defensive behavior. I knew a child once who, when unable to find his belt, claimed that someone had broken into the house during the night and stolen it (later found “hidden” under his bed).

We expect more of educated adults. Perhaps we should not.

What we should understand is that being “untethered from reality” is nothing new in human history, especially political history. It occurred when leaders in ancient Athens overestimated their power in 431 BCE and went to war with Sparta, leaving all of Greece open to conquest by Alexander the Great in the following century.  

It happened again when leaders in Europe in 1914 expected a short war and ended up permanently weakening Europe’s power in the world by the end of World War I in 1918. And when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and declared war on the United States that same year, he was “untethered” from the reality of what these two “flanking powers” would do to his “thousand-year Reich” by 1945.

Even in our daily lives, we often cling to delusions we deem necessary to our emotional survival. Especially in difficult times, we are programed, it seems, to divide into camps, with ourselves among the good people and the “others” responsible for all the real or imagined evils that beset us.

Then there is also our ego-driven desire for power, governed far more by our emotions far than by our ability to reason.  It is just the way we are as humans, like it or not.

Do we think that saying that someone is “untethered from reality” will shock that person or his or her followers into repentance and a return to reason?   Do we think it will matter to those we see as delusional?  Naw, not really!  

Usually, I dare say, we are just trying to rally our base, those already persuaded, as well as to convince the imaginary “undecideds,” and get out the vote. What we often accomplish is just a continuation of the current political polarization.  

We face a dilemma?  Those of us who prefer legislation to help our fellow citizens over the current demoralizing “tug of war” in Congress now realize that belief in bi-partisanship is becoming an idea almost as untethered from reality as the belief that Trump won the 2020 election.  

Are we Democrats caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, to use another cliché?   The lack of ability to pass significant legislation itself weakens our faith in democracy at the very time the Republican Party is working to suppress voting at the state level.  

Are we approaching another civil war, this one over whether or not to remain a democratic republic or to move to minority rule by a dictator subservient to the rich (what Greeks called oligarchy, government by the few)?

The only way out, it seems, is to use the courts to preserve our right to vote while trying to convince voters that democracy is worth saving — and that can be done only if we clearly see the alternative. Twentieth-century authoritarian leaders were responsible for many millions of deaths.

Unfortunately, dictatorship is again part of our world’s political reality. After all, dictators get things done quickly and do not tolerate political divisions. They cut down rainforests in Brazil, fight COVID with soldiers in China, financially enrich those who support them in Russia and ignore the poor everywhere.

Surely that will never happen here? We are proud to be Americans, “because at least (we) know (we’re) free,” Lee Greenwood told us many years ago.

Let us hope and act as if that is still true. The clock is ticking.

Ken Wolf is a Democrat and a retired Murray State University history professor. He speaks here as an individual and not as a representative of either of these organizations. He can be reached at wolken43@gmail.com.

Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of the Murray Ledger & Times.