One of the great ironies of this insufferable election is that something we all knew was inevitable and only a matter of time – the full, seamless integration of the reality TV / social media paradigm into our elections – was achieved by a highly unattractive 70 year old man. It is as apparent now two weeks out from the election as it was in the summer of 2015 when this nightmare began that Trump has no real interest in being president, a job that is by most estimates rather challenging. Instead this has been one long exercise in building the Personal Brand, of achieving the kind of multi-platform social media saturation that brings entire rooms full of Social Media professionals at SXSW Interactive to instantaneous and powerful orgasm. When a campaign spends more on hats bearing an eminently hashtaggable slogan than it does on polling, it becomes nearly impossible to argue that this is anything other than politics as viral marketing, a painfully long product roll-out for whatever insufferable Web 3.0 media product Trump plans to shove down the throats of his gullible herd of followers. It is a campaign not for votes but for Likes and Follows, the end goal being a list of potential subscribers' credit card numbers rather than accommodations on Pennsylvania Avenue.

As an adult old enough to remember the world before the internet, it isn't difficult for me or anyone else of my generation to see this for exactly what it is. We have been through enough elections and seen enough political campaigns to know what campaigns look like. We recognize, consequently, that this is not one. What I worry about a lot lately, especially given my constant contact with people in the 18-22 age range, is what long term effects this will have on the attitudes of people of different generations who have grown up with the internet and social media. Someone born in 1998 has never lived in a world without clickbait, viral videos, shitposting, memes, Facebook, Reddit, apps, and the idea of life as incidental things that happen so one can post pictures of it on the internet. It is not that today's college-aged voters are incapable of answering the question, "Is this a real campaign or is this all just a publicity stunt?" – what is troubling is that it would never occur to young adults to ask that question. When you've lived since infancy in a world in which saying outrageous and offensive things is a standard part of the repertoire for attracting valuable attention in a the internet's competitive marketplace of self-promoting assholes, this very well could appear to be normal. You can feel the collective shrug, the sense that nothing about what happened this year is in any way out of line with one's expectations about how the world of 2016 works.

One valuable Teaching Moment from this campaign was the vice-presidential debate. Students were able to see for one evening what, for most of recent history, a presidential campaign has looked like: two extremely boring older white guys using a lot of words to say very little. It contrasted sharply with the WWE Monday Night Raw spectacle of the presidential debates, which they view primarily through the lens of what they can provide in entertainment value. Much is said about the shrinking attention spans of younger generations, and I think there is a real element of truth to those fears. It's not surprising that today's young people, just like young people of years past, would find a Kaine-Pence type election extremely boring. What's worrying is the idea that, rather than considering this year's presidential election appalling and embarrassing, it not only seems normal but even desirable because it holds their interest. If they find this funny and entertaining we are likely to do it again in the future, and it will only be "funny" until one of these candidates – some media hog less personally repugnant than Trump – wins, at which point the joke will be on all of us.


  • The "campaign as viral marketing stunt" bit here is on point, but I think you overestimate the degree to which Millennials find any of this acceptable or normal. The Trump thing was funny at first, before it became frightening and depressing, but I don't think Millennials are any less exhausted or disgusted by this campaign season than anyone else just because we're able to make Trump memes.

  • There are a painful lot of older adults who don't get that the quality of information from the viral shitposting is not reliable. Those are the people who are going to send me over the edge. I don't care about their differing personal philosophies. I care that they share crap left and right without a care in the world as to its veracity. It's really not the young kids doing that.

  • I think it is not millenials, but white men of all ages, who think Trump is funny, because they are not of a demographic who harmed by his shenanigans. My white liberal 70 year old dad thinks he is hilarious. We nearly had a fight.

  • I think people born in the internet era will break down like other generations. For simplicity's sake, let's say intellectually they will divide into Lowbrow, Middlebrow, and Highbrow, just like every other generation has. Probably in about the same ratios. Highbrow won't mean they never look at Facebook or tweet, but it will mean that (eventually) the world of ideas will become important to them and they will find ways of thinking seriously about serious stuff. Perhaps some version of social media will be part of that, maybe they'll read Anthony Trollope in print, maybe they'll stream Kurosawa on Netflix. But I think they'll be the ones to help us more easily sort the crap from the real in our brave new world. The majority of them will, of course, not be highbrows. But the majority never has been. And it has always been at the mercy of the charlatans.

