By Dr David Laing Dawson
A depressing explanation for the existence of Donald Trump as a viable candidate for a position held by Lincoln, Eisenhower, F.D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.
Disparate data supports this hypothesis:
- I have some patients, teenagers, 20 somethings, who spend almost every waking hour in front of one or two or even three screens, absorbing Youtube Videos, Reality TV shows, and gaming. Some sleep at random times, and bathroom breaks and grabbing some food from the refrigerator are minimal, random, and treated as an interruption.
- Some years ago mental health professionals were so influenced by film and television that “multiple personality disorder” migrated from being a theatrical device to a real syndrome.
- One teenager I have seen told me she did not identify as specifically male or female. And then she went on to tell me that in fact she did not identify as human.
Two hundred years ago the average person lived within and experienced reality for 99% of his or her waking hours. Perhaps he or she listened to a storyteller once per week.
Books do transport us to imaginary places populated with imaginary people, but to make a book come alive, the writing must be clear and we must use our own imagination to visualize the pirate ship, the colony on Mars, the monster in the swamp. The boundaries between literary fiction and the reader’s reality remain reasonably intact at all times. At least after grade 6.
Perhaps our ancestors in the 18th and 19th century were transported to fictional experiences as often as once per week at a theater, and once per week at a church. But no more than that.
With radio in the 20th century this transportation increased, and the power of it is evident in the consequences of Orson Welles’ broadcast of War of the Worlds.
Still, absorption into a fictional universe occurred, at most, and for most, a few hours per week.
Then came television, and we couch potatoes expanded that to perhaps 20 hours per week.
And now new media, smart phones, tablets, internet, plus television and film, and a whole generation has grown up with their waking hours being divided evenly between a virtual reality (fiction and spectacle and gaming), and reality, and for some the balance has made a profound tilt toward fiction and virtual reality.
So I am wondering if Donald Trump owes his current success to a demographic that can no longer make, can no longer see clearly, the distinction between entertainment and reality, between spectacle and thought, between the absence of real consequences to bad ideas and decisions in virtual reality and the tragedies that bad decisions cause in the real world.
The proposed high wall between the US and Mexico may be a specific symptom of this confluence of reality and virtual reality. In a computer game such a wall can be built quickly and easily, the cost assigned to one’s opponents. It fulfills its purpose or not. It is breached or not. It can be torn down as easily as it was put up. Even if we go bankrupt and our warrior is killed, we simply push the reset button. That ain’t reality.
Donald Trump is a spectacle, a fiction, a celebrity. He is entertaining. He appeals to the petulant child in all of us. We don’t worry about the consequences of his leadership, his stupid statements, his endless lies, because this is just a TV show, a Youtube video, a game. He is a harmless Avatar, and a guilty pleasure. Vicariously we can be The Donald for a while, enjoying his billions, his jets, his mansions, his trophy wife, his freedom to say whatever comes to mind, his freedom from guilt, from anxiety, from empathy. We needn’t think about the real consequences of his candidacy because the season isn’t over yet. And it is just a game show after all.