Our judgments when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile.
When the going gets rough, I sometimes like to retreat to simpler times. It’s always a sense of comfort that draws me back to some of the original science fiction television and films that promised me temporary relief outside of my own present reality.
Once such show was Sliders. The premise was based on an accidental creation of a timing device that produced a wormhole by young scientist Quinn Mallory, played by Jerry O’Connell. Each episode, a new wormhole transported Quinn and his three travel companions to an infinite number of planet Earths. Always the same planet, but anything else was up for grabs.
When I had barely woken up, three days ago, still in bed, my wife advised me of the news that Donald Trump was the new President of the United States. I must admit, a large part of me wondered if I had somehow slipped into a parallel universe overnight. The uneasy feeling, like most tragic events, though slowly seeping in and finding way for acceptance, still remains to some extent. I attempt to process articles, watch news reports and listen to pontificating pollster experts, who after having nearly all predicted a Hillary win, now remind everyone that the present outcome was always, at least, a possibility.
In order to better make sense of our current predicament, it’s important to realize how we got here. When Trump announced his candidacy, in his own brass accented building and surrounded by paid actors, he insulted an entire country. He would go on to build a platform based on building a giant wall along the southern border of the United States. He would promise to ban an entire religion from entering the country. He wasn’t taken seriously by many people, myself included. Trump would remain a punchline for many. A minor distraction that you could chuckle and sigh over as you sipped your morning coffee.
And yet Trump’s crowds grew. Excited, white and rural, sporting Make America Great Again baseball caps inside stadiums. Although Trump, his advisers, spokespeople and fan base were all deeply critical of the mainstream media, they were all extremely savvy at manipulating it, generating headlines on a daily basis. What crazy thing did Trump say, or do that day? They wrote about it, we read it. And while many shook their heads, thinking each day he had solidified his demise, he was also building a secret fan base of disaffected people, drawn to his shoot from the hip, celebrity-ism.
I live in Toronto, which is largely seen as a progressive, multicultural beacon. And yet, for several years we had a booze swilling, crack smoking, homophobic captain at the helm of our CN towered ship. Ford, like Trump, grew up privileged and yet carved out a fan base of blue collar joes, who also felt neglected and ignored and who also appreciated his plain style of seemingly unrehearsed, off the cuff communication. Ford and his people also held a strong distaste for the media, despite also generating headlines by outlandish statements and behaviour on a near daily basis.
While Ford promised lower taxes and a leaner council expenditure, Trump’s campaign largely employed the time tested politics of fear. And while many Canadians may be shaking their heads at the election news, feeling smug, knowing our PM is probably the coolest leader at the moment, it may be wise to remember who our previous head honcho at the national level was beforehand.
Stephen Harper, like both US presidential candidates, was deeply unpopular. Yet he was able to get himself elected not once, but twice. And not just on a promise of lowering taxes and de-centralizing the federal government. His election campaigns also based a huge priority on a tough stance on crime and terrorism, despite a steady falling crime rate.
Using fear to manipulate voters is a time tested, proven weapon. It’s a dirty trick, but it will work on the uneducated, or perhaps more importantly, on the ill or misinformed, over and over again.
Fifteen years after America was attacked by passenger airliners, the world seems as unsafe as ever. Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria hasn’t just produced untold numbers of civilian deaths. It’s produced a steady stream of refugees seeking shelter from seemingly unstoppable, unending, unwinnable wars. The threat of refugees is what many are blaming for the Brexit debacle. Once again, a rural uneducated populous are misled into thinking their jobs will be stolen. That crime and terrorism threatens to strike at any given moment.
The threat of terrorism, mass, unchecked immigration and the potential for big government to take their guns away is what the Trump campaign seized upon. But there were other reasons why Trump got the support he needed. Some people got tired of more of the same. They want a new sheriff in town to get rid of the old posse that has been pilfering from good, honest, hard working folk.
But when 53% of white women vote for a leader who bragged about grabbing them by the genitals, rather than for the first female candidate to run for the office of Presidency – it doesn’t just point to a broken system. It points to a broken society.
So where do we go from here? Well, for starters, we should probably listen to each other a bit more. Get informed about candidates. Register to vote. And make sure you exercise your right to vote. Every. Single. Time. 2016 has seen the lowest voter turnout in twenty years. One wonders how different the election results might have been if more people had stepped up to the ballots.
If you had been watching this latest US presidential campaign over the last few months, you know how difficult it was to take in. Widely seen as contemptuous and chalk full of insults, untruths and unhinged animosity. The candidates rarely made eye contact with one another, let alone shook hands like most civilized humans. Perhaps, in order to maintain the public’s interest in future presidential campaigns, we need to go several steps further.
The week prior to the election in the States, the two highest rated tv shows included the NFL football game between Minnesota and Chicago, and the latest episode of The Walking Dead. Next election, I propose both party candidates fight each other in a gladiator style match.
It could be a reality television special incorporating football players, zombies and a wide variety of non-leathal weapons. No holds barred. Winner takes the white house. Maybe then, finally, people will start to pay attention and get engaged with politics again. In a world where Ultimate Fighting Championship has gone mainstream, governments need to find a way to connect with it’s disaffected, distracted populace. Maybe it’s finally time to bring back gladiators. In the meantime, I’ll be in my basement laboratory, working on my own wormhole escape plan.
In season one, episode seven of Sliders, entitled “The Weaker Sex”, while watching a television at an outside newsagents, the central characters gape, mouths open at the revelation that Hillary Clinton is President of the United States on this alternate timeline.
What an unthinkable concept, right?
Top image by Chicago based artist, Mitch O’Connell, based on the cult film They Live. Buy his tshirt here.