How Digital Media and False Realities Created a pro-Trump Climate
Late into election night 2016 in the United States. The results are in. While the DNC's gathering in Manhattan is full of glassy eyed millenials kicking balloons and chocking down the end of their cocktails while they wait for their Uber, just a few blocks away the alt-right hack Chuck Johnson had, perhaps, the most profound insight into the 2016 Presidential election which he shared with a Politico reporter just off a stage manned by the President Elect Donald Trump. “The trolls won. [It was] the comment section against the article. We memed the president into the Oval Office.”
So it has begun. Finally, the politics of the postmodern, which so many elbow-patched theorists talked about in the eighties, has become (hyper)real. Where citizens and political actors make themselves through a collage of subscription services and brand loyalties rather than class consciousness. Where warfare is conducted through information, through leaks and shares. Where there is near-infinite information, and so any claim of truth can be attended by a sufficient amount of data points that can be collected and spread as quickly as a retweet. Now, political operations must amass an arsenal of dispersable and dispensable and detonatable and destroyable truths. Truth as a choice, as a vote. Not an argument over what is true—a fight over which truth prevails. Truth as a description of identity, not reality, and identity as the dead end and/or apotheosis of politics. Identity as something revealed by what you share with your network, what your network shares with you.
These different truths create separate camps that build machines to generate their truths. A great and unbridgeable chasm between the two opens up, unbridgeable because the very meaning of words have no currency on the far side. causing revulsion in the stomach of anyone curious enough to look over in the faces of the other side.
In the alt-right universe, whispering fears of the coming white genocide. In the neoliberal universe, condescending psychoanalysis of the right wing's rampaging id (poor white males in general and Donald in particular).
These two universes of truth produced ecstatic ecosystems of info sharing by moving toward the simulatory and away from the real. Trump's campaign was often criticized for having no boots-on-the-ground network, no campaign infrastructure, for relying too much on image and media and Facebook likes; meanwhile, Clinton's campaign was venerated for their mature and massive ground game, the millions of knocks on millions of doors. What was seen as advantage is, in the new postmodern politic, an obstacle.
In other words, Trump hadn't ceded the real, he had unburdened himself of the real. Clinton's game had some participation in the internet game, but she could never keep the pace as long as she was stuck in the mire of the actual. The reason she always seemed so untrustworthy to the public was because Clinton was always lying about reality, while Trump was always telling the truth about the reality he had built.
Clinton tried to straddle two modes of being while Trump pulled ahead at high speed. What scandal plagued the Clinton campaign more than any other? Emails. Both their digital content and where they were in real space—cyber-space versus classic space, postmodern versus modern—the same contradiction mirrored everywhere in her campaign.
But how did these universes grow, find themselves, define and shape their truths, amend and change their truths as time unfolded (time now defined in the adderall pace of total information flow—the wide and rushing river filled with Twitter storms and cable TV meltdowns)? The often maligned social-media algorithmic information bubble with its necessary consequence of confirmation bias. The orgiastic spectacles of mass rallies, teeming with uncertainty and potential violence. The beautiful anger of outrage. The cult of personality and also the cult of ad hominem. Both camps functioning on the same principles of all faith systems: in-groups/out-groups, ecstatic revelation, pathologization of the Other, conviction as social act.
In a campaign where both sides spoke of manufacturing jobs, the end of the campaign marked the death of the old manufacturers of truth: the traditional news organizations. They all stood, mouths agape, as their predictions failed. These “mainstream” media personnel who were maligned by the Trump campaign and its legion, now humiliated by its victory. And how ironic, because Trump was the last creation of traditional media, who gorged on stories of the latest Trump gaffe all campaign long, bolstered on and addicted to the ratings bump it gave them.
The campaign started more than a year ago now. And it is clear to see that time has been a fully postmodern one. It was the year of what the (old) modernity would call the blow-back effect—a term from new social science showing that, when shown contradicting evidence, people cling to their newly disproven beliefs all the stronger. It was the year of the Pepe the Frog war, the year late night comedians were the most respected investigative journalists, the year US troops returned to the Iraqi battlefield, the year the atmosphere moved permanently passed the 400 parts-per-million carbon dioxide mark while climate change was called a Chinese conspiracy, the year WikiLeaks was blamed for interfering in fair elections and so had its founder forcibly silenced, the year Harambe made a notable write-in campaign from beyond the grave, the year the first and biggest reality television star became President Elect of the United States.
Yes, Trump is the next President, and now that's, believe it or not, true for everybody. And unfortunately, reality still does not abide the phantasms of postmodern truth-smithing. We, the few people who live on this corner of this heating earth, will now make what truth we can out of the next four years.