Reality bites – Jan. 2020

And so we come to a day or two of “Question Time” or something during the third ever “impeachment trial,” in this case of “President” Donald John Trump, when the issue of “calling witnesses” may have spun beyond Senate Majority Leader Mitch “Dick Turtle” McConnell’s control, at least for the moment. Although, I tend to believe (1) there won’t be any witnesses called and (2) the impeachment “trial” will be promptly terminated by a majority vote entirely along party lines, because (3) we aren’t remotely a “democratic” country (if we ever were).
So I thought this would be a pretty good moment to step back a bit, and look at WTF is going on here. The impeachment as it is now configured is about Trump’s call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky which has now spun into a scandal leading to impeachment. Hilariously, both Trump and Zelensky played t.v. characters prior to their current role, failed conman and huckster Trump pretending to be a successful businessman and Zelensky pretending to be [wait for it] the President of Ukraine. So far so good, except that Ukraine is engaged in a bloody fight with Russian-backed insurgents in the Eastern part of its country (you will recall that Russia already annexed Crimea, previously part of Ukraine), and Ukraine receives significant American military aid to assist in that fight. It is really not disputed that Trump was all ready to “impound” or block that aid, at the time he spoke to Zelensky last August. And so, Trump had his call, asking for “a favor” from the Ukrainian president, that favor being an investigation that would implicate former USA Vice President and Democratic front-runner Joe Biden and his son Hunter (who at one time worked for a Ukrainian oil company called Borisma). This favor implicitly involved a hostage situation with the military aid, the ransom being announcement of an investigation involving the Bidens. This seems pretty clear, whether or not the words “quid pro quo” (with a silent “Clarice”) were actually uttered.
So far so good. Despite Trump’s own not-at-all-credible protestations, these facts really aren’t in dispute. The “witnesses” that seem to be the basis of the (unfortunately) process based Democratic prosecution of Mr. Trump would more or less further corroborate what I just said, but again, I will go out on a limb and say “so what?”
For his part, Trump is hoping that polls that show as many as 55% of the public favoring his removal from office won’t really matter because those aren’t the numbers in a few critical swing states (PA, MI, WI, OH, FL, NC and IA, for example), and he may even be right about that.
The fundamental problem would seem to be how American voters make their decision as to which candidates to vote for (to the extent their votes even matter given the absurdity of an “Electoral College” that turns one person one vote on its head), and far more disturbingly and importantly, whether to vote at all. It is hard to argue with the voters when the harsh reality is that they are mostly an irrelevance to actual policy (i.e., the USA is more of an oligarchy than a democracy.) Or to the point, the rich will never permit their money to be taxed away for social programs in “our democracy”, unless they also perceive a benefit to themselves. Nonetheless, in terms of basic economic and social safety net programs (including protections for workers, the environment, children, racial minorities, etc.), as imperfect as they are, the Democratic party tends to favor a broader spectrum of society, and the Republican party tends to favor the narrower interests of business, particularly big business.
And so we come back to why people vote the way they do. It is a truism that “culture wars” issues (gun control, abortion and gay marriage being among the more frequently discussed) cause the regional divides between “coastal elite” states (generally the East Coast north of Virginia and the entire West Coast except for Alaska) favoring Democrats, and the South and large parts of the Midwest and Mountain West favoring the Republicans. Donald Trump’s election also causes one to wonder how much pure racism is a decisive factor in this as well. But I still think something more fundamental is going on, at a molecular level.
And then an image popped into my head. A double image, actually, a front and back. As a marathoner runner, I get to run in places that few others are permitted to be, at least as pedestrians. One race that permitted such an unusual view is the Disney World Marathon, run each January. I happened to run it about eight years ago. A number of things come to mind (besides running it in Mickey Mouse ears instead of my usual Brooklyn Dodgers cap); many runners were in some kind of Disney branded attire. The course winds through each of the four theme parks that together constitute “Disney World,” being in no particular order, “the Magic Kingdom,” “Epcot,” “Disney’s Hollywood Studios,” and “Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park.” But as a preliminary matter, the course starts on a service road which is a good walk from the Epcot parking lot where runners are asked to park, and in the middle of the night which, even in Florida, can be cold in January. And it seems to be in some kind of forest (I would say “mangrove forest,” but I really have no idea). Anyway, it’s got over 26 miles to cover, and you can only wind around the theme parks so many times, so needless to say, most of the course is on these service roads, and so you get to see things like maintenance areas and waste treatment (including water and sewage treatment) facilities applicable to the theme parks, and in short, the “infrastructure” that few if any regular park goers will encounter.
The more “memorable” part of the course (aside from opportunities to stop and take selfies with Disney characters, who are all over the course) is the portion of the course that takes you into the famous theme parks themselves. And obviously, running through Cinderella’s castle (in the Magic Kingdom) is cool, as is running through the main parks at a time when most of them aren’t even open to the public yet. But what I remember of particular relevance to this discussion took place, appropriately, in Disney’s Hollywood Studios park. And specifically, it was because the course went behind a street scene and, unsurprisingly, what appeared to be complete buildings on the “street” side of the scene were revealed in actuality to be nothing more than supported facades when viewed from behind. Similarly, the second story on “Main Street USA” (in “Disneyland,” at least, though I think it applies to the one in the Magic Kingdom”) is only about 5/8 or so of a full story high, because the eye adjusts to forced perspective.
