There’s a lot that can be said about the spectre of sexism, nativism, and racism that led to this shameful moment. Fighting against those forces is not a new struggle for this country--the conflict between those impulses and the--just as deeply rooted--American desire for tolerance and justice is the central struggle of our nation. So what happened? Clearly a large chunk of older white folks don’t like the idea of an upptity woman telling them what to do. So much so that they are willing to throw in with a swindling, bombastic, fantasist rather than hear the words “Madam President.” There’s nothing we can do about that but educate our children and advocate for justice for those who will suffer the most in the coming years.
Something that is being overlooked, or more precisely not considered in the right light, is the way in which Trump manipulated to his advantage our decayed and degraded public discourse. It’s not just that he played “the media” like a fiddle, or that forty-plus years of “silent majority” bullshit finally paid off, what’s really important is that the very idea of an informed citizenry--a key linchpin of a functioning democracy--is now meaningless. When everything can be true, nothing is true. When we consume our understanding of our of culture and its struggles in a rolling tide of decontextualized, trivialized, bias-fueled, self-aggrandizing newsfeeds, we can begin to believe that the craven liar is a “telling it like it is,” and the competent woman who has pledged her entire life to public service is “crooked.” In Amusing Ourselves to Death, written in 1985, Neil Postman warned of our country’s citizens being reduced to “passivity and egoism” by the transformation of our discourse from one of actionable information to one of trivialized emotional entertainments: “When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk.”
The medium is the message. Working in publishing, I’ve hated the rise of the word “content” in reference to what writers, artists, filmmakers, and other creators do--as if there’s just this space to fill out there, with whatever, "content," it doesn’t matter what's in that content, just fill it, we’re content providers. Content is a neutral word, it could mean Breitbart or Socrates, it doesn't really matter. So let’s make it matter. Let’s take it back. Keep your eyes open.