The chaotic swirl of information, anger, conflict, identity, performance, and trivia that characterizes Trump’s governance also characterizes the mediums that created him. For all the talk of normalizing Trump, it was our normalization of the platforms he thrived on — reality television, cable news, and Twitter — that made Trump possible. Could Trump have won the Republican primary and the presidency in the days before he could call into cable news shows at will, get his rallies carried live on television, drive media coverage from the comfort of his Twitter account? Could he have won if we hadn’t come to see our politicians as entertainers, to believe conflict the true story of governance, to connect the quantity of media coverage with the quality of candidates? I doubt it.
“To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple,” Postman warned.
We have been, to our credit, alert to the dangers of Orwellian tyranny. We have been much less vigilant against the threat of Huxleyan distraction. Trump manages the government clumsily, but he controls public attention masterfully. He is showing, daily, how the truth can be drowned under a sea of irrelevance, how easily the defense of the indefensible can go down if it is cast as entertainment.