And so here we get to the ultimate irony of American life, and yes, it is of critical important to the engineering (and yes, that’s what it is) of our “democracy” (which, as you know, is a “sort of” democracy). Disney World, were it a country, would be the most visited country in the world, at least by Americans; in any event, it is, by far, the most visited vacation spot on Earth. Obviously, it is “easier” to take a domestic flight of a few hours to Florida to see cleverly constructed imitations of the world’s treasures (as in “Epcot center,” which is literally that) than to take longer and more expensive trips to see “the real thing” (which include other inconveniences, such as the United States being the only industrial country without mandatory paid vacations). But Americans are trained not to even want the real thing: the fake is so much more “authentic” to Americans (seeing as it is designed with American stereotypes in mind).
Flash forward to our current circumstance. An actual “reality television star”- Donald J. Trump, a man playing a businessman on a t.v. show (because his actual record as a businessman ranged between “bad” and “disastrous”) and the only man ever elected President without either holding government office or at least possessing significant military experience- has assumed the Presidency, largely on the strength of the American media having selected him because it and it alone decided that the “reality star” was “entertaining” and would be good for “ratings” (if, ironically, very bad for the actual bottom lines of television networks and entities dependent on paid advertising.) And, given that American presidential elections have been reduced to bad theater (think visits to diners in Iowa and New Hampshire and “man in the street” interviews with folksy sounding people holding guns and wearing cowboy hats) as played out in a small handful of “swing” states, there is a strong possibility that these swing state voters will still back him, despite the distaste of an absolute majority of most people in the USA. Amazingly, the bad theater of Donald J. Trump addressing rallies of paid supporters wearing “MAGA” hats (with his unique off the cuff “two minutes hate” stretched out to a couple of hours of emotional crescendo in the best Joseph Goebbels style presentation he can muster) continues to appeal to a still large, albeit aging (and mostly white) portion of the American demographic.
Did I have a point? I never know anymore; I have suggested in my own recently published book, “Donald J. Putin on American Exceptionalism,” that one of the great “advancements” was “engineered consent” as conjured up by Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays (“father of public relations”) who pioneered much of what we now understand advertising to be. For full context, one can also understand “political framing” as discussed in my own interview with linguist and expert on the subject George Lakoff.
Simply put, we are being primed for suicide, and our instinctual responses, based on being hominids out on the African savannah or the MesoAmerican jungle or some other survival situation much closer to reality than the modern electronically mediated “life style,” are being played back against us for the purpose of enslaving, and as necessary, destroying us. And not for some sinister “Illuminati” like cabal, but simply for profit (and power). The beneficiaries of this arrangement are even people we are well aware of, to whom we willingly hand our most intimate personal details. The rich and powerful seized on the government-created Wild West platform created by the internet and world wide web (yours truly began this here blogging adventure in September 2001, after the “internet bubble,” but before FaceBook and Twitter, and in the early days of Google, Apple and Amazon). And, with “smart phones” perfected, most First World-ers now walk around spending most of their lives staring at bouncing electrons on tiny screens. I am guilty of this too, so I won’t get all holier than thou about it.
In short, our instincts are played against us by a technology believed by many to be as addictive as cocaine. We get our dopamine rewards (or whatever the mechanism is) from our little screens, which in turn, we use in lieu of reality, even as reality often ends up hitting us at about 45 miles per hour.
So, back to Disney. The Disney “imagineers,” given how much money they make from the whole damned thing, could, quite easily have built their city-scape (or “Main Street USA”) to a perfect one to one scale, probably using vintage materials and vintage artisans to do it! But they have determined two things: (1) they do work for a profit-making company, and it is much cheaper both to build and to maintain simulacra of buildings than it is actual buildings (and besides, the real “views” of it will all be from outside anyway), and (2) the modern human mind has been primed to appreciate the fake more than the real, especially when we get into the realm of “experiential.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise that virtual reality technology companies are already in the tens of billions in terms of market capitalization. As they get their game on, people will prefer their products to actual reality too (if they don’t already).
And so here we are. I mean to neither underplay nor overplay the importance of the national election in just over 10 months time: quadrennial American elections are always important. But Donald J. Trump does seem a special case: as I predicted he would, Trump not only won but engaged in the unchecked right-wing feeding frenzy I knew he would. If he wins a second time, he will be entirely unchecked by the prospect of another election. I’ll stay away from implications of whether or not he is an actual Russian asset or merely a fan-boy of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he is an unabashed right-winger, and has introduced racism, bigotry, misogyny, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia (particularly directed at people of color) in a way we haven’t seen here at the national level in perhaps a century or more.
So… it seems important. And so, the fact that much of the public’s understanding of all reality, as well as political reality in particular, is mediated through the “experiences” they have while staring at the bouncing electrons on their electronic devices, images that can literally alter the depiction of reality at the speed of light, and present platforms that have a staggeringly bad record of presenting false information, seems even more troubling. While my own “Libtard” credentials are, I hope, pretty solid, I am not making a partisan point here; I am suggesting only that opinions should have some bearing in reality, whether or not I agree with those opinions. And in 2020, it seems, many if not most opinions… aren’t grounded in reality.
And it seems that a moment when the USA’s White House has an unprecedented “disruptor” like Mr. Trump, whose response to well-established norms is to ignore and/or smash them, the national decision (even via the highly flawed and disjointed one via the obsolete and affirmatively anti-democratic and as of 2020, at least IMHO, extremely dangerous electoral college) should at least be based on actual reality, and not on what bouncing electrons tell us reality is.
Sermon over. Go back to your regularly scheduled electronic devices.