The disastrous election cycle is finally over. As expected, the electoral college has confirmed Donald Trump as the next president. Perhaps this is a good moment to reflect for a moment on what this tells us about ourselves.
First, what it does NOT tell us. This is not a victory for the alt-right. Nor is it a signal that the US has radically shifted its views on race, gender equality or any other issue. There is no evidence that Trump won for any of those reasons.
It does tell us, however, something about fantasy. More precisely, it tells us something about the difficulty these days folks are having in distinguishing fantasy and reality. I would argue that Trump won because he conned a lot of folks into believing that the fantasies he put forward had some basis in reality. Voters were duped into believing that the US was in crisis, that Hilary was a crook, and so on.
And I think this is more than just a problem of “fake news”. Way before fake news came onto the radar screen, we had something called “fake issues”. Kennedy used that to torpedo Nixon back in 1960. Remember the fake “missile gap”? Well, that sounds a bit quaint by now. Consider just a few examples of fake issues that have surfaced over the last years
- Was John Kerry really a war hero?
- Was Saddam Hussein linked to 9/11?
- Was Obama born in the US?
- Was Hilary to blame for the Benghazi disaster?
- Is planned parenthood selling aborted fetuses?
- Are illegal immigrants ruining the country?
This is not a complete list – not by a long shot. It In each case, the fake issue drove public discussion around policy decisions. And I would argue it obscured what people perceived was the right thing to do or not do.
In light of the above, perhaps the Trump election is not as surprising as it seemed to be. Trump merely saw how vulnerable the public is to this kind of fakery and he exploited it. He is the best at faking it.
That is where we are now. And i think the most pressing challenge is to figure out how to decrease our vulnerability to fakery. How? Stay tuned on that one.