I’ve been… creatively constipated recently, and if I don’t get this out of my system, I won’t be able to move on. So, sorry, we’re talking politics today. FGC and Pilotwings Resort will return on Friday.
Also, trigger warning, every damn thing that has happened in the last year.
I feel like the 2016 election fundamentally broke… everything.
First, to be clear, I’m not talking about the obvious here. President Trump has been in office for a solid ten months as of this writing, and, yes, the world has become… unmoored as a result. It is crazy what has been normalized: we are literally currently in a situation wherein people are begging Twitter to deactivate the president’s account so as to prevent nuclear armageddon. That, somehow, is not an exaggeration. We also have Nazis that have been empowered by recent political dealings, a nigh-weekly fight to keep healthcare for our most in need, and, gosh, can we find a “cute” third thing? Oh yeah, the Vice President’s two main traits seem to be significant homophobia/misogyny and a tendency to be immediately offended by public performances. And, through it all, President Donald Trump has never stopped campaigning.
And it’s that last part that scares me.
At this point, I’ve only really been “awake” for three presidents: Clinton, Bush Jr., and Obama. Before that, I was technically around for Bush Sr. and Reagan, but the concept of “president” was about as serious as “daddy’s boss” or “guy in the Big Bird costume” (note: I assume that any given president was not, at any point, my father’s boss or Big Bird). But I came to be politically aware in the midst of White Water and white stains on dresses, and I was most “involved” in politics during the Bush Jr. days, when I was pretty convinced the entire world had gone crazy. We were at war! With… some random country that was at least tangentially related to a terrorist sect that attacked us? That… still comes off as peculiar, and the fact that it was unanimously supported at the time made me feel like the country was beyond my understanding. Actually, no, I take that back. We were a country fueled by vengeance against anybody, and I can completely understand how a group of people reeling from a significant slight would rail against anyone they even perceived as a threat. I don’t condone it, but I fundamentally understand it. But then we had Obama, seemingly the answer to those war-torn times, who… okay, the war never ended, but at least it seemed like that wasn’t the focus of the administration. Sure, Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize for the accomplishment of not being W., but the important thing was that Obama was more intellectual than warmonger, and there was a very real feeling that he’d at least try to heal the world with words instead of bombs.
And you know who I don’t remember being mentioned at all during those administrations? Bob Dole. Al Gore. Mitt Romney. John McCain. … I just had to look up John Kerry because I forgot who even ran against Bush in 2004. Occasionally, you’ll still hear a name or two from the loser patrol because they’re promoting some crazy thing like abolishing healthcare or actual science, but, by and large, post election, the presidential loser was done, banished forever to the annals of Washington DC apocrypha, and that was that. End of story. Let’s move on with our lives.
So it’s vaguely disconcerting that Donald Trump is still talking about his “opponent” Hilary Clinton, a woman who lost the election nearly a full year ago. And, since Trump is talking about it, the media has to talk about it. And since the media is talking about it, we have to talk about it, and that means that somehow I still have to hear from neanderthals that her handling of Puerto Rico would be, “Just as bad.”
This frightens me.
We’re all 100% aware that the 2016 election was terrible. Full disclosure? I was planning on having an “election” themed video FGC article, with two well known games campaigning against each other for “best”. You know the drill: both games starting out with “here’s why you should vote for me” followed by a descent into mudslinging and maybe one game would be revealed to have been involved in some scandal. Hoary old clichés all around. I scripted out the early bits, but by the time it would have been relevant, I was… tired. I was tired of the mudslinging. I was tired of the press reporting on every time Donald insulted the handicapped or bragged about how rape was fun. I was tired of the Republican Party repeatedly denouncing Trump before lining up to kiss his ring. And, most of all, I was just plain tired of the ubiquitousness of it all; that it felt all-encompassing, from my radio to my television to my Facebook feed.
Though one of these things is not like the others: turns out my Facebook feed may have been compromised.
It’s becoming more and more obvious that Russia had a significant hand in the 2016 election. As has been confirmed by the big F itself, Facebook generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from ads about the American election that just happened to have been submitted from Mother Яussia. What’s more, it now appears that these ads infiltrated other sites, such as Twitter, Google (Ads), and, for anybody that really cares about pictures of dogs, Instagram. And the ads weren’t simply “Vote Trump” or “Make America Great Again”, these were ads that were deliberately targeted to sway swing voters that may have voted for Clinton. The basic gist of it is pretty familiar: “they’re both just as bad” so may as well stay home and hope rural Pennsylvania makes the right choice. And the kicker is that it worked: statistically, more democrats stayed home than republicans, and, even though Trump got 3K less votes than Obama in 2012 (and, uh, 3k less votes than Clinton), he became president because he got more republican votes in more specific states. Gosh, sure would be significant if those states were intentionally targeted by foreign countries.
