Donald Trump’s success represents more than simply a populist desire to show mass opposition to political orthodoxy, it also shows how what is most outrageous gleans most media coverage and how social media has in many ways over-taken the role once traditionally fulfilled by journalism.
Think of the kind of scandal someone like Trump generates wherever he goes: it’s a combination of unbelievable arrogance, unbelievable soundbites of empty patriotism (Let’s make America great again!), an unbelievable amount of make-up and an unbelievable hair do, plus the mad calls for Putin to release Hillary’s emails (a US presidential candidate encouraging the Russians to get involved in his campaign!), his insane comments about keeping Muslims out of America, the utter horror of his great border wall plans and wild declarations about hitting on married women. And still, yes, incredibly and astonishingly, the great agent provocateur, the sham advocate of the “forgotten people” who made his billions on the very backs of the exploitation of such a group, has somehow brainwashed the electorate into believing in him.
Trump’s triumph is a parable about the power of propaganda, the overwhelming potency of social media in political decision-making and the allure of the outrageous stooge, who at least seems clumsily human and liable to make people laugh amid the often grey and banal realm of politics. In an age when the political class on both sides of the Atlantic has managed to disillusion the masses into apathy or deliberately unconstructive votes for extremists, clowns and racists, this has birthed the perfect environment for the joke candidate to win game, set and match.
Much like Brexit, Trump’s rise is symptomatic of widespread disaffection and frustrated hopes.
This is an era when facts mean little and the disinformation and outlandish memes and gossip filling social media sites like Twitter and Facebook now wield more power than the traditional press. More and more it does not matter one jot what the newspapers think because the bulk of social and political debate happens in the democratic space offered by social media, a network where facts are irrelevant and witty and bitchy commentary predominates to the extent that it ends up deciding matters of political importance as well as defining the culture we live in.
Trump was Machiavellian enough to turn his outrageousness into his most powerful weapon against ‘crooked Hillary’ - the latter being surely one of the only people to have been questioned by the FBI over possible misconduct while at the same time running for the highest office in the western world.
We live now in what we might call a post-fact world, a place where nobody seems to care about what policies a leader is concerned to implement because they are so busy making superficial judgements. It seems that few have contemplated Trump’s moral integrity, because who apparently even considers ethics in a world that venerates vanity, profit and he who shouts loudest, no matter how asinine the sentiments?
His victory shows how scandal and entertainment are two of the most powerful ways to grab hold of public attention. In this post-fact, post-moral, post-common sense, post-everything world, of course the brash overreacher was bound to take the reins of power.