  • I am one of the few people I know of, maybe the only one, who has never found Trump funny. Never laughed at his antics, not now, not last fall, not at The Apprentice or any of its spinoffs, not 20 years ago when he was trying to muscle the elderly Vera Coking out of her house, not even back when there were semi-serious suggestions from some people that he run for the Democratic nomination for President. But I do agree with others here who say it's not really a generational thing. Who made The Apprentice a hit show anyway? Surely not Millennials, or at least not only them. Hipster irony has to bear a certain amount of responsibility for a lot of our cultural garbage, and that's not exclusive to any age group.

  • The biggest danger from Trump — other than his getting his stunted fingers on the nuclear button, which god forbid — is already being realized, at least from what I see on the internet.

    By being such an outlandish, disgusting buffoon, he is giving cover to less buffoonish, but still dangerous people. He has lowered the bar of political discourse so low that anyone can hop over it.

    Already I've seen people say they wished that John Kasich had stayed in the race, because he's so "reasonable." No, he's not. He's a right-wing ideologue with an agenda. He wants to hurt people and disadvantage entire groups. He has already put some of that agenda in action with more than a dozen anti-choice laws.

    Apparently, the new "reasonable" is that you don't spit at people or throw chairs during a debate.

    Someone else suggested that Glenn Beck was making a lot of sense. Wrong! Glenn Beck has never made any sense. Not then — not now. The only thing that's changed is Trump. It's a new ballgame and not one we're going to enjoy.

    If Trump loses, Trumpism won't go away — unless he is totally slammed in both the popular vote and the EC. And Trump 2.0 may be just as bad, or worse. At any rate, the signal will have been been sent — to both benches — that the Trump tactics work. Expect to see more.

    Even so, there is a chance — despite the cheery polls — that Trump could win. Michael Moore, who is a Hillary supporter and who says he intends to vote for Hillary, thinks Trump could win. I know this isn't a popular opinion among those on the left who paint Trump supporters as one-dimensional cartoon characters. It's way more complicated than that.

    Five Reasons Why Trump Will Win

  • At the risk of puncturing Droppy’s “same as it ever was” argument with the obvious “this time it’s different,” let me point to John Seabrook’s book Nobrow (2001), which investigates what happens in a culture where distinctions between high, low, and middle brow no longer apply. It’s specifically about marketing and communications and probably came out just before social media took it to the next level.

    All sorts of sociological observations can be made about folks who, by virtue of their youth, have always lived in a media saturated environment. Such observations were made in the advent of radio, telephones, cinema, and TV, too. Coming next is probably VR. How they shape our minds (right down to our biology) and expectations, which then play out in cultural manifestations such as politics, is poorly understood and not for the faint of heart.

    The overriding impression I have, now that self-censorship borne out of good manners and propriety have given way to tantrums such as “I got a right to say whatever the fuck I want so fuck you,” is that we’ve become amazingly coarse and vulgar and lost any public sense of restraint. It’s all out there, all the time, including satirical comedy that pulls absolutely punches when doing hit pieces on celebrities and celebrity candidates.

  • Mel Says:
    "There are a painful lot of older adults who don't get that the quality of information from the viral shitposting is not reliable…. I care that they share crap left and right without a care in the world as to its veracity. It's really not the young kids doing that."

    Agreed- its the 50-year-old guy I went to high school with, (and am Facebook friends with only because, when you join Facebook, apparantly everyone from your high school class friends each other.)

    Same thing- a dozen mostly whacko, over-the-top anti-Clinton posts a day, with no distinction between what is maybe marginally sort of valid and what is flat-out made-up bullshit and easily disprovable. And seemingly, no awareness of what a hoax news web site looks like.
    This is from a middle-aged grown-up with a decent education and middle class job, who you'd expect to be at least somewhat savvy about not believing everything you read on the internet.

