Monday, January 16, 2017
U.S.A.! U.S.A.! vol. 96
Hillary Clinton was the ultimate Establishment candidate facing the ultimate outsider, and also a quintessential old-media personality facing a veritable Voldemort of social media. Given that, she came pretty damn close to pulling it off. But Clinton was also a candidate from reality facing a shimmering celebrity avatar, a clownish prankster who took physical form in our universe but who could say anything and do anything because he was self-evidently not real. That disadvantage proved impossible to overcome.
Furthermore, Trump’s supporters may be delusional and misguided, but they aren’t half as dumb as they often look to “coastal elites.” Many of them understood, consciously or otherwise, that his incoherent promises could not be taken literally and that his outrageous personality did not reflect the realm of reality. They were sick of reality, and you can’t entirely blame them. For lots of people in “middle America” (the term is patronizing, but let’s move on) reality has been so debased, or so much replaced, as to seem valueless.
If reality means lives of pointless service-sector drudgery, downward mobility or stagnation, fast-food dinners, opioid addiction and traffic jams, then escape into fantasy seems forgivable. Donald Trump is a creature of the nurturing electronic cocoon that disrupts or replaces reality, an overlord of consumerism. (He is not in any meaningful sense a “capitalist.” Capitalists produce things, in the real world.) To paraphrase Michael Moore, Trump represented a historic opportunity to extend a giant middle finger to reality itself, and to the forces that have rendered it so dismal.
When I suggested a few weeks ago that Trump’s worldview resembled the narcissistic simulated universe of “The Matrix,” I had no idea how far the analogy would go. His election represents the moment when roughly half our voting population — slightly less than that, to be fair — spoke out clearly: Give us the blue pill! That’s the one where you wake up in your beds and believe whatever you want to believe, leaving reality behind. If onetime movie star Ronald Reagan was the first postmodern president (the word still meant something back then), Trump will be the first post-reality president.