How did we get here? There is always the possibility, suggested by many, that America is sinking into an Idiocracy-style dystopia, but that explanation feels too pat. Rather, the success of Trump’s campaign is at least partly a reflection of the way the news media has changed. In addition to (sometimes literally) providing the candidate with a stage, the media used to act as a filter between candidate and voter, couching the candidate’s unvarnished spiel with context, contrary opinions, facts. This is no longer necessarily the case; instead, the media increasingly tries to collapse the space between the politician and his constituent, thrusting everyone, media included, into a shared chaos known as social media.
You are watching a battle that is primarily being conducted by avatars, in a flattened space about the size of a phone, where everyone, from activists to reporters to campaign flacks to President Obama, is braying for attention. As I type this, dozens of operatives are spinning the debate we just watched, dragging an event from the physical world into the digital realm where we spend more and more of our time, and where every gesture, every upload, every expression of outrage, empathy, kindness, or anger, is simultaneously a performance.