    I think what's going on is not that he has no awareness of what is or isn't true, but that he doesn't care, and is actively choosing to spread whatever crap may damage the democrats. In other words, it's not ignaorant shitposting, but deliberate.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    For the foreseeable future, the conservatives who think this is a good idea will be linked to the Trump brand. It will be impossible to attempt anything resembling this without his name coming up. I find that encouraging.

  • Skipper:
    Michael Moore wrote his 5 reasons Trump will win right after the Repug Convention. Might be worth checking in with him to see if he still agrees with that assessment…

  • I tend to agree with those commentors above that think the brighter Millennials are e-savvy enough to recognize the dross. They're amused by the circus, but get that the Internet Is For Porn and Cat Videos and will filter out the obvious bullshit and nonsense.

    The dull and the stupid? They're the same credulous morons that thought Joe McCarthy was a straight shooter and that Nixon Was The One. They'll believe anything that conforms to their prejudices.

    It's the Boomers like me that, many of us, still think that "news" is like Huntley-Brinkley and tend to mistake cable news as actually "objective" and "factual" long after the news channels and websites gave up actually reporting and turned to steno-ing whatever mouth-farts Michelle Bachmann emits…we're SO not prepared for the Internet Era and are the ones more likely to be bamboozled by it…

  • Perhaps it's not merely the omnipresence of the shitpost in our society that's Damaging Our Youth, but the impulse to pass on bullshit information because it gives us the feels that's Damaging Society. The Chainletter Phenomenon, if you will. This probably predates the Internet in some form or another, but has exploded in popularity since the dawn of AOL.

  • Also…I inferred from the OP that Ed was commenting on the fact that doing stuff for the lolz is the new normal for the younger Millennials, not that they're more apt to believe bullshit. Trump's campaign definitely has, from the beginning, had a distinct feel of being done for the lolz. I maintain that this is real for Trump; but I'll agree that he doesn't actually want to DO the job, he just wants to win, because WINNING. His head is so far up his own ass that there's no doubt he doesn't even actually know what the job entails. But for Trump, that's not the point.

  • Anyone who grows up with a technology is going to be better at it than those who don't, with limited exceptions. People who never saw a car until they were 50 turn out o be terrible, fearful drivers who are very limited in how they can function in an automobile. My expectation is that kids born after the arrival of the Internet will become far more sophisticated in how they use it and what they choose to do with it.

    Flip side of that, I love history and reading, and I know tons of stuff no one around me does, and I wish many things about this country and the Constitution were better known. If I were more with it I could probably come up with a useful app or game that would address some of this. Kudos for Hamilton for doing some of that work.

  • The Michael Moore 5 reasons piece is pretty scary and that video link above is downright hair-raising (both posted above by Skipper; thanks for those links). It may partly be psychological motivation, trying to scare folks to get out and vote. If you want some additional reasons to double-check that your go-bag is ready (if indeed fleeing the country is one of your options if Trump wins), check out some of the stuff Greg Palast has been reporting. The numbers of potential purged voters in swing states like PA and NC are absolutely staggering:

  • What Eadgyth said – I think it is likely that those who have grown up with the internet will find it easier, on average, to understand that most of it is unreliable noise. The problem is young people are less likely to vote.

    Apart from that, IANAA (I am not an American), and I have to say: All countries have the internet, but in most of them election campaigns work differently. Not saying people's reasoning is good when they decide who to vote for (e.g. voting for a party promising savage cuts to punish the other one for making a few cuts, as in Spain after the GFC), but pretty much everybody finds it hard to believe what is going on in the US election. So the explanation for what has happened must be in different factors.

  • Some of my friends are voting for Jill Stein. I don't know much about her, so i didn't cast my early vote for her. I would have voted for Ralph Nader if he was running, but for me it really boiled down to anyone but Drumpf.

    The ironic thing is that the crazier-than-thou true conservatives got just what they were aiming for with Trump. It's just that he's a little TOO honest about it for some of them. I ALMOST feel sorry for Paul Ryan, caught between a flaming garbage can and the garbage dump.

  • Voting for Ralph Nader years ago or our new mindless third partiers ain't clever. I know it can make you feel good but don't do it.

