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In Plato's allegory, we are prisoners in Trump's cave

guest column

During his visit to Langley, Va., in January, Donald Trump decided to take a moment to address some of the more pertinent information regarding his inauguration: the weather.

“It was almost raining,” Trump started, “The rain should have scared them away, but God looked down and said, ‘We’re not gonna let it rain on your speech!’ In fact when I first started I said, ‘Oh no.’ First line I got hit by a couple of drops. And I said, ‘Oh, this is—this is too bad, but we’ll go right through it.’ But the truth is it stopped immediately. It was amazing.”

Plato has an allegory that likens the struggle of philosophers to that of prisoners in a cave whose only source of the material world are shadows cast on the walls of said cave. In his allegory, those inside are all chained up and unable to turn their heads, but are still able to see the silhouettes before them, allowing them to derive meaning from what little they know of such furtive objects. He continues by saying one of these prisoners eventually loses their binds and leaves the cave, overcome by the original source of what created those shadows: light. With this newfound knowledge of the world around them, the freed prisoner returns to the cave and attempts to enlighten those still trapped, but to no avail, as they are certain of the shadows as truth. This, Plato poses, is the plight of the philosopher. 

We, the nation, now find ourselves trapped in a cave created and maintained by a man who willfully and openly rejects the happenings of the natural world.

In order to preserve our fragile ideology of diplomacy, we have resorted, or have been forced, to pander to the nonsensical and the absurd. From campaign rhetoric to recent press conferences, Trump forces his will on the empirical and the tangible—like a square peg into a round hole, he hinges on manic incredulities and spouts macroaggressions to assert false claims. During yesterday's press conference, he again fell back on the claims of his “major success” with electoral college votes, falsely alleging that it “was the largest electoral victory since Ronald Reagan.” Former President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush claimed more votes than Trump, but the empirical is replaced with the obfuscated, and the factual with the convenient under this new administration.

In an earlier press conference with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Donald Trump was asked a seemingly simple question about the recent rise in anti-Semitism across the United States. His response, both verbose and grossly self-aggrandizing, again opened with his victory in the election with his 306 electoral votes. However, the lack of attention anti-Muslim sentiments were receiving in the country after Trump’s campaign easily fall below his radar, considering that the Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported that the number of anti-Muslim groups in the country have nearly tripled between 2015-2016. Their report found that Muslim hate groups grew from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016. Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric has been absurdly disparaging, and his attempts to obscure the reality journalists, researchers and government officials occupy raises major red flags.

Again, diplomatic ideology dictates that all parties involved receive equal footing and equal attention. However, Donald Trump’s attacks on the media, his false assertions that the country is descending into chaos and his inability to answer seemingly direct questions should begin to receive the same distrust exhibited by him and his administration of the world around them. We are currently witnessing blatant attempts at disguising the observable by our country’s most powerful people, and it is beginning to take a more absurd shape as each new act by Trump calls into question the political incentives for such actions. If this new administration is Plato’s cave, then respectively we are the prisoners.

Jamal Michel is a Duke graduate and an English teacher at Northern High School in Durham.

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