“Something was different last year, and if I had to put a finger on it, I’d say it’s when we all collectively realized that there may not be a happy ending. Stupid keeps winning, ignorance keeps winning, racism and bigotry keep bubbling up even as we get traction on gay marriage, the climate keeps changing, the drought goes on, Congress gets more worthless and the media that covers it gets even more so, sports becomes ever more rigged and gimmicked and sports media gets ever more shrill and predictable, and the tech boom shoots money out of a firehose at complete assholes while everyone else tries to scrape by in a world where a suburban 3-bedroom townhouse can cost a million dollars.”
-27 Jan 2015
Well, almost two years on, there you have it. Pretty much exactly the no-happy-ending I predicted. We lost containment – stupid has always been mass-produce-able with unskilled labor and we’ve let it out of the box. Couple it with Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and boom, an unlimited supply of useful idiots.
Please spare me the shock at the “fake news.” Shirley Sherrod. The birth certificate. The Clinton Chronicles. Vince Foster. Yellowcake and tubes. We don’t need Russia to feed us fake news and haven’t for decades when we have Fox and the New York Times and forwardable email. It takes a lot of damn gall for the newspaper of Howell Raines and Judith Miller to lecture about fake news. Politics went post-factual twenty years ago and nobody cared because “opinions differ” and “the truth is somewhere in the middle” rather than where the damned facts are. It’s how Hillary Clinton, whose issue positions were largely indistinguishable from those of a sitting president with 58% approval, could lose: not because of ten months of fake news but because of the twenty five years of it previously.
As much as Mark Zuckerberg wants to throw his hands in the air and say “not it,” that excuse doesn’t hold water. Facebook – and the Internet more generally – has a way of giving equal footing to every opinion, and if the Internet is how you get your news, then you’re getting all the filtering mechanisms stripped out. Time was, a major print newspaper or network news broadcast carried a certain weight of credibility, but if a spam site in Macedonia has equal firepower, it’s time to consider than maybe the Internet isn’t a force for good in democracy and informing the public. Which means that I was wrong, Dr. Pride, and maybe nobody owes me a PhD after all. Sorry about that.
Look at the world the last 10 years: Prop 8 in California, Brexit in the UK, and now we have this. If there’s one lesson to take away, let it be this: Nothing is unthinkable anymore. We can no longer say “that could never happen” because it fucking well did. If the state that the rest of the country identified with uncontrolled radical liberalism can outlaw gay marriage by popular vote, if the UK can slit its own throat in world markets and set its economy on the precipice, if we can elect a tabloid figure and walking Reddit board President of the United Fucking States, anything is possible. Delete the words “it couldn’t happen here” from your vocabulary. It could. It can. It has already. Stop pretending there are guardrails, that there are cultural barriers and historical precedents that keep everything from going off the rails, because there fucking aren’t. Don’t rely on anyone else to make the case, to do the job, to hold the line. This is not self-correcting. This will not all come out in the wash. This has to be actively reversed, and that takes work. Demographics won’t handle it in 10 years if nobody votes. Senators won’t balk at touching the third rail if it doesn’t shock them to touch it. The good guys can’t win with 48 percent.
So what happens now? Gonna have to fight. Gonna have to push back. To the last man, to the last trench, to the last vote, to the last ballot, to the last dollar, to the last day of the American experiment – we fight. Right now, Hillary Clinton has over two million more votes than the candidate who got elected. Never let that go. Never shut up about that. Never take the light off the fact that this person was elected with fewer votes than his opponent. There is no mandate. There is no moral authority. There is no blank check. For all his caterwauling and conspiracy-mongering, Donald Trump won an election as rigged as the American system can accommodate. Not a day should go by until 2021 that this doesn’t come up, loudly. And the correction of the American political system has to continue apace, such that we never again have a President who got fewer votes than another person running against them. When the popular vote is a loser twice in five elections, the system is broken.
This is disruption. This is what happens when someone ignores the regulations, the accepted standards of behavior, the very rules themselves. If nobody acts to sanction them, they win. As Uber, so Trump. Only difference is, instead of sclerotic taxi companies, this time the pillars of our democratic process got disrupted. Maybe we get them back. Maybe not. Definitely not, if we don’t act. Now, and every day for the foreseeable future.
What are you prepared to do?