After Donald Trump won the White House in November, we had a spate of editorial commentaries purporting to explain the role that gender played in Hillary Clinton’s defeat. For some pundits, the answer was obvious: this country is as irredeemably sexist as it is racist.
Since so much of Donald Trump’s reality is mediated through television, perhaps it’s best to view the trajectory of his candidacy as if it were a reality show that hit it big in the beginning but then saw its audience diminish over the years, buoyed at the end only by the most ardent of fans who faithfully watched.
Tell me Trump won’t win, my friends are emailing. It’s a slow-motion train wreck, they’re saying, and I feel helpless to stop it. Why is the media letting Trump get away with it? I wouldn’t be so nervous if it weren’t for Gary Johnson; if it weren’t for millennial apathy, for alt-right propaganda, for Paul Ryan’s cowardice; if it weren’t for sexism, racism, infotainment, Idiocracy, plutocracy, Citizens United, voter suppression…. Help!
Following Hillary Clinton’s bout with pneumonia and her self-punishing “Basket of Deplorables” comment, it was no surprise to see her polling numbers stagger. Equally unsurprising the faint-hearted Cassandras of the Democratic establishment scream in terror pounding their chests calling for instant remedies.
Many people vote to send a message of rage and to shake things up, but I suspect just as many vote to maximize the fun of watching all that tumultuousness play out in the media. I include myself; I feel that undertow.
We’re not just voting for a candidate, we’re voting for an experience — the rush of crisis, the thrill of combat, the high of “breaking news,” the squirt of dopamine when something crazy could happen next. The electorate has become the audience, and the audience has become addicted to entertainment.