Here’s What Clickbait has Done to Democracy so far
When core human values are words that have lost their meaning
Our reality is the sum of all the choices we make, starting with the words we use to describe and document it. Right now, our reality is very much askew. We are trapped in a Billy Joel song, either Big Shot or Honesty, the latter a concept so corrupted by Trumpism it has come to mean the exact opposite.
Instead, honesty now embodies the zeitgeist of deceit, delusion, and ultimately dumb.
Between Honest Trump who, unlike any other politician in the history of US politics — allegedly — tells it like it is because he isn’t a politician but a straight-talking business tycoon and Honest Alex Jones who claims being honest as his superpower, the last four years have drastically expanded the definitions of some of the words we use to refer to core human values. Honesty has gone toxic and turned into a red flag to watch out for. Never mind that politicians have never been known for telling the truth anyway while sales people have their ways for making it appear as flexible as your budget allows.
Trump billed himself as a successful businessman the American people propelled to the White House purely on merit. That he was the also-ran in the popular vote didn’t stop him from closing the biggest deal of his life and getting appointed CEO of America Inc. in 2016 or cramp his style.
The rest is storytelling and Photoshop as Trump continues to teach an entire internet how to stay on brand and on message if you want to get to the top like him, be that the business top, the wealth top, the power top. The toppest of most terrific tops where other tops fear to tread. No one does branding like the guy who sticks his name on everything, from steak, to buildings, to a university, to golf resorts to an entire country, if we let him. He is to branding what Goebbels was to communication, there’s a ruthless persistence in always being either right or wronged.
As deep financial insecurity continues to terrorize households, those whose income was already irregular and unpredictable are in hell. Maybe there’s not even an income anymore and the stimulus check ran out months ago.
This leaves us fragile, exposed, and vulnerable.
Enter predatory capitalism.
More than likely, you’ve by now come across or even interacted with content writers who allege you can print money by writing on the internet just like them. And as long as you’re prepared to write on the internet about how much money you can make by writing about making money on the internet, you stand a chance of succeeding, regardless of veracity, verifiability, or indeed volition.
Not your jam? No jam for you then, no butter, and probably no bread either.
When you’re hungry, you’ll do what it takes, your brain will fight its way forward and through, making innumerable compromises along the way. But is any work better than no work when what might earn you money is also what could cost America its democracy? I have a personal and ancestral problem with fascism so I spent July 4, 2019 writing about my pen pal the Nazi, a living relic from the Hitler Youths.
The marketers say timing is everything, don’t they?
Writing for a living in the age of Trump has been about finding the mental, emotional, and intellectual wherewithal to keep going, determined not to let language be gutted of meaning, not to let the internet be gutted of connectedness, and not to let our shared humanness be gutted of basic common decency.
Whether all our defiant words were enough not to let America be gutted of democracy as well is still too early to tell. The culture that anointed Trump king of everything and promoted the greed, grift, and gullibility he embodies and inspires spawned many monsters. Perhaps it was a malfunction, perhaps it was designed to work that way? We don’t know yet and we won’t know for a while but allowing for doubt is an approach that allows for the alternative we desperately need.
All we know is that the zeitgeist never stopped us writing words that call it out and it shouldn’t stop anyone, least of all those who have benefited from it.
There’s no deadline to embrace accountability.
What’s authenticity and what’s marketing? If you, too, feel like the odd one out among all those honest impostors who are honestly invested in us believing that they are, in fact, absolutely not taking advantage of the age of honest greed and honest grift, well, honestly, what can you do?
Scammers will not admit the errors of their ways but instead move on to a next scam, tying your brain up in knots with yet another Napoleon Hill quote, and playing victim. Trump does the same thing. When anything doesn’t go his way, he immediately alleges it’s not fair. If someone displeases him, he throws them under the bus. According to him, the election was rigged long before it started so he could set out fabricating evidence to support his latest crackpot theory. When the results come, hopefully the world will sleep soundly for one night, having averted immediate danger.
And then we’ll need to find the words to talk to one another as fellow humans again, even when we disagree on almost everything, including what writing is and what power words have.
The values of the words we write with curiosity, courage, and the intent to communicate is in the connections we make, the ideas we exchange, and the culture we create together.
The tools that have propagated the zeitgeist can also eradicate it.
Hello, my name is Kitty, I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird.