The longer I live, the more convinced I am of the inability of analysts, mathematicians, statisticians, sociologists, psychologists, and all those other science-y types to figure out anything about anything. The only thing they seem to be good at, from my admittedly limited observation is finding ever more obscure and unintelligible ways to ‘prove’ things that everyone with an ounce of sense should have already known without having to be told by an expert. Now, why is that? The reason, and the reason I’m a writer and not a scientist of any kind, is that I’ve found the best ideas, the timeliest observations, the most biting criticisms, do not come from the so-called experts. They come from artists, writers, musicians, poets, movie makers, and even video games. I often find the average rambling of some random person on an internet message board is more interesting and insightful than the vast majority of professionally generated articles. The reason for this, is a topic for some other day, but for the moment, I will simply reiterate my firm conviction that humanity’s ability to generate anything useful from a collective, systemic, level is questionable at best and cataclysmically limited at worst. That said, I want to focus today on something I found quite insightful lately.
As many of you know, I’m a fan of South Park, the cynical, poorly animated, often lude, always provocative (deliberately so) animated show which has been running since I was a youth of sixteen, and just beginning to understand the depths of my own cynicism. I’ve laughed at the show for many years, but that isn’t the reason I watch. I laugh at lots of things, including but not limited to The Three Stooges, children’s cartoons, politicians (both specific individuals and the profession in general), bad word puns, Chuck Norris jokes, and videos of dogs attacking various household cleaning devices on the Internet. The reason I watch, is because I believe South Park creators Tre Parker and Matt Stone may well be the two most brilliant minds on this planet. They never fail to make brilliantly serendipitous observations about our civilization that cut deeper than the mountains of expert analysis, to arrive at something rather near the heart of the issue. They do this on a weekly basis, and that’s not an average. They really do produce every episode in exactly one week, and have always done so. At this juncture, they presumably have all the staff they ask for, given the show’s success, but when they started, it really was just the two of them.
Now, Lest this article turn into an ode to South Park, I shall come to the point. This season’s episodes have had several focuses, men vs. women, the futility of nostalgia, social media, internet trolling, and the presidential election. Last night’s season came to a conclusion as the South Park gang had to destroy the internet in order to prevent Denmark releasing a program that would make everyone’s online history public, obviously, a crisis with apocalyptic repercussions. In order to accomplish this, they must overload the internet, by trolling everyone. Trolling, for those who don’t know, is the art of posting deliberately rude, divisive, controversial, provocative remarks, in order to generate a reaction. Sounds simple, but it’s not quite that straightforward. The real objective of a troll isn’t to get one person, or even a group of people, angry. It’s to get an entire community shouting at each other, cursing each other, and exhibiting poor behavior. Then the troll sits back and watches as hilarity ensues. It’s sort of like tossing a cat into a pen full of dogs, but since the internet is both virtual and anonymous, it lacks the social and moral repercussions.
Now, as you probably realize from my last few entries, I’ve found this election season fascinating, simply because it has been so different from every other election in my lifetime. Never before has a candidate survived the gaffes, the provocations, the violations of political correctness, that Donald Trump did. One thing has perpetually confused me about him. Common sense would suggest he’s not an idiot. There are not many people who become wealthy despite being stupid. There are even fewer who manage to remain wealthy in spite of obvious stupidity . He’s been in the public eye for decades. He’s been a celebrity. How on earth can he say the things he says? Doesn’t he realize what people will think? At what point did picking a fight with the father of a slain soldier seem like a good idea? Does he really believe Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination, or that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, or that the judge in his Trump University trial isn’t objective because he’s Hispanic, or that it’s even possible to rig something as complex as a US election? One answer is that he’s managed to accumulate and maintain his wealth through a limited amount of charisma and a colossal amount of luck, and he really is that stupid. I certainly cannot dismiss that possibility. A second possibility is that his entire run was a tool to generate publicity, and by extension, money for himself. If that’s the case, then he never really wanted to win, and may in fact have deliberately attempted to lose so he could capitalize on all the attention. That seems more likely than the first possibility, and I can’t dismiss it either. However, thanks to South Park, I have a third possibility, Trevor’s Axiom.