In fact, that’s the scary thing. I can’t fault Facebook, Google, or Twitter for taking money from foreign powers in order to distinctly influence our government, because we’ve created these monsters, it seems gauche to ask them to stop murdering the villagers now. It’s capitalism, baby, and if Russia wants to pay for Trump to gain power, let ‘em, their rubles are always good here. And, let’s be honest, there is nothing we can do to stop such a thing. Pumping cash into foreign governments and businesses is nothing new, just go ahead and ask Central America about North America’s policy on international interference.
No, what truly seems bothersome about this event is that we so completely fell for it.
Look, I know Russia didn’t invent bipartisan politics. And I know we’re all team players, so it is easy to fall into an “us against them” mentality that completely deadlocks discussion and useful debate. I know all of that is human behavior to a T, and stoking the flames of that already raging fire is about as difficult as getting racist Uncle Jerry to use the n-word (“… What did he just call his hash browns? Is that prejudiced?”). But the specific methods used, the specificity of “hate this woman that is running for president” has somehow lingered like the no doubt pungent odor of our current president in his soiled khakis. It might not have worked on everybody, but enough people took the bait, and now we still have to hear from a commander in chief that is begging for “equal time” a year after the election ended.
And the kicker is that is that it’s going to keep happening. Facebook, Google, and all the rest have added one new thing to the formula: they’re global. No more can we count on radio or television ads to have at least been produced by America-based companies that have a vested interest in seeing our country not literally explode. No, now we have other countries that can group together a couple of part timers, crank out some memes, and, Goggle Bob’s your uncle, ~emails~ becomes the scariest word in the English language. This doesn’t take much, and the same budget and techniques that will get you to drink sugar water daily can now get you to elect a president that comes off as more senile than the last fetishized republican president that was also an actor. And we have no defense against this kind of advertising! If we think information is coming from a “trusted source”, we trust it implicitly. Think I’m crazy? Just go ahead and tell that to any McDonald’s employee that had to live through Szechwan Sauce Wars. Thousands of perfectly well adjusted nerds transformed into screaming lunatics because a funny cartoon man told them that a corn syrup package from twenty years back was somehow worthwhile. The nerds trusted the funny cartoon man! They drove hours to honor his luscious sugary juices! You better believe the same kind of thinking applies to real issues like gun control (“They’ll take away our guns!”), healthcare (“Obamacare is bad for some reason!”), and general race relations (“Uppitiness is happening on the football field!”). We are a nation of suckers, and Trump is living proof of such a fact.
And that’s why I feel like we’re just… broken. Nothing is going to change that. We can call our senators, we can protest in the streets, we can take a knee whenever possible, but it’s still going to pale to the sheer inertial force of an advertising campaign that stopped being relevant a year ago. They’re still chanting “lock her up”, they’re still talking about Clinton like she’s some kind of rival to the president, and they’re still posting every damn “wow shocking if true” story that comes down the pipe. A nation that basically lives by the philosophy “if I can’t be skinny, then please make my friends fat” did its best to sneak cookies into our nutritious boxed lunches, and now nobody wants to go to the gym anymore. We can still fight! We can absolutely fight! But… I don’t think this is going to get better. Our politics are national, our commerce is international, and now the overlap is biting us all in the ass. And “change” is such a three letter word, we can’t even get away from friggin’ coal, so our prospects look dim. And, oh yeah, an idiot is in charge, so that can’t really help anybody.
And… that’s it? I don’t know, I mean, I really want there to a moral here. I want to be able to say “go call your senators” and affect some meaningful change or… something. But, no, that honestly feels like a lie. What’s broken here is broken, and nothing that has happened in the last two years gives me any sort of hope that we could even identify the problem fast enough to solve it. A foreign power set us against each other, and we’re still continuing that same useless bickering to this very day. I guess… be better?
Yeah, that’s the ticket. Be better. Do better. Ask yourself why you’re doing something, and if the answer is a response to something you saw on Facebook, maybe don’t do it. Consider what you’re doing, consider why you’re doing it, and… just be considerate. Be better, and maybe things will get better.
And maybe, one day, what is broken can be fixed.