On Wednesday night I had a terrible dream. Let me tell you all about it.
In my nightmare, large swaths of the American electorate were duped into adopting a world view based entirely on clichés about politics, government, and the mainstream media.
Heretofore, these clichés knew their place. That is, they had long ago resigned themselves to the fact that their role in society was to serve as the second part of a bad joke. They were heard only after someone posed the following question: “Hey, want to hear a joke?”
Example: “Hey want to hear a joke?” “Sure.” “How do you know if a politician is lying?” “I don’t know, how?” “His lips are moving.”
Ha f*cking, ha – a punchline courtesy of a political cliché.
But in my dream, these clichés were no longer a laughing matter. Indeed they formed the basis of a new brand of populism.
Politicians never say anything true.
The mainstream media is always lying to us.
Government is irredeemably corrupt.
“They” really are watching us.
These clichés had graduated from being punchlines to garnering Ten Commandment status among the new populism’s acolytes.
It didn’t take long for the tinfoil hat, bunker-building crowd to put two and two together. These clichés were entirely consistent with their paranoid view of the world. Soon enough, they joined the cause and further emboldened the populists by explaining how the clichés fit perfectly with all manner of conspiracy theories.
Before long, the conspiracy theories were no longer considered conspiratorial or theoretical – they were accepted as gospel…
- The government has teamed with Facebook to monitor citizens’ each and every online interaction.
- Jeff Bezos is in on it too (what the hell is Amazon really doing with those drones?).
- The Clinton Foundation is actually an organized crime family that picked up where the Gambinos left off after Gotti finally went away for good (cue Bill accepting guests and granting favors on Chelsea’s wedding day)
- They’re plotting against us all in Davos
- Area 51 really does house alien corpses
- And on, and on
Behind it all was one man. In him, the populists found their champion. In him they placed their trust.
He descended from on high via a golden escalator in June of 2015, waving and grinning from behind a fake orange tan. Then, from the lobby of a golden monument bearing his own name, he declared himself the savior.
There were challengers – more than a dozen of them in fact. But in the end they were vanquished, unable or unwilling to embrace and stoke the fears of an increasingly irrational voter base high on its own supply of nonsense.
All of this was set against a backdrop of war in a far away land. The conflict produced refugees by the millions who fled their homes for the relative safety of countries America counted as allies.
But soon those refugees were blamed for a wave of terrorist attacks and compassion turned to xenophobia. Populist movements gathered strength in haven countries.
Soon, Muslim immigrants were ostracized and in a deft move, America’s populist prophet seized on the opportunity to equate terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims with crimes committed by illegal immigrants in the United States. In the process, the populist champion demonstrated his penchant for perpetuating the “round-trip fallacy.” For him, the following two phrases are equivalent:
- Most terrorists are Muslims
- Most Muslims are terrorists
His followers demonstrated the same lack of critical thinking skills.
Things only got more surreal from there.
Soon, the right-wing blogosphere became an echo chamber dedicated to bolstering the populist cause. There was no limit to the hyperbole certain sites would employ. This collection of bloggers became a de facto propaganda ministry.
In the space of what seemed, in the dream, like mere weeks, what was clearly “fake news” became real news in the eyes of the public. By extension, real news was written off as “fake news.” The foremost purveyor of populist propaganda was subsequently given an advisory role in the new king’s inner circle.
Revelations surfaced that a foreign government had infiltrated the computers of the king’s opponents to help sway public opinion. The men and women of America’s intelligence community presented evidence of the breach. The new king was undaunted. He called the reports contrived and suggested they were inconclusive. His followers took his word over the word of the intelligence community. Not only that, they overwhelmingly said they trusted the word of the foreign government in question over the word of their own officials.
The new king railed against what he called a conspiracy of global elites whom he claimed were aiming to usurp him before he had even been crowned. This while bragging to his followers about how wealthy he was and how he himself was an elite. The contradiction was lost on the masses.
He promised to rid the government of corruption but moved immediately to install billionaires and ex-financiers in key positions. No one wanted to talk about the revival of the revolving Goldman-government door. “Government Sachs” was alive and well under the new king.
Like any cult leader worth his salt, he exhibited the behavior of a man who has delusions of grandeur.
He promised, for instance, to protect his followers from would-be evildoers by erecting a 2,000 mile wall along the border.
He displayed clear signs of mental instability. Actresses were disparaged on social media, civil rights icons were derided, war heroes were written off as cowards because they were captured, female political opponents were called too ugly to lead, kisses were stolen, pussies were grabbed, prostitutes were hired, beds were peed upon.
But the disciples kept the faith and despite it all, the king was crowned.
In a stupor, the non-believers sat idly by, watching incredulous as the coronation unfolded live on national television.
And then I woke up.
Yours truly on inauguration eve,