I have been trying for some time to convey some ideas about how humans function in society. I think that the way we communicate is determinant on how we interpret the society in which we live. The invention of writing, its transformation into an open system, the printing press, electronic media have all been different stages that have opened or closed spaces to ideas that are always there, but that don’t blossom in any communications scheme.
Moving from simple language to writing allowed us to build religions, first local and then universal, which gave ideological support to large population centers and their territorial domains. Printing multiplied the flow of ideas and thus made the survival of religion more difficult and the progress of reason much easier. Electronic media destroyed it, and replaced it with sensations (feelings), which have been the essence of the last century. Now we enter a new stage, with information and communications technologies, especially social networks (media).
In each of the transitions we had moments of great violence. It can be seen in the beginning of the cities, 6,000 years ago, and even more in the transit to a more open system (in the West, the alphabet) 3,500 years ago. Shortly after the invention of the printing press, we had terrible wars, which took more than 30% of the population in much of Europe. Shortly after the (sound) film and radio started, came the great slaughters of the twentieth century: World War II, the millions of deaths of Stalin and Mao, and all that followed.
You’d think we’ve learned, but no. The transition to new forms of communication, which has been in process for several years, implies that previous ideas cease to be fruitful, while others try to replace them. In this passage, uncertainty grows, and fear grows with it. It is that fear what some people use to gain power. Thousands of years ago, they were anonymous leaders, five hundred years ago they were religious leaders. Just a century ago they were nationalist and communist leaders. Today, they are media leaders, celebrities with large communicational ability, and few scruples.
Five hundred years ago, the collapse of religion was the source of wars; in the last century, it was the collapse of reason, distorted to support eugenesic Nationalsocialism and “liberating” Communism. The essence of electronic media is sensations, and that’s what its been disfigured in order to reach power. The religious leaders of half a millennium ago believed to be returning to the roots of the Church; politicians a century ago were certain they were giving reason its true social dimension; media celebrities today believe they are in real connection with the feelings of their followers.
Notice that we have today a World region with five hundred years of backwardness, for which reason itself is a threat; we have another in which the utmost rigor of former Soviet planning is applied through a mafia bureaucracy; there is a third one that has passed all stages almost tangentially, using the figure of an emperor who was at times son of heaven, communist, and the subject of personality cult. Maybe he is all of them right now.
It is in the fourth region where change is being experienced. There has been some advance in Europe for these media-political leaders, but there is nothing comparable to the threat posed by Donald J. Trump. Although damage has been done, it can’t be compared to what would happen if he wins the presidential election.
The US presidential election is the most important event in decades. A triumph of Donald J. Trump may be more relevant than the defeat of the Soviets (1989-1991) since it would start a very different historical stage. Although many insist that damage has been done ayway, I believe that whatever has happened until now, it’s not comparable to what a Trump’s victory would deliver.
We don’t know for certain who votes for Trump, but there are some relevant data. First, Trump vote comes mostly from men, and among them, those who considered themselves “white”. That, by itself, is not a clear indicator, since most of the states that Trump can win do not have a large proportion of “non-whites”. Although the USA is a fairly plural country, diversity is larger closer to the sea, and fades inland, where Republicans are stronger. The concentration of Trump vote on less educated “white” men has been interpreted as an economic issue: it is thought that they are those that suffered most from the economic transformation over the last forty years. It may be a part of the explanation, but it’s far from being complete. What seems to be behind the vote is more a sense of lost status, which provokes fear, that is frequently transformed into anger. It’s not an unusual psychologycal process.
Secondly, there is a significant proportion of Trump voters that do not seem to understand what he means. That’s nothing unusual either, the same happens with all candidates in all elections: there is a “hard vote” that do not even watch the news. In the United States, that vote may account for 40% for each of the major parties, and the election is decided by that small additional percentage which changes according to the candidate and his/her campaign. No doubt that in this case Trump has lost some of that hard vote, especially among women, “nonwhite” and educated people, but that loss seems to have been offset by extreme groups that don’t vote at other times, but now they will. That group is what concerns us all: it’s formed by racists, paramilitaries, misfits.
I do not think that most Trump voters are like that, and therefore I don’t think that the damage done so far is decisive. But that will change if he wins. The bandwagon effect, the power of government, and the sense of triumph and impunity of those misfits may become a permanent and profound harm. And what is at stake is not The Wall at the border, it is American democracy, which is among the oldest and most established of the world. What is at stake, to put it simply, is modern Western civilization.
I have told you how humans function in society and how processing the large transformations has been very costly. Specially the last two ocassions, 500 and 100 years ago. Now the same seems to be happening. Donald J. Trump’s victory could be the destabilizing element that will end an era, the era of reason, already quite damaged by the media-induced sensibility. Eras do not end by the arrival of new forms, but by the deformation of the old ones. That is what Donald J. Trump is, the ultimate malformation of the media.
If Trump wins (and I hope he won’t), things will be very different. Much more than you can imagine.