Trevor’s Axiom is a presumably made up scientific principle of internet trolling. Here’s a link
A troll starts by trolling one person, but it’s not to get a reaction from that person. It’s to get a reaction from everyone else, who will start ripping on the troll, but then, one of that group will become so righteous in their condemnation, they will incur a counter-reaction from some other people, who will themselves generate another round of reprisals, and a chain reaction of negative energy is unleashed. It made me think, what if Donald Trump was neither an idiot, nor was he trying to lose. Maybe all of America just got played by the ultimate troll. Maybe, Trump deliberately made statements knowing full well they would generate an immediate reaction from the media, then counted on the fact that the righteous indignation would generate a series of counter reactions, and ultimately most of the negativity would occur further down the chain, directed at someone else entirely, while he had already moved on to something else and restarted the process. In short, he drags everyone down into the muck, illuminates the base nature of all humanity, and then gets credit for being the only honest man. When everyone is a disgusting greedy corrupt bastard, then it’s not so bad to be a disgusting corrupt greedy bastard, and by saying it first, he gets credit for exposing everyone’s corrupt greedy bastardiness. At least he’s honest. Ultimately, civil discourse breaks down, and people fall into hostile camps based on things like culture, geography, religion, economic insecurity, and yes, race. Republicans still hold a decisive numerical advantage as the party of traditional culture, traditional religion, and the majority race. They also hold a decisive geographic advantage, and in the electoral college, that matters, a lot. His major push away from traditional republicans was his emphasis on economic inequality, jobs, which he blamed on traditionally unpopular targets, big business, foreign nations, immigrants, free trade deals (whose benefits, such as they are, are never as plainly visible as the closed factories and unemployed workers).
If this new theory is correct, it means that, rather than being a buffoon who lucked into facing the only opponent he could possibly beat, Donald Trump is, in fact, a manipulator of Machiavellian skill. Whether that is good or bad for America depends on his motivations, which neither I nor anyone else can claim to know. If he really does want to help the American people, then it is better to have someone intelligent and capable, no matter how unscrupulous and conniving. If he is really a narcissistic egomaniac, that may also be to our advantage, as he will be concerned first and foremost about his image. He’ll want to be remembered positively, and in order to do that, he will need to be perceived as a successful and effective leader, and will put forth a prodigious effort to do exactly that. If he is simply a man seeking power for its own sake, a modern day Mussolini or Hitler, and he has the foresight to manipulate all of America, then heaven help us all.
Fortunately, I see very little evidence that Trump has any sort of ideological center. His ‘racist’ anti-immigrant rhetoric is not new, nor is his ‘islamophobia’. Conservative talk radio has been saying those things, and worse, for at least a decade. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are by considerable margins, far more popular than the politicians they regularly endorse. Imitating them could be interpreted as imitating success. If that rhetoric, by itself, is evidence of true racism, then the liberals are right, and a substantial plurality, maybe a majority, of white Americans are practicing racists, a point those talk radio hosts have made for many years. I offer no opinion on this, because I avoid making any moral judgments (I interpret ‘judge not lest ye be judged’ rather literally). Calling someone a racist would qualify. Besides at the end of the day, government exists to serve the people, regardless of their morality or lack thereof, not to tell them what’s right and wrong or shepherd them into some utopian future (if anyone has that responsibility, it is philosophers and religious leaders). What can be gleaned from Trump’s sometimes incoherent policy rambling, and his public record over the years, suggest that he is, first and foremost, a businessman, a showman, and an opportunist. This gives me some hope his Presidency will be no worse than his predecessor. I don’t think the world is going to end. Neither do Tre and Matt.
I find some more evidence for Trump’s intelligence in his cabinet appointments. His most controversial appointments have been to positions that don’t require confirmation by the Senate, and his focus on military personnel could well be a ploy. The military is respected as no other governmental institution, certainly more than the political types in Congress. If Senators refuse to confirm these men because of the tradition of civilian control, they run a very real political risk of playing right into Trump’s narrative of an establishment with its own agenda that cares more about its own imaginary ‘rules’ than about getting things done and protecting Americans. It’s a brilliant way to bring ‘outsiders’ into Washington, and shove them down the throats of politicians who should understand the political consequences of appearing to be ‘anti-military’. If I were going to set a trap to discredit the establishment, this is the sort of thing I might try. Appoint military types who will seem completely credible and competent to most Americans, but who aren’t Washington insider types, to see if they’ll take the bait and make a fuss over something most regular Americans don’t understand and don’t consider important. If Trump has that sort of intelligence, the political establishment is doomed, because they have already suffered a massive defeat, and they won’t be able to contend with someone able to manipulate public reaction on that scale from a position of weakness.