The tragic attack against a Republican Congressman at a practice for a charity baseball game has briefly disrupted our state of hyper-partisan cultural warfare—at least until Sean Hannity began speaking again. But the reality is that there are institutional forces pushing us to our respective ideological corners, and continually encouraging us to hate and fear people who don’t agree with our politics. Mostly, this is Sean Hannity. However, there is something deeper going on in this country—something rotten, in fact, which has seeped into the consciousness of the majority of the populace.
I refer, of course, to the absurd notion that Donald Trump is actually President.
Unfortunately, huge swaths of our country are laboring under this false impression. We are led to believe that a man was elected President who was caught on tape admitting that he sexually harassed women, who long claimed that the nation’s first African-American President was not born in our country, and who is happily disregarding a Constitutional requirement forbidding gifts and profits funded by foreign powers. Despite the manifest improbability of such an event, hundreds of thousands of well-intentioned men and women now believe, contrary to reason, that Trump occupies the Oval Office, directs our foreign policy, and is in charge of setting the agenda for our nation.
Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. We are in an age where conspiracy theories run amok. Alex Jones argues that the Sandy Hook massacre did not occur, and is feted with a major interview by NBC’s newest prize settler. People claim with deadly seriousness that Sean Hannity is human, yet has recently consumed several other Fox News personalities in his ogre hole. And every night, Jimmy Fallon peddles a variety of “jokes” on his “tonight” show.
And now the biggest conspiracy theory in the entire history of the solar system has insinuated itself into our culture, threatening not only our democracy, but our basic sense of reality. Despite clear evidence to the contrary—Hillary Clinton winning millions more votes than her opponent, Republicans shunning Trump’s foolish attempts to obtain the GOP nomination—the majority of Americans appear to accept that a controversial New York businessman with a history of legal troubles, bankruptcies, and Mafia ties has been given control of the nation’s nuclear codes. Furthermore, an elaborate and patently fictional set of stories have sprung up pointing to the conclusion that the former reality-television star colluded with one of America’s principal enemies (Canada Russia) to spread lies about Clinton and hack into voting systems. You cannot make this stuff up. Well, you can make this stuff up, but you’d have to do it as some kind of remake or prequel, and probably have Josh Whedon direct it.
How could this happen? How could the world’s oldest Constitutional democracy fall prey to a bizarre and fantastical story about a compromised lout with attention-deficit disorder becoming President?
While partisans may be tempted to blame their political opponents, the truth is that both sides are at fault. Although Republicans first pushed the narrative that Trump was elected President, Democrats were quick to trumpet this absurd notion. Each pole of the political spectrum, abetted by media narrow-casting to their own choirs, benefits from this arrangement. The right gets a Supreme Court justice and hilarious attempts at passing health care legislation, while the left gets to be angry, which they really enjoy. The media, cheering this descent into madness, gets higher ratings, which means more concern about Jimmy Fallon. Seriously, what is wrong with Jimmy Fallon?
The point is, the only way we’re going to get out of this mess is if an equally preposterous conspiracy theory takes its place. It has to be an idea that combine stupendous ignorance of facts with an incredible commitment to fringe beliefs. It has to be so out-of-bounds, so beyond the pale of belief, that it bends itself back around and, miracuously, aligns with reality. In other words, aliens have to invade Earth, abduct Trump, take away all microphones from Hillary Clinton, vaporize Fox News and MSNBC, end gerrymandering, abolish the Electoral College, and make Jimmy Fallon take a stand.
Anything else would be crazy.