    The first TV debate was 1960 and I was in front of the TV. It was such a startling idea that it became a news item in itself days before the broadcast. After the debate, "Ozzie & Harriet" fans made phone calls to see what their friends thought of it. It changed things forever but no one knew that campaigns of the 21st century would be bad dystopic science fiction stories.

  • I agree with everything except the notion that Trump did any of this on purpose. His campaign is a massive PR stunt and exercise in personal self-aggrandizement and score settling because that's literally all Trump himself knows how to do. And rather than helping his personal brand, it has run it through a chipper/shredder.

  • I watched a debate last night for state senator. One was an experienced man with a history of senatorial experience to point to. The other was a woman whose oft-repeated mantra was, "I'm a wife and mother!" (…so am I, but that doesn't make me in any way qualified to be a state senator…) when she wasn't squawking "Bengazi!" and "Emails!". She looked down her nose at everyone positively lectured about the eeevuls in government. In other word, she was another Sarah Palin, except she was able to speak in grammatically-correct sentences.

    It occurred to me that the conservative approach really has been distilled to 1) parrot irrelevant stuff on auto-loop 2) look at the audience with contempt 3) bad-mouth Washington, which makes it a mystery why they want to go there so badly.

  • My worry is that if Trump loses (and it's likely that he will), the next person they nominate will be every bit as bad – except they'll be smart enough not to say the quiet parts out loud.

    If we haven't seen them yet, I'm sure they're grooming somebody who is every bit the racist, authoritarian, demagogue but also happens to be a smart politician as well.

    THAT is the person I fear.

  • I'm worried about another DDoS attack (like the one last week) on election day which will try to bring down Hillary's GOTV operation.

    Also I've read that a lot of friendships are being broken up during this election.

    I can see why. Trump supporters just come up to you and spout. The Democrats may talk amongst themselves, but aren't preaching. Your typical Trump supporter has the memory of a flea, doesn't understand what's real on the internet and are constantly telling you about "something that's just come out" or "is being ignored by the media". You can't argue and you just don't want to see these people until they calm down.

  • Re: the potential post-Trump demagogue…my concern for years has been that, long before Trump, the GOP had become and is now nothing more than a "against-whatever-lib'ruls-like" outfit and will not allow a government to function if functioning means doing "stuff lib'ruls like".

    Look at the Congressional GOP already promising "investigations" of a Clinton Administration.It's more than just Trump; it's crazy all the way down.

    The problem w that – aside from the obvious – is that the U.S. type of republic is already designed with a shitton of legislative chokepoints. If you were a Republican who would prefer that the federal government not function rather than function in ways you'd abhor it would be relatively simple for you to stop it functioning.

    But…the problem with THAT is that the GOP is too blinded by their radicalism, or just doesn't care, to see that the mass opinion will not bother to discriminate between the two sides. The mob will eventually tire of this dysfunction and look for someone "who gets things done" and that's how we'll get the Man on Horseback.

  • Dammit. I'm a white guy with white hair, and yes, I do think Trump is funny.

    But can we distinguish between laughing with and laughing at? I realize that there's a reasonable chance this shitgibbon will cause the end of the world, but in the meantime, he's set fire to the GOP. I don't care who you are, taking the GOP's tactics and wrecking them from the inside is hilarious. And I'm not 100% sure he realizes that he destroys everything he touches.

    There's a purity to his arrogant reckless, vengeful stupidity that can be fun to watch. I realize that this whole election is exhausting, but if you are a liberal, Trump has been, among a number of terrible things, the useful idiot of our dreams. I couldn't have designed a more perfect comeuppance against the GOP.

    Unless the silly son of a bitch wins. Then I'll be laughing out of the other side of my face. So I'm driving people to the polls on the 8th, and door knocking. I hope you do the same.

  • At times it has really felt like we were headed down the road that leads to a President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    @Not Sure:

    President Camacho was not intimidated by people smarter than him and was able to change his mind in the face of new evidence.

  • Selling stupid is easy so what passes for news and information amounts to letting us find a bubble that satisfies.

