IN a brief but substantive interview with Bill Maher broadcast on Real Time Friday night, President Obama reflected on the principal problem in our public life and discourse that has made it possible for Donald Trump to get this close to the American Presidency. “People have difficulty,” he said, “just sorting out what’s true and what’s not. And if you don’t have some common baseline of facts . . . it’s very hard to figure out how we move democracy forward.” The “Balkanization of the media,” he said, where you have 800 channels and millions of discrete online sources, has led to a situation where everyone has their own version of the truth, and their own facts, and there is very little critical conversation across these boundaries. What we have is a vast collection of discrete sources with no real possibility of feedback, creating a nation of isolated monads, belligerent and lonely.
Of the American electorate, Obama asked, “How do we get enough information in front of them to be able to make good decisions? The problem is we have all these filters. Look, if I watched Fox News, I wouldn’t vote for me either; because you’ve got this screen, this fun-house mirror through which people are receiving information. How to break through that is a big challenge.”
Later that night, Bill Maher called what was happening now in the run-up to the election “a slow-moving right-wing coup,” and predicted that, “Once fascists get power, they don’t give up. You’ve got President Trump for life.” And Republican speechwriter David Frum (who’s voting for Hillary) said that a small town in Macedonia was the source of over 100 pro-Trump websites, run for profit, and their Facebook posts get more traffic than any mainstream news source.
Trump has said that if he is elected, he will rule by Internet polling, where the loudest and least informed among us would prevail. In this dark vision, democracy would be replaced by a shadow of itself, a digital doppelgänger.
Democracy is about access and choice, but only when these are social, not measured individually, and not dispensed and controlled by huge corporations. The only cure for what ails democracy is more democracy.
On Tuesday, it is estimated that 50 million people will vote for an unqualified, narcissistic bigot, who, if elected, will drive the U.S. economy off a cliff and cause a global panic. If he is not elected, we are going to have to figure out how to reimagine and repair our communications environment to make critical engagement possible again, because the one thing the Trump campaign has made abundantly clear is that representative democracy cannot function without it.
David Levi Strauss
Sunday, November 6, 2016.
[Photograph by Jon Winet. MSNBC Mobile Studio. GOP Convention Floor, Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland Ohio. July 20, 2016. Click on the images to see an enlargement.]
LINK to all David Levi Strauss Power 2016 Dispatches