Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The world of now

As I sat there waiting for the vice presidential debate to start tonight, I wondered how we got here — "we" in this case being me and "here" being in my living room waiting for the debate to start.

I said I was going to stay clean this round, but my resolve turned out to be weaker than that which was working against it this political season. This isn't normal politics. This is junk food politics. This is the election equivalent of eating a box of Twinkies. Instead of staying away, I've instead spent my lunch for weeks now scarfing my food while consuming the politics subreddit, watching late night talk show clips, and, when I want to eat my vegetables, retreating to Nate Silver's sanctuary of cautious rationality. I can't look away. Or maybe I don't want to. This is a race tailor-made for the Netflix era, distinguishable from scripted television only in its absurdity. To quote Tom Clancy: "The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."

Earlier today, trawling the internet, I came across a Washington Post profile of a Trump supporter, a woman caught between her circumstances in life and her anger toward them. She had long worked in a man's world. She had long been treated disrespectfully. For a fleeting moment, she had a chance at being recompensed, but then she was screwed over. It wasn't fair. A lot of her life hasn't been fair. She has latched onto this election because this is the first time, perhaps in her entire adult life, that she feels she's not alone. She believes things about our current president and about the state of our county and the state of the world that are incomprehensible. But this election has shown her there are others like her — it's opened up such a world for her that it's not that she's unwilling, but that she can't see that the man she's pinning her hopes on is an augmented replica of the very men who drove her to this path of anxiety and distrustfulness in the first place.

But underneath the paranoia and fury there's something about this woman I get. Without condoning her justifications, I sympathize, empathize even, with her frustration, with her longing for validation, which are neither Republican nor Democratic in origin, but deeper and profoundly human. I can see some of myself in her fear because I've felt a version of it myself. This entire election cycle I've been thinking that the way I feel about Donald Trump must be the way so many people feel about Barack Obama. And then I think, but no, because my fears are real and theirs aren't...but of course they think the same about me. If I was scared of our president, and if life had dumped on me at every turn, and if I didn't have the support to pick myself up, who's to say I wouldn't think a little more like the woman in the article does? The tragedy isn't in the Republican nominee; it's that her story is commonplace enough to have elevated him.

To talk about that, however, is throwing substance into a race that is flourishing without it. Another thing I've been thinking about this cycle is how our nation would cope if the race was boring, or if the outcome was never in question. Presidential elections are both prime entertainment and big business for those in the position of feeding them to the masses. The first presidential debate was the most-watched in history.

Tonight's debate, however, is unlikely to set any records. Watching two politician-looking men debate the issues in a traditional way during a vice presidential debate feels...antiquated. Or, at the very least, tedious in comparison to the fireworks I see each night on the evening news. My attention has slid from that screen to this one as I write this...

And again I wonder, how did we get here?

Graphic source.

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