    The news looks like morning quiz TV and shows where people yell and threaten one another. These scream fests are often piloted by over-exposed entertainers that are kept around justifying considerable incomes by being dumb and dumber.

    Cable news is now a perfect example and Donald Trump fits the bill perfectly.

  • Of all the Cassandras who warn that what Trump has roused will be waiting for the next demagogue to exploit, Ed's thesis here is the scariest, because it involves the whole culture, not just the outpost of the far right. It's not just that the ignorant and marginalized will continue to harbor resentments and fears in their right-wing bubble, but that the current generation can't differentiate between politics and entertainment. Because everything that isn't entertaining is shunned.

    Coincidentally I've just consumed Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death," written in the 80s, when lines between entertainment and information began to merge, slogans started being substituted for arguments, and reasoned discourse was lost forever to the moving TV image. It's easy to see that the world of 2016, with its cat videos, tweets and instagrams, is the 80's squared.

    We are so fucked.

  • Emerson Dameron says:


    Readers who bought Postman also enjoyed Within the Context of No Context by George WS Trow. I read it in the '90s (thanks to a very unusual high school psychology and debate teacher) and thought it was fascinating but a little fussy and pessimistic for my tastes. Turns out he anticipated a whole lot of stuff.

  • @Emerson: Trow's book is great too, equally prophetic, though TV's contribution to the disappearance of community may have begun to find a substitute of sorts in the online "community." Worth pondering, maybe.

  • philadelphialawyer says:

    "It is not that today's college-aged voters are incapable of answering the question, 'Is this a real campaign or is this all just a publicity stunt?" – what is troubling is that it would never occur to young adults to ask that question.'"

    That strikes me as sophistry. If the so called millenials are "capable" of asking the question, then of course it "occurs" to them to ask it. To be capable of recognizing bullshit, you have to, at a minimum, ask whether what you are being presented with is bullshit. Which young people, as well as their elders, do all the time.

    "When you've lived since infancy in a world in which saying outrageous and offensive things is a standard part of the repertoire for attracting valuable attention in a the internet's competitive marketplace of self-promoting assholes, this very well could appear to be normal. You can feel the collective shrug, the sense that nothing about what happened this year is in any way out of line with one's expectations about how the world of 2016 works."

    Meh. Self promotion by means of outrage is at least as old as the 1960's. And that was, in case you haven't noticed, fifty years ago. The internet is really the least of it.

    Even in Trump's case, the Twitter stuff was by no means the only or even chief vehicle for his outrageous bullshit. Telephoning into cable news, standing and bloviating on what is proclaimed to be a "debate" stage, and even rabble rousing at old fashioned political rallies were all just as, if not more, important to his outrage generation and distribution operation as were the Twitting. And his FB'ing stuff was all second hand, as he can't be arsed to do anything more on line than Tweet.

    Trump is Trump. He was Trump back in the Eighties, before there even was an internet. Social media has nothing to do with it. Trump was Trump on RADIO, for Christ's sake. Being an asshole, in whatever medium is available, is his forte, and why he has succeeded to the extent he has. In life, and in this campaign.

    Republicans like assholes. And Trump is the biggest asshole in the bunch. I'm willing to bet that most of his followers don't even spend much time on line at all, being old folks who watch TV.

    Millenials also seem completely immune to his bullshit. So there's that too. Millenials are also breaking for Hillary, and so the notion that the supposed left wing, "Bernie Bro" version of Trump social media is such a big deal is suspect too.

    Look, the bottom line is that the world has always had more than it needs of bullshit. That was just as true a hundred years ago as it is now.

  • Compare and contrast with the Lincoln-Douglas debates, during one of which Lincoln said something to the effect of, "We've been at this for hours now. Let's take a dinner break and come back to it."

  • I'm back from early voting. The line of voters stretched out of the building and down the road. About 40 minutes into what turned out to be a 45-minute wait a woman joined the guy behind me (cutting into the line that stretched a long ways behind) and immediately began interrogating people about who they were going to vote for. I told her the line ended back *there* and she flipped her wig, screaming that I must be a Hillary supporter and that Hillary was a cunt and whore. Classy… I wonder who she's voting for?

  • 1850s style politics has raised its ugly head. Nothing is new.

    Peggy Noonan calls it a lack of patriotic grace. Some of her writings and books on the subject have been good.

    Although she worked for Reagan, I can easily put up with her. Her early timidity in dealing with Trump is troubling however.

  • In 1980 with the advent of Ronnie I slapped my forehead and yelped, "we're screwed" with no idea how many train wrecks were rolling down the tracks.

  • "Hipster irony has to bear a certain amount of responsibility for a lot of our cultural garbage, and that's not exclusive to any age group."

    Well, it's exclusive to "people Elvis Costello's age and younger", approximately. That's about the point where it really begins in earnest. Part of why we were "screwed" in 1980 is that the "progressive creative class" kept coming up with silly, misguided cultural strategies in the face of the counter-revolution against the '60s (which this all is, of course), which have mostly succeeded in validating that counter-revolution and entrenching themselves as a sort of post-punk alterna-Establishment. No wonder the metalheads are all in for Trump.

  • Emerson Dameron, Timurid et al: WNYC and The Nation are running a meh-ish thumbsucker series called "The United States of Anxiety," about how in this campaign season people feel "their piece of the American Dream is slipping away."

    In the promo for it, an announcer asks: "How did we get from this:
    [voice 1:] 'It's morning again in America…'
    to this:
    [voice 2:] 'I'm glad I'm getting ready to leave this world instead of just coming into it…'

    And I'm thinking: waitaminnit, Voice 2 is a current woman-on-the-street sound bite… but voice 1 is adman/voiceover artist Hal Riney in that horribly successful 1984 Reagan campaign spot.

    Isn't there a profound category error here? Aren't you comparing today's [I'll stipulate] anxious mood not to some alleged confidence of 30 years ago, but to *propaganda created to sell that confidence*..?

    And isn't the answer the "how did we get here" at least in part "because people were gullible enough to accept voice 1 as vox populi, and by now can't tell the difference?"

    This poor old Boomer thought Trow's 'In the Context of No Context' was some kinda brilliant hip meta-meta-ironic meditation, when it was just a clear documentary window into 2016.

  • On mwing's point about spreading easily-disproven crap without caring if it's true or untrue, and Aurora's point about the Chainmail Phenomenon – I've been saying for a while now that it's time for everyone to re-read Frankfurter's "On Bullshit" and Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics"

    Those two, for me, really sum up the major problems of this election.

  • Townsend Harris says:

    Garrison Keillor's radio advertisements for the "Ketchup Advisory Board" are a vicious parody of Hal Riney's 1984 Reagan propaganda: too little, too late, and hardly understood as political parody.
    We are so fucked.

  • Is the Chainmail Phenomenon related to the Plate Armor Breakthrough? ;-)

    Sometimes I think things are as they are because things like *In the Context of No Context* (or *Network* or *Wag the Dog*) get made, and instead of looking for ways to avoid them, we just accept them as the way things will be. It seems we don't even *try* to solve or avoid our problems any more–we just throw up our hands and use "postmodern irony" to cope with them.

    Sometimes I wish our side would get far enough in front of things to try a bit of "selling confidence" ourselves, but when someone tries it, all they get is grief about how we're Not There Yet. We don't even know how to apply pressure properly any more.

  • Speaking of shitposting:

    Summary: "country store" with gas pumps starts posting obscenities in favor of Trump on their huge, neon-lit-up gas signs. Their supplier tells them to stop using their gas signs like that because the supplier (who supplied the signposts) isn't endorsing any candidates. They refuse (because of course they do). The supplier pulls the gas contract. The gas station posts more obscene signs referring to Hillary Clinton and also falling back on the much-debunked "Benghazi!".

    Trump supporters in a nutshell.

  • What I see culturally, worldwide, is the final chapter in psychological manipulation of the public, enabled, strangely, by the interactive nature of the internet, because the average person isn't capable of speaking clearly and logically, and rude responses to stupidity have become the norm. Those rude responses have driven out polite ones.

    'Twas ever thus. Plato was a demagogue, you know.

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