To many, the president we have in the United States today is a crazy anomaly — just the result of decades of false but effective branding, decades of Hillary bashing, and a population hungry for change. However, I think the story is much more chilling than that. While I agree it’s important that Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million American votes, I also think Trump is a representation of much of our society, not just an anomaly.
On the one hand, Trump is the overly bombacious salesman that is an archetype of the United States of America. Yes, this salesman is often a con, and that’s been the case with much of American history, politics, and business.
Trump also signifies what is often considered a key “American Dream” — the ability to rise up and become a billionaire living in a gold-plated condo in NYC as well as a Florida resort and wherever else he feels like jetting off to at the moment. While people may be limited from ever achieving such a dream, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to live their life through his TV and Twitter shoes.
Then there’s the point that much of his campaign, “presidency,” and Twitter activity has centered around telling old white Christian men that they’re still in charge, that they are the best and they are the boss.
But I think the most interesting and perhaps even most relevant American symbol that Trump plays is as an aging privileged person who is losing touch with reality and trying to deny it.
The US, it is no secret, has a large aging population. It is also no secret that cognitive abilities have a tendency to decline in old age. Not always, but yes, there’s a higher likelihood of that. Combine that with the fact that our population has perhaps never been as drugged as it is today. Yes, drugs are another matter that tend to degrade cognitive abilities and critical thinking skills, and we’re apparently using them like never before.
My first article about Trump running for president was titled, “Could The US Really Elect A Conspiracy Theorist?” Unfortunately, my hunch at the time was that we could … and my hunch turned out correct.
Donald Trump gets away with blasting out insane conspiracy theories, trumpeting genuinely fake news, complaining about legitimate news he doesn’t like, and attacking democracy because much of the population is just as clueless and out of touch with reality as he is.
Beyond the points above, American culture has generated this meme that Americans are super special. Part of the result seems to be a deteriorated sense of civic duty and democratic responsibility. They just get freedom because they’re better. When the president doesn’t understand the importance of a balance of powers, a separation of powers, and the 4th estate, there’s a good chance much of the population doesn’t either. Perhaps it got lost along the way in too much Facebook scrolling. Perhaps it was lost much earlier, when California actors started leading the Republican ticket with dumbed down claims about how the economy works, or when a certain president employed the “Southern Strategy” to pit racist Americans against their brethren. Perhaps we are really just in an age of TMI (too much information) and overstimulation, and Trump is the result when the country is so large it is inclined to skip the details and elect a “larger than life” reality TV con than a genuine civic-minded politician.
Perhaps it’s all of the above.
In any case, my concern is not so much that Trump by himself will take the United States off a cliff (though, he seems to be trying pretty hard). My concern is that much of our society is running itself off a cliff, and has the rest of us locked in with ropes of institutional interconnection. How do we turn the crowd around? I think it comes down to many of us getting more informed and more engaged … but I’d be lying if I thought that was anywhere close to